2021 Volvo V90 Cross Country Review: Compelling Confidence

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It takes a certain type of person to buy a 2021 Volvo V90 Cross Country. I’m not entirely sure if it’s a matter of self-assurance, or the sort of rationality and awareness that some of us need a decade of therapy to get close to, but in a sea of SUVs this almost-wagon has a quiet confidence it’s hard to ignore.

I am, given my love of the V90, a fan of the V90 Cross Country styling too. It’s not all that different, honestly: a little higher off the road, slightly beefier exterior cladding, and standard 19-inch wheels with all-season rubber. This particular example – in handsome Thunder Grey Metallic, a $645 option – wears Volvo’s $800 20-inch wheels instead, a slight compromise to aesthetics and on-road use that I can’t really argue with too much.

There is a part of me – the wagon-purist, you could say – which finds the V90 Cross Country a little frustrating. Not because of the car itself, but at the idea that Volvo needs to crank it up a little, SUV-ify it, to make it more palatable to US drivers.

Then again, it clearly works. In 2020, for example, Volvo sold almost four-times as many V90 Cross Country as it did regular V90. Admittedly, at just north of a thousand cars, that’s still a drop in the ocean compared to, say, the XC90 at over 34k sold, but there is something gratifying about the fact that models like this – along with the Audi A6 Allroad and the Mercedes E450 4MATIC All-Terrain – still manage to carve out a niche for themselves.

That niche consists of people who rationally ask themselves “do I really need an SUV?” Now I’m not saying that nobody requires that in their life, of course. And nor do your reasons need to be earnest, outdoorsy ones either: if you simply prefer the aesthetic, or the higher ride height, or whatever else it is that makes an SUV appealing, well, I’m not going to throw myself in-between you and the dealership and block you from accessing it.

Still, just about everything an SUV can achieve, this V90 Cross Country can too. There’s 53.9 cu-ft to play with for cargo, with the rear seats down, and 3,500 pounds of towing capacity. Not the biggest figures, sure, but the lower body means loading and unloading the trunk – which has a power tailgate – is easier. Ground clearance, with two people onboard, is 7.8-inches, Volvo says, versus 5.6-inches for the regular V90 under the same load.

I prefer how the Volvo rides to an SUV, too. Partly that’s down to it simply being lower, and having less body roll than taller vehicles might, but there’s also the optional air suspension system which, at $1,200, is an obvious add. It leaves the V90 Cross Country with just the right balance of distance from shoddy roads without leaving you feeling entirely disconnected.

The same could be said of the powertrain as a whole. The T6 engine means there’s a 2.0-liter supercharged, turbocharged gas engine, here with a mechanical all-wheel drive system and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Volvo doesn’t offer a T8 plug-in hybrid version of the car in the US, and I suspect we’ll have a while to wait for a fully-electric model too. EVs are a big part of Volvo’s roadmap, but it’ll likely pick off the volume sellers first before its attentions turn to more enthusiast fare.

You get 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which suits the V90’s character nicely. It feels sure-footed and confident, though even in Dynamic mode it’s not going to persuade you that you’re driving a sports car. Luxury car slurring by the gearbox is partly the reason for that – and there are no paddle-shifters to even pretend otherwise, though you can tip the shift lever around to nudge things manually if you really want to – but frankly the Volvo’s attitude is quiet aptitude.

Indeed only the rubber floor protectors lining the footwells and trunk remind you that this isn’t intended as a pure luxury ride. The dashboard may be a few years old now, but it’s still a handsome and nicely finished affair: real metal and open-pore wood surrounds switchgear that generally feels solid and intentional. The 9-inch infotainment touchscreen is a little slow to wake up on first start, but after that is clean and easy to use, and supports wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Sadly this is still Volvo’s own Sensus platform, not the Android Automotive OS you’ll find on the Volvo C40 or Polestar 2. It’s not a bad platform, per-se, and the optional Bowers & Wilkins premium surround sound audio system is every bit a treat to the ears as its $4,000 price tag would promise, but having spent time with Google’s infotainment I know which I prefer. The $1,700 Advanced Package adds a head-up display, which is nice but not essential, and a 360-degree camera, which I think absolutely is.

A panoramic roof, leather seats, keyless entry, power front seats with heating, a heated steering wheel, and dual-zone climate control are standard. The $2,800 Lounge Package adds nicer leather plus ventilation and massage to the front seats, along with four-zone climate control, rear sun blinds, and nicer dashboard trim. Volvo’s seats are works of ergonomic art, endlessly supportive without being squishy.

All in, the car you see here is $67,740 including destination. Sacrifice the extras, and the V90 Cross Country starts at $55,895.

As for safety, unsurprisingly Volvo throws the book at the V90 Cross Country. There’s cornering LED headlamps, blind spot warnings with steering assistance, cross-traffic alert with autobrake, low and high speed collision mitigation, run-off road protection and mitigation, lane departure warning and aid, and oncoming collision mitigation braking. That’s all standard, as is Pilot Assist adaptive cruise control and hands-on lane keeping assistance, which works well if maybe a little testy about how often you nudge the wheel.

Volvo is, of course, poised to launch much fancier driver-assistance. Volvo Highway Pilot will be a Level 3 system, not only allowing you to take your hands off the wheel on certain stretches of highway, but effectively taking complete responsibility during that time. It’ll rely on a new sensor suite – including LIDAR – that Volvo plans to add to its upcoming SPA 2 platform, the successor architecture to what this V90 Cross Country is based on.

2021 Volvo V90 Cross Country Verdict

It’s a reminder that, in automotive terms, this jacked-up wagon is getting on a little. The absence of even a mild hybrid system – as the Audi and Mercedes both adopted – is further evidence of that, and the Volvo’s economy suffers as a result. The EPA says you’ll get 20 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined; in my own, mixed driving I saw 21.5 mpg.

Despite what the calendar may say, though, the V90 Cross Country still manages to feel unexpectedly fresh. I even noticed some turning heads as I drove by: a rarity bonus that helps offset the fact it’s actually five years old now.

Some things, perhaps, are timeless. Volvo’s almost-wagon requires no tricks or misdirection in order to age gracefully, just its pleasing blend of refined driving, handsome proportions, and comfortable cabin. SUVs should wish they could be so balanced.

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