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The formula to make station wagons more appealing to SUV-crazed Americans isn't exactly a secret. Take a regular wagon, add a few inches of ground clearance, staple on a tasteful helping of exterior plastic cladding and, voila, your longroof is instantly more desirable. It's a blueprint that Volvo has used for its Cross Country models for 20 years, and after spending some time with the 2019 V90 Cross Country, I can say it still works quite well.
The Cross Country's plastic cladding adds some nice visual toughness to the already stylish V90. From a practicality standpoint, they also provide extra body protection, whether you're venturing off road or just dodging shopping carts in the urban jungle. Combine that with the simple and strong body lines, a pretty "Thor's Hammer" headlight treatment and new-for-2019 grille, and the whole package looks smashing.
The pumped-up stance helps, too. A 2.7-inch higher ride height gives the Cross Country more clearance to strike out into the wilderness. While I didn't travel out to the middle of nowhere to thoroughly test off-pavement capabilities, I did trudge through a winter storm that brought 8 inches of snow to southeast Michigan. Here, the extra height prevents the front lower air dam from doubling as a snow plow.
The Volvo's standard all-wheel drive system also comes in handy to charge through accumulation and make up for the 19-inch Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires' not-so-stellar winter-weather performance. Even for an all-season tire, stopping distances are long and grip around turns is disappointing, resulting in lots of tail-wagging action. Thankfully, all-wheel drive does a good job corralling things around corners to keep the Cross Country moving in the desired direction with only a few small steering corrections. If you want, controlled drifts are possible. Not that I'd know anything about that, of course...
On plowed, salted roads, the Cross Country's comfort-focused chassis tuning is greatly appreciated. With 235/50 series tires, there's some sidewall to help smooth out most road imperfections, and my tester's $1,200 rear air suspension makes things a bit cushier, as well. Of course, a more compliant suspension and higher center of gravity does mean that there's noticeable, but controlled body roll in turns -- slightly more than what you'll get in the regular V90. The steering is lightly weighted and on the vague side, even with the car's Dynamic mode activated, which is fine and fits the car's cushier and relaxed vibe.
While the base V90 Cross Country comes with the 250-horsepower turbocharged T5 four-cylinder, my tester packs the more potent turbo- and supercharged T6 powerplant. With 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque on tap, there's no shortage of punch. Volvo claims the 4,180-pound Cross Country hits 60 miles per hour in believable 5.8 seconds. However, I do have issues with how said power is delivered. There's a noticeable lull at throttle tip-in and then spastic power delivery throughout the rev range. An eight-speed automatic transmission bolts to the complex engine that returns smooths shifts most of the time, but occasionally turns in some rough cog exchanges.
Together the drivetrain receives an EPA estimated fuel economy ratings of 20 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Unfortunately, I didn't get an accurate real-world mixed fuel reading. All the snow storm driving and extended warm-up periods in frigid temperatures threw things off, but I still averaged 19.3 mpg -- not too far off from the EPA's city figure.
Like the outside, the inside of the Cross Country is simple and stylish. Surroundings are built from quality materials and the design offers just the right amount of flair. A contrasting black and beige two-tone color scheme, open-pore dark walnut wood trim and silver accents provide a truly premium feel. And without question, Volvo seats are the best in the business, possessing good support some initial squish will let you sink into.
A standard panoramic sunroof makes the cabin light and airy, and space in both rows of seats is generous. Being a wagon, cargo capacity is also a strong suit, with 25.5 cubic feet of real estate in the trunk area, which grows to 53.9 cubic feet with the second row folded. I put it to good use during a supply run for the Wong family restaurant, piling in 1,080 eggs, six boxes of t-shirt bags, paper towels, a case of commercial-grade Tide cleaning detergent and a bunch of other eatery odds and ends.
On the tech front, Volvo's 9-inch, vertically-oriented Sensus touchscreen system takes care of infotainment features. Screen graphics are crisp and the main home screen easily gets you to common menus, with tiles for navigation, audio, phone and one for apps like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Spotify or Pandora.
Things like climate, heated seats and engine stop/start are also controlled through the center screen, which can be distracting as you move through its myriad menus and displays. Disappointingly, Sensus continues to be slow to boot, even with its faster processor, causing me to wait impatiently to turn on the bun warmers, dial up the thermostat and change vent settings during this winter storm. Call me old-fashioned, but a few more buttons and knobs on the center stack to at least control climate would be just fine.
Since it's a Volvo, the V90 Cross Country's level of safety tech is robust, with standard adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert and rear parking sensors. A $2,500 Advanced Package beefs matters up further with a 360-degree camera, adaptive headlights, head-up display and automatic parallel and perpendicular park assist.
I like power just as much as the next guy, but the T6's wonky delivery is a turn-off. Because of that I'll take the aforementioned turbo-only T5 in my V90 Cross Country. With $54,940 base price, including $995 for destination, I'd spring for a $645 Magic Blue Metallic paint job and $750 heated rear seat and heated steering wheel package because Midwest winters can be brutal. That takes my ideal car's price tag to $56,345, substantially undercutting the $62,190 test car you see pictured here.
There's a lot to like about the Volvo V90 Cross Country. Slightly more all-weather and all-terrain performance with standard all-wheel drive and higher ride height give it capabilities that will rival many crossovers. The taller stance and visual updo help, too. The V90 also boasts plenty of space, luxury and comfort for an always-relaxing ride, no matter the scenario.
That the V90 Cross Country will set you apart from the sea of crossovers and SUVs is another huge selling point. Cars like the Audi A4 Allroad, Buick Regal TourX and Volkswagen Golf Alltrack do this at a lower price, and Volvo will soon sell a Cross Country version of its V60 wagon, too. But if you fancy a big wagon with SUV utility and oodles of luxury, the V90 Cross Country is really the only game in town.