REVIEW: Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD -The Anti-SUV

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The Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD is built for those who don’t want an SUV but need one.

What is it? 

Large, luxurious wagons that are also powerful, all-wheel-drive and good in the curves are sought after. By almost nobody. However, those that want these niche vehicles want them very passionately. For those few, Volvo, Mercedes Benz, and off and on, a handful of others, deliver. The V90 Cross Country T6 AWD may well be the best of these vehicles in the world at its sub-$70K price point.

Pricing and trims

The V90 is a long, wide wagon that Volvo builds in a variety of themes. Prices range from about $50K for a front-wheel drive wagon with a base, 250 HP engine, to about $70K for the up-powered, 316 hp, all-wheel drive, fully-equipped Cross Country trim. If you are wondering about those Volvo rear-facing kids’ seats, they are not offered, but it is not for a lack of space.

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We tested the $69,440 V90 Cross Country T6 AWD complete with every package. The model name translates to “Big wagon, extra ground clearance, better engine, all-wheel drive.” The T6 no longer means “turbo-six” in Volvo-speak. Volvo is all about four-cylinder engines these days. Don’t worry, you won’t miss those two cylinders!

Safety

Volvos earn top safety scores in every category, right? Nope. They are certainly built tough, crash extremely well, and have modern active safety, but the S90 sedan and XC-90 crossover which share a lot of parts with the V90 wagon do not earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus because the headlights were only rated Marginal in IIHS testing. The bending low beams and super-bright high beams seemed pretty darn good to us.

We found the V90 Cross Country T6 AWD’s active safety systems to be easy to live with. There is no constant beep-beep-beep of a lane departure warning to numb you to all warnings. The blind spot monitor, cross traffic alert, and rear camera are perfect.

Performance

Volvo uses a 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged engine to produce an amazing 316 hp. An eight-speed automatic is its partner and together they make magic. We found the V90 Cross Country T6 AWD to be responsive in all situations. Off the line, it can be fast, with a 0-60 MPH time taking less than six seconds. Better than the jackrabbit starts though, are the instant throttle response and surge of power in all situations once underway. This engine is fantastic, and easily our new favorite for a family vehicle or “executive sedan.” The start-stop technology that turns off the engine at stop lights is the smoothest in its operation of any vehicle we have ever tested (other than EVs and Hybrids). The V90 Cross Country T6 AWD earns a respectable 25 MPG Combined Fuel economy rating from the EPA. The 7-passenger XC90 Crossover with this engine is rated at 23 MPG.

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Ride and handling

The V90 Cross Country T6 AWD has multiple drive modes. Comfort, ECO, Off-road, Dynamic, and Individual are all options. We chose Comfort most of the time and found the big wagon to be an extremely enjoyable back-roads car. It handles like a sports sedan and feels smaller than it is once in the turns. Here is the key advantage this wagon has over a similarly-priced premium crossover. The lower center of gravity is a big advantage when the road gets twisty.

Although not as jarring as the S60 Cross Country T5 AWD we tested last year, the V90 Cross Country is still too stiff for our tastes, even in Comfort mode. The tires are the problem, plain and simple. This big family wagon, with an Off-Road mode, has 20″, 45-series low profile tires and they spoil the ride and also negate any off-road driving. We just don’t get it. We took the wagon fishing and to access the river we had to go down a broken up semi-paved road. We had to baby it over every pot-hole and wash-out to keep the rubber from being damaged. On well-paved roads, even minor imperfections like a manhole cover shake the vehicle and detract from the feeling of quality. Having just tested a new Volkswagen Tiguan with more appropriate rubber, the comparison was unkind to the Volvo.

Seating

The V90 Cross Country T6 AWD is very modern and the seating is outstanding. Our tester had perforated cooled and heated seats with massage up front. The massage is easily the best we have ever tried, topping Jaguar and Mercedes, which tend to over do it. Volvo used a combination of hand controls on the seat sides and the infotainment screen to set the seats to their positions and functions. We did have to read the manual to understand the operation, but it was well worth the five minutes of time invested. Rear seats were also very comfortable.

Cargo

The cargo area of the V90 Cross Country T6 AWD is unlike anything we have ever seen before in a modern car. The trunk area under the liftgate is very well designed with pop-up grocery retainers and a hidden compact spare. The cargo cover also lifts with the tailgate and was easy to live with. What is so striking about the cargo area is its depth. We put a tape measure on the cargo floor and found that the length from the end of the trunk to the rear seats was 48 inches. So deep we could not reach items we threw in back. The low roof height hurts the overall cubic feet most likely, but almost nobody packs an SUV to its roof.

Infotainment and controls

The 2017 V90 Cross Country T6 AWD is our new benchmark for infotainment and audio. The touch-screen is taller than it is wide and so intuitive we figured out all its nuances without needing a manual. With no ridiculous mouse to learn it easily tops the Mercedes, Audi, BMW, and Lexus systems available today.  The optional $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins Premium sound system is the best we have ever heard in any vehicle at any price point. Every passenger we carried agreed. Even compressed 1970’s hits on Sirius XM sounded crystal clear. The audio quality just cannot be overstated. The way Volvo reinvented the way one seeks channels and then sets presets is also a big advantage. Easy to use and intuitive. The Nav was superb and the “search” function worked every place we went. One uses it like Google Maps. You put in what you know and hit search, rather than type a full address. Speaking of Google, Android Auto and Apple Car play are supported. The V90 is simply the best in the business in our opinion for infotainment. More shocking is how far this 2017 model was from the 2016 S60 we tested last year. Night and day better.

Overall

If you want a sporty, large wagon with all-weather capability you will not find a better car than the 2017 V90 Cross Country T6 AWD. That said, We missed the better visibility that an SUV or crossover offer during our time with this very large car. We suspect that in winter the lack of height would also make it harder to see over snow banks in our snow belt region. The low-profile tires also rule out any off-road adventures and make the car sports-car firm. We testers look back fondly on wagons, as do many who grew up in them, but a better mouse trap is at hand.

The V90 Cross Country T6 AWD moves the bar in important ways. The drivetrain may well be the best family vehicle system on the market. The infotainment system definitely is. The seats and quality of the interior are beyond many rivals’ abilities and this car can out-handle any SUV.

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John Goreham

John Goreham