Volvo is consistent in that it has always made solid, safe, and subtle vehicles. None were ever fully comparable to the Germans, but closer to other imported brands like Saab, Acura, Jaguar, and Lexus. And until now, Volvo has never made sexy, tech-ladden, coddling urban tanks, which handily give Audi drivers pause. Enter the 2018 Volvo V90 Cross Country.
Believe me, this is the new story of Volvo—not the one you know. Recent changes to the marque’s lineup are the product of ownership and heavy investment by Geely, a Chinese automotive brand mostly sold in Asia. The company also owns the London Taxi Company.
For mostly American reasons, traditional station wagons long ago lost most of their market share to small SUVs and crossovers, but brands with strong wagon history keep some around, and manage to sell them to the niche market (ref: Mercedes E-Class Wagon). There was once a time when almost every brand included at least one wagon in its lineup; remaining ones have now morphed into high-riding quasi-wagons with crossover attitudes, like the Subaru Forester.
Volvo is the brand most associated with station wagons, and so it was a shock when several years back, the brand exited the 5-door segment completely, in favor of its SUVs and sedans.
Of course, that decision was short-lived and Volvo began importing them again shortly after. While wagons may see an uptick in contrarian popularity, they continue to be low-volume models for brands including Volvo. But (!) because Volvo is Volvo, one of its post-Ford developments comes in the form of the model I drove yesterday, the 2018 V90 Cross Country, which is an example of a rugged, high-riding wagon-crossover-thing.
And it is a thing of beauty.
This particular example came in maple brown paint with an off-white nappa leather interior, massive 21-inch alloy rims, and a sniffy $75,000 MSRP. I told you, this isn’t a Volvo “breadbox” of the past.
For that, you get quite a few cutting-edge amenities, like massage seats, a portrait-oriented touchscreen which controls everything in the car, powered everything, warnings and monitors for every sort of hazard, a head-up display that is projected onto the windshield, and most importantly, a sense of individuality you can’t get in a German car.
I say that because one of the travesties of the automotive market today is how common it all is. To drive a BMW today is like what driving a Ford Explorer was in the 1990s. Almost anyone can find their way into one, and they all look the same.
As with the Alfa Romeo Giulia, I am a fan of the unexpected, and spending close to six figures for a Volvo is certainly bound to raise some brows and illicit some questions.
Luckily, it drives just as well as any Mercedes, BMW, Audi, or Lexus midsize. The only complaint I can pick on is the four cylinder, which is stretched to its limit pulling this much weight around. But for most drivers who don’t want to lurch away from stoplights, it shouldn’t be a huge issue. I would however skip the 21s in favor of the standard 19s, which look fine and save $3,700.
Dynamically it is solid, damped, and keen to coddle. Its technology suite is really the star. I was impressed at how lovely the central screen and gauge graphics were, how easy it was to use, and how many ways I could tweak settings here and there.
I can’t forget to mention the massive size of the trunk area, especially with rear seats folded. It can swallow anything you might need it to, from $300 worth of Whole Foods groceries to transporting disassembled furniture or hauling miscellany for a beach getaway.
Heck, you could almost camp in there! I doubt anyone ever would, but if you wanted to camp, you could probably also get to a remote camping spot, you know, off-road, with these ground clearances…
The last thing I will mention, which is where Volvo will really wow the most people, topically anyway, is the beautiful V90 build quality and cabin. Rumor is that the brand poached a designer from Bentley to do its interiors, which is one reason why people have been buying the new XC90 at record levels and the forthcoming XC60 crossover promises to be a winner.
All of the new interiors are a mix of thoughtful leathers, woods, and plastics, slimmed-down controls and buttons, and a singularly Scandi perspective on design. This contrasts with the robotic chaos of newer Lexuses, the swoopy, almost retro look of current Mercedes interiors, and the sterility of BMWs.
Volvo’s ultra-contemporary look may not suit all drivers, but it will attract plenty for its serenity and subtle beauty, just what you’d expect from a Volvo. And though this particular example is at the very right of the bell curve, it is an indication of where the brand is heading and how it plans to get there, through reinterpreting its own history and strengths.
It was a pleasure to test drive the 2018 Volvo V90 Cross Country at Volvo of Tampa. Visit them! The V90 CC is available now from around $55,000; the V90 (non-CC) is available only by order.