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Don Adair: Lifted Volvo V90 Cross Country takes elegance off-road

Say you’re a carmaker needing a locale suitable for building and testing a car durable enough to handle winter’s worst and stout enough to venture comfortably off-road.

If you were Volvo, you’d be home free. Sweden’s harsh winters and timbered terrain provide an ideal test bed for exactly that car.

Volvo sells two crossovers, the mid-size XC60 and the full-size XC90. But it’s also pitching hard a pair of winter-ready wagons modified for light off-pavement duty.

Today’s tester, the 2017 V90 Cross Country ($55,300) is based on Volvo’s flagship S90 sedan (the standard wagon is available in the States only by special order). In Volvo parlance, “S” stands for “sedan” and V means “versatile.” Code, naturally, for “wagon.” 

Its “lifted” suspension boosts ground clearance and all-wheel-drive is standard, as are hill-descent control, larger and softer tires and ding-resistant lower body cladding.

Consider it a larger, fancier version of Subaru’s Outback or Volkswagen’s new Alltrack. Or a Scandinavian rival to Audi’s A4-based Allroad.

Updated design and engineering strategies 

The 90 Series cars could well be code for “minimalist Scandinavian elegance.” Its rebirth in 2010 as an independent brand — albeit one underwritten by Chinese financing — has freed Volvo to pursue new design and engineering strategies.

The company has upped its design game with sleek and beautifully proportioned vehicles. Its wagon designs are compelling in the fashion of traditional European “estate wagons.”

V90 Cross Country standard equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, laminated side glass, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Volvo’s Pilot Assist safety and driver-assist package comes standard, as well. 

Crisp and simple interior lines

The V90 Cross Country’s cabin epitomizes Scandinavian refinement. Simple, crisp lines flow along the dashboard. Materials are top-shelf and fit and finish is outstanding. 

Ultra-dark wood trim distinguishes the Cross Country’s forward cabin from the S90’s. Its large and comfortable leather seats are finished with a unique stitch pattern.

Volvo’s tablet-style touchscreen infotainment system reveals its menus in response to a swipe of the user’s fingertips. The system is brilliant in concept, but has a steep learning curve and some key functions are hidden behind too many screens. 

A few well-conceived buttons and knobs can be the best solution to such usability issues. 

Workhorse four under the hood

The powerplant is Volvo’s workhorse 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It’s both supercharged and turbocharged to produce 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The four powers the 4,266-pound wagon from 0-60 in just 5.9 seconds and delivers EPA estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg combined/22 city/30 highway.

Power delivery is a bit quirky. With the engine in the heart of its torque band, acceleration is strong and steady. However, once it falls off the curve, the four is less vigorous and takes a moment to regather itself.

Next year, Volvo will offer a less expensive, 250-hp front-wheel-drive Cross Country. Same engine; different breathing apparatus.

Planted and solid at speed

Underway, the Cross Country feels rock-solid and well-planted. Steering is reasonably accurate and builds weight nicely as it moves off-center. A solid on-center valley reduces the need for constant course corrections, but feedback is non-existent. 

Some of the steering’s vagueness is likely due to the Cross Country 20-inch wheels and high-profile tires. To provide additional traction off-road and in sloppy conditions, they’re larger and softer than the ones worn by the donor car. 

The upside is excellent ride quality. The Cross Country smooths out pocked pavement and rutted dirt roads.

At 8.3 inches, ground clearance betters that of many crossovers and falls just short of the Outback’s 8.7 inches. Its seating position approaches the heights offered by the crossover class.

To handle its off-road wanderings, the Cross Country has increased wheel travel and a retuned suspension with roll bars. In fast corners, the setup checks excessive body lean. Our tester was also equipped with a load-leveling rear air suspension.

The V90 Cross Country proves that the humble wagon need not be hopelessly old-school. Indeed, who wouldn’t enjoy a touch of Swedish style on the snowy trail to the lake place?

Contact Don at

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country
Vehicle base price: $55,300
Trim level base price: $55,300
As tested: $64,640 (including destination)
Options included metallic paint; premium audio system; graphical head-up display; child booster seat; rear air suspension; 360-degree surround-view camera; park-assist; grocery bag holder; compass; interior high-level illumination; HomeLink.
Tow rating: 3,500 pounds
EPA rating: 25 combined/22 city/30 highway
Premium gasoline required

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Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.