It's just after 8 a.m., but it will be another hour before the sun makes an appearance at this latitude. The crisp morning air is enough to wake you up, even without your usual morning cup of joe. It might be just nudging 21 degrees Farenheit, but Stefan Karlsson, Volvo's vehicle dynamics manager, assures me that it's quite mild for this time of year. It's a far cry from the scorching desert heat of Arizona where the V90 Cross Country underwent final hot weather testing before being signed off. But it is conditions like today in Are, Sweden—and further north where the mercury can plummet to -40 degrees Farenheit—that the Cross Country has been designed to cope with.
When it comes to all-wheel-drive station wagons, Volvo is squarely in its comfort zone—pun not as appropriate as it once was. This year marks the 20th anniversary since the introduction of its first Cross Country model, the V70 XC. Adding an all-wheel-drive transmission to the recipe that already included Volvo's spacious body style, European appeal, and solid reputation for safety made it an instant hit. As SUVs increased further in popularity, Volvo introduced its XC90 in 2002, which was equally well received and even awarded North American Car of the Year for 2003. Despite this, the then third-generation XC70 continued to sell well, with Americans lapping up half of total production.
But as crossovers and SUVs have gone on to become the bread and butter for the vast majority of automakers, the segment that this new V90 Cross Country finds itself in has remained somewhat ignored. Outside the U.S., Audi with its A6 allroad quattro, has performed well over the years, but only last year did Mercedes-Benz dip its toe into the water with the new E-Class All-Terrain. Given the relative ease at which such model variants can be developed, it's surprising that so few have tried it before the various SUV classes reached saturation point.
Regardless, Volvo has more than a head in front of the competition, not least in the aesthetics department. The new V90 Cross Country, under the watchful eye of Volvo's VP of Design Thomas Ingenlath, has been given a purposeful look that mixes elegance and ruggedness. It sits more than 2.3 inches higher than the regular V90, thanks to a new suspension setup (which we'll come back to in a moment). New bumpers get lower sections finished in hard-wearing black plastic, plus there's aluminum-look detailing on the lower spoiler and around the rectangular exhaust tips. "Cross Country" is also embossed into the rear bumper. That black cladding is continued around the wheel arches and along the doorsills, helping to exaggerate the raised ride height even further. Side on, the V90 looks stretched. The electric tailgate has a more sloped angle than stereotypical Volvo estates, but it is still good for swallowing up nearly 20 cubic feet of luggage before you even think about lowering those rear seats.
Pull the chunky door handle and what is revealed is one of the most beautifully crafted and designed interiors in recent memory. It is identical to that of the S90 sedan and V90 and gets Dark Walnut inlays that work particularly well. Every surface feels of high quality inside and is by far Volvo's best work to date, helped in part by some equally talented suppliers, such as Bridge of Weir from Scotland for the leather upholstery.
You won't find many buttons strewn all over the dashboard, either. With the exception of the buttons for the hazard warning lights, front and rear window defrosters, and volume control, almost everything is accessed via the 9-inch Sensus touchscreen. For those who haven't yet experienced it, the high-resolution screen offers the kind of user experience you would expect from an iPad rather than a mere car infotainment system. Add to that a perfectly formed, chunky steering wheel that sits in front of a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and you can't help but fall in love with this minimalist Scandinavian design.
Power comes from Volvo's T6 2.0L four-cylinder gasoline engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged. The supercharger is used to optimize low-end torque and responsiveness before the turbo begins to spool up. Both are active at up to 3,500 rpm; beyond that, just the turbocharger is used. In total the engine produces 316 hp, enough to see it dash to 62 mph in 6.3 seconds from a standstill, which isn't bad given the car's size. As standard, there's an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Interestingly, that T6 engine forms the combustion part of Volvo's T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain that is currently used in the XC90 and S90 models. When quizzed about the possibility of a plug-in hybrid V90 Cross Country, Volvo confirmed that it is technically possible, but no official decision has yet been made on putting it on sale. Availability of production slots and battery supply were also cited as potential hurdles, but don't rule it out.
Plug-in or not, the V90 Cross Country feels refined from the first moment you pull away. From the just-right thickness of the steering wheel to the incredibly supportive seats, driving this car is genuinely enjoyable. It feels every bit as polished as the best that Germany has to offer, but doesn't lack character like some of the Teutonic challengers often do.
The steering is well judged, remaining light enough to feel easily maneuverable at town speeds. Beyond that, the assistance starts to reduce nicely to give you an assured feeling of control when flowing through faster, sweeping bends. It is a match for the new BMW 5 Series and gives a little more feedback than the current Audi A6.
Despite the increase in ride height, the V90 retains its composure well. Yes, there is a touch more lateral roll when carrying higher speeds through a corner, but it's never to the extent that you would typically experience in an SUV.
The additional ride height was achieved through the use of longer springs, though Volvo also altered the stiffness and stipulates model-specific tires, which feature a more rounded profile. The rear also has air suspension, though this is used exclusively for the purpose of self-leveling when loaded.
Even on frozen sections of our Swedish test route, the Haldex all-wheel-drive transmission rarely felt remotely challenged, though, of course, the studded tires helped. In normal dry conditions, all of the T6's power is sent to the front wheels, but should grip break away, the electronic coupling can quickly redistribute up to 50 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels. When pulling away from a stop, full all-wheel drive is always engaged to provide maximum levels of traction during acceleration.
If you do find yourself venturing into more difficult terrain, the Volvo does have an Offroad drive mode. Available only below 24 mph, this adjusts the transmission and driving aids to help get you through the rough stuff.
If the most challenging conditions you're likely to find yourself in include sub-zero winter months or tearing up fire roads to your favorite mountain bike trail, then the V90 Cross Country will certainly tick the right boxes. With the additional body cladding, Volvo has made this version look even more impressive, if a little less elegant, than the regular V90 wagon. In summary, this fourth-generation Cross Country once more shows that Volvo is becoming a very serious player capable of turning out cars that beautifully combine form and function.