2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country First Impression

Practical Elegance With a Rugged Look

Volvo is giving Americans something to swoon over with the new 2017 V90 Cross Country. A modestly ruggedized version of the standard V90 wagon, the Cross Country is a lighter and sexier alternative to a two-row crossover SUV. Built on the same chassis that also spawned the XC90 SUV and S90 sedan, the V90 Cross Country arrives in dealers in March.

An aesthetic tour de force, the 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country combines ample cargo-hauling capacity with a plush cabin and enough ground clearance to handle a dirt road or two.

Powerful Four-Cylinder and All-Wheel Drive
All V90 Cross Countrys get the same engine — Volvo's now-familiar 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder rated at 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It delivers a solid punch with no waiting, though when you give it the spurs, the distinctly four-cylinder sound is at odds with the V90's otherwise premium vibe.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country

The twin-charged engine is paired to an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive (AWD). Except when starting from a stop, this on-demand AWD system brings the rear wheels into service only when the front tires start to slip. Keeping the rear wheels out of the equation most of the time helps to edge fuel economy upward compared to driving them at all times as in a full-time AWD system.

The Drive Mode selector includes an Off-Road mode not available in standard-issue V90s. Selecting Off-Road mode softens the throttle response, reduces steering effort, engages hill descent control and loosens the stability control system, all in an effort to expand its capability when the road goes soft. With that said, the V90 Cross Country's off-road chops are modest.

Differences Are Slightly More Than Skin-Deep
Volvo expects the V90 Cross Country will sell in greater numbers than the garden-variety V90 — so much so that the V90 will be built-to-order only and the V90 Cross Country will be in dealer inventories.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country

What separates the V90 Cross Country from its V90 brethren centers around its 2.3-inch increase in ground clearance. Larger-diameter tires net a portion (0.6 inch) of this lift in the V90 Cross Country's ride height. The rest of it comes from suspension uprights nabbed from the XC90, which raise the ride height while restoring the proper suspension geometry. Rounding out the V90 Cross Country's suspension changes are unique dampers, stabilizer bars and larger air bladders if you tick the box for the rear air suspension option.

Elsewhere, the V90 Cross Country gets a unique grille and lower front fascia, plastic body cladding, special tires and hill descent control. The V90 Cross Country is no hard-core off-roader, but its tweaks — in particular its high-water ride height — are a boon for traversing unmaintained dirt roads and the like. Meanwhile, none of its changes are so extreme as to unduly compromise its performance on the street — even on our test car's  studded snow tires, it rides comfortably and wind and road noise has been admirably suppressed.

Stunning Interior Design
Just as striking as the V90 Cross Country's sheet metal is the cabin. It elegantly blends natural wood, leather and metal in a way that makes you pause to take in the details. You might notice that, in contrast to the S90 and V90, the V90 Cross Country's darker wood has less panache than the blond wood of its stablemates. Even so, it still looks great.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country

Clean as the dashboard's presentation is, it has resulted in nearly every control being accessible via the center touchscreen. It's large and responsive but lacks the immediate availability of hard-key buttons, and certain dialogues require a swipe to access. A standard panoramic sunroof accentuates the breezy, spacious nature of the cabin, and the seats deliver outstanding comfort even on long drives. Tall drivers are welcome in the V90 Cross Country — there's ample headroom.

Predictably, there's less backseat headroom and cargo space here than in the XC90 SUV, but the upside is that the V90 Cross Country steers, turns and accelerates more eagerly than the heavier SUV. It also returns better fuel economy at 25 mpg combined (22 city/30 highway). It's not a sport-oriented wagon, but if you find yourself on an iced-over lake like we did, at least the stability control's Sport setting allows a long leash if you want to have some fun. It's well-balanced when things get slippery, allowing the driver to easily influence its cornering attitude.

A Technology-Dense Wagon
As a premium wagon, Volvo has bestowed the V90 Cross Country with a long list of standard features. They all get leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, heated seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a suite of driver assistance features. Pilot Assist — a combination of adaptive cruise and a lane keeping system that functions as semi-autonomous driving — is standard. Our test car was equipped with Volvo's car-to-car communications system that will be rolled out stateside in the to-be-announced future. This system sends alerts to other nearby Volvos when the stability control of another Volvo so equipped is exercised or its hazard lights switched on.

There's an optional Luxury package, which adds upgraded seats with extendable thigh bolsters and massage, heated rear seats, four-zone climate control, leather on the dashboard and rear door panels, and a cooled glovebox. This package also paints the black plastic cladding the same color as the body, which to our eyes wipes out a signature design attribute of the V90 Cross Country. Ah well.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country

Even the base V90 Cross Country convincingly exudes a premium atmosphere, though. Inside and out, its quiet elegance is an ongoing reminder that you didn't follow the crowd. Wagons enjoy a passionate and small fan base, while crossovers have mass appeal. Our initial seat time in the V90 Cross Country suggests that its execution right smack at the intersection of functionality and prestige will appeal to both camps.