First Drive: 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6
Crossover wagons on ice
ARE, Sweden - Climate Change has come to this ski resort some 326 miles north of Stockholm as the SAS plane flies, and so the puddle of water on top of frozen Lake Andsjon is getting deeper as the morning goes on. It doesn't slow us down as we slalom a 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country around a couple of tasty sports-rally car frozen lake circuits.
"What do you think the purpose of this is?" my drive partner asks.
"Not a damn thing," I reply. And that is good. Safe and stolid Volvo, now in its seventh year out from under Ford Motor Company's thumb, has brought us to this fairly remote frozen lake in a sparsely populated European country in order to develop some [positive, the company hopes] impressions of the 2017 V90 Cross Country T6. The only real-world on-road drive is the 90-minutes each way to and from the airport, which happens on clear, and slushy snow- and ice-covered pavement.
The V90 Cross Country comes with standard laminated side windows and panoramic sunroof, and if the idea is that such glass will mitigate noisy studded winter tires, it works. Tire sizes offered in the U.S. will be 20-inch in addition to our car's 19-inch studded Nokkians, which fill the wheel wells so well, you'll want the smaller tires with their lower unsprung weight.
None of these roads will tell you much about the car's handling. There's nary a decent on- or off-ramp. If that concerns you and your hopes for a complete car magazine review, you're missing the point. Volvo's SPA large-car platform is sized at, and priced just a bit below, the midsize Mercedes-Benz E- and GLE-Classes, or perhaps more appropriately, the Audi A6/Q7.
The first model introduced with this platform, the Volvo XC90, succeeds largely because it does everything extremely well as a big, comfortable, nicely balanced and efficient turbo-four-powered three-row sport/utility. It doesn't pretend to be sporty. It is handsome though - the Volvo S90/V90 line is our Design of the Year.
The 2017 Volvo V90 XC is as smooth and competent as any midsize premium/luxury car or crossover, even with the studded Nokkians fitted for the watery frozen lake, and its lower ride height just makes it a natural out there. Steering feel and precision is excellent, and the electric power assist is light, without an ounce of the sort of undue weight other automakers tune in, in lieu of real feedback. This proves to be just the thing for executing opp-lock rally driver turns.
Power delivery from the 316-horsepower supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter T6 inline four is smooth. The supercharger covers turbo lag and, like the chassis, the engine puts the power down on this unusual test-car surface seamlessly and without drama, though there's some four-banger roughness at idle. There is no learning curve, no need to compensate for the icy lake, where the throttle pedal is as important as the wheel for steering the car. Standard electronic Haldex-type all-wheel-drive biases more torque to the rear when the electronic stability control is turned off, which really helped out here.
Our test car featured the optional rear air-suspension, which comes with double-wishbone front (an integral rear link suspension is standard). Four-C Active Chassis control also is an option, and the dynamic settings are Eco, Comfort, Dynamic (our setting on the lake) and (limited to 25 mph top-speed) Off-Road with hill-descent control settings. Good as the XC90 SUV is, if you rarely use a third row seat, don't buy it. Buy one of these instead.
You'll be able to do so in March. By summertime, the lower-profile 2018 Volvo V90 wagon, front- or all-wheel-drive goes on sale. The XC90 fits in the SUV segment, of course, while the V90 is a car and the V90 Cross Country could be called, for lack of a better term, a crossover/utility vehicle. Don't be put off by the convoluted auto industry market-speak nomenclature. We haven't been offered a drive in the standard V90 yet, but while auto journalists are supposed to be inclined toward station wagons, especially brown ones with diesels and manual gearboxes (neither of which will be offered in the U.S.) we can't see how we'll like it any more as the Cross Country.
The Cross Country comes with black window frame moldings instead of the V90's chrome, and standard black wheel lip and rocker panel cladding far better integrated into the profile than on the awkward-looking Audi Allroad. Body-colored cladding is offered as an option.
The Cross Country's grille trades the V90's vertical chrome bars for a sportier chromed pointillist treatment that recalls the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class'. With 8.3-inches of ground clearance, the Cross Country sits 2.3-inches higher than the standard Volvo V90. That translates to a very agreeable 60.7-inch height - not too tall, not too short.
Volvo's latest Pilot Assist, and Apple CarPlay/Android for Auto comes standard, and the company expects a higher take rate on the Cross Country, compared with the XC90, for the luxury package, with its ventilated Nappa leather seats, featuring power side and cushion controls and backrest massage for the front, leather upgrade on the dash and rear door panels, heated rear outboard seats, four-zone electric climate control and cooled glovebox, rear side curtains and a really nifty power operated cargo cover.
Dashboard trim is a choice of dark walnut, or metal aluminum trim. Our test car had the walnut, which made the dash in front of the front passenger look a bit monolithic. The modern Scandinavian look of the V90's (and XC90's) open-pore wood would not seem out of place in this car.
One could go on for pages on how the V90, and especially the Cross Country, is the quintessential Volvo, the rightful heir to the Volvo 240 wagon's image. But the Volvo V90 Cross Country will be nothing more than a small niche model next to the XC90, which accounted for nearly one in three Volvos sold in the U.S. last year, or the XC60, which will account for even more when a new one premiers in a year or so. The wagons - even tallish, crossover-y ones like this - are niche models for drivers like us. It's good news that a reconstituted Volvo can still find space in its lineup for such cars.
2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country Specifications
|ON SALE||March 2017|
|ENGINE||2.0L supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
316 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,200-5,400 rpm
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine AWD station wagon|
|EPA MILEAGE||22/30 mpg (city/highway)|
|L X W X H||194.4 x 80.8 x 60.7 in|