2020 Volvo V90 Cross Country Review: On-Road Luxe, Off-Road Looks

The verdict: Volvo’s 2020 V90 Cross Country is a fantastic alternative to a luxury SUV, with plenty of comfort and space to go along with better handling than any tall, trucklike family-hauler.

Versus the competition: Luxury “off-road” wagons from Audi and Mercedes-Benz are equally capable, but none of them really go off-road. The Volvo is less expensive and just as luxurious as any of its competitors, providing a better value.

I’ve made my peace with the idea of an off-road station wagon that never goes off-road. It is increasingly the only way to get a station wagon in America, as the few remaining traditional wagons are replaced by plastic-clad, higher-riding versions or canceled entirely in favor of real SUVs. So if the only way we can get excellent wagons like the Volvo V90 is in this Cross Country format, so be it. I’ll try my best to enjoy it and celebrate it, because there’s a lot here worth enjoying and celebrating.

The Cross Country has a lovely shape, a smooth powertrain, a spacious and stylish interior, copious cargo room and top-notch technology. And all of it comes for less money than a lot of competitors will cost you, including the Audi A6 Allroad and the upcoming 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain, which will replace the conventional E450 Wagon later this year. 

I’ve been a huge fan of the regular Volvo V90 wagon, and our team likes the related XC90 SUV enough to have given it a major award back in 2016, but is the V90 Cross Country just as good, or has Volvo ruined a good thing by tarting it up as a phony SUV?

Related:  2020 Volvo XC90 Review: An Aging Icon Learns New Tricks

Classy and Smooth

The V90 CC is undeniably attractive, but I still think it looks better without all the extra matte plastic cladding and higher ride height. The basic V90 wagon is gorgeous, and while the transition to Cross Country status doesn’t exactly ruin its looks, it does temper my enthusiasm for it a little (see them side by side). In the end, you’re still left with a beautiful, long-roof wagon with Scandinavian design cues such as the “Thor’s hammer” headlights and tall LED taillights that extend into the D-pillars.

Those classy looks deliver in the driving experience, too, which is best described as super smooth. The big Volvo exhibits all the characteristics of a premium European luxury car, every bit as refined as competitors from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar and the like.

That the wagon is powered by a four-cylinder engine may come as a surprise, given the powerful, immediate acceleration that’s available when called upon, but it’s true: It’s powered by a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making a very respectable 316 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque. Power is routed through an eight-speed automatic transmission driving a permanent all-wheel-drive system. The powertrain is smooth and quick, doesn’t produce any intrusive or unpleasant sounds and provides power and acceleration in a seamless rush that materializes without any drama. It feels perfectly matched to its application in this wagon, meaning you’ll quickly forget about the engine and transmission as they blend into the background of your experience.

The V90 CC handles like the big car it is. Steering feel is heavily boosted, so driving it is a relaxed experience, not something you could call athletic — even when you pop the drive mode selector into Sport mode. Ride quality is fair; the optional 20-inch wheels and tires on my test vehicle were fine on calm stretches of highway, but they fared worse on broken urban surfaces, like the downtown streets of Chicago. And it must be said, while the cabin is comfortable it is not especially quiet. There’s a decent amount of road and wind noise in the V90 CC, likely due in part to a roof rack that sets you up for plenty of rushing noise around the top of the windshield and through the moonroof. 

The turning circle is also rather wide. As an urban vehicle, the Volvo V90 CC is a bit too big. As a suburban family shuttlecraft, it fits perfectly into its environment. 

Fuel economy can only be called fair. The EPA rates it 20/30/24 mpg city/highway/combined. My week with the wagon returned an overall 23.5 mpg despite a lot of highway driving, which is not an especially good result. It is better than any of its competitors, however, with the Audi A6 Allroad rated 20/26/22 mpg and the Jaguar XF Sportbrake’s standard four-cylinder turbo engine coming in at 21/28/24 mpg. Numbers aren’t yet available for the upcoming Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain, but the outgoing 2020 E450 Wagon is rated 19/26/22 mpg. 

Baby Got Back

Of course, the point of a big luxury wagon — whether it can go off-road or not (and the jury’s still out on whether you’d really want to in a V90 Cross Country, given its street tires and lack of a robust four-wheel-drive system) — is the copious amount of space it brings to the party. And here the V90 CC excels. The front seats are spacious, multi-adjustable and covered in fine quality leather. The view out is acceptable, but the beltline is high, so if you drive with your left arm up on the windowsill you’re not going to be all that comfortable. 

The rear seats are also spacious, with plenty of legroom and width that allows for decent three-across seating. Unlike other big SUVs, like the related XC90, there is no third row of seats, so if you’re looking for six- or seven-passenger utility, a crossover SUV would be a better choice. But if there are only five of you and you still want to carry plenty of stuff while you haul your brood around town, the V90 CC wagon might be the better choice. 

Discussions of how big the cargo area is are complicated, once again, by the different ways in which automakers measure such things. Volvo complicates the situation further by offering up two cargo measurements: stuffing the cargo area completely (including the underfloor storage compartment), or limiting yourself to the “horizontal plane defined by the top of the second-row seatback” — meaning loading the cargo area but still allowing yourself to see out the rear window. According to Volvo, if you load the cargo area from the back of the front seats to the ceiling, you’ll have 25.5 cubic feet, which includes the 2.7 cubic feet they give you under the  cargo area floor. Drop the backseat and you’ll have 53.9 cubic feet. However, if you drop the seats and stuff the thing as full as humanly possible, it’ll net you 69.0 cubic feet of total room. per the SAE International  rating method. 

That’s about even with the 69.7 cubic feet the Jaguar XF Sportbrake (British for “wagon”) gets you and a bit more than the 64.0 cubic feet in the Mercedes-Benz E450 Wagon. Audi doesn’t tell us how big the A6 Allroad’s cargo area is, for some reason. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of room for your bags and gear in a V90 CC, and interestingly there’s more cargo room in there than Volvo’s own physically larger XC90 SUV, which rates its overall maximum cargo space at just 65.5 cubic feet. This is likely due to the XC90’s standard third row sapping some cargo room from the back (even though that third row does fold down).

Tech Galore

Volvo’s novel vertically oriented multimedia screen, so unique when it debuted just a few short years ago, has been copied to varying degrees by other automakers recently (have a look at Subaru’s latest in the 2020 Outback and Legacy), but I still think Volvo does it best. It has excellent readability and is quicker than it used to be. Its ability to be reconfigured is highly useful and it has some interesting controls, such as the ability to touch a button and drop the backseat headrests for better rearward visibility. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, of course, and the Volvo-native Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system offers a lot of customization for your listening pleasure. My test car was equipped with the optional Advanced Package, which brings LED adaptive headlights with a cornering feature, headlight washers, 360-degree surround view cameras and a big head-up display for a hefty $2,450. 

It’s Probably Pretty Safe

Volvo has a stellar safety record, but neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested a V90. In fact, NHTSA hasn’t crash-tested any 2020 Volvos aside from its lineup of SUVs, and all of those rated five stars overall; infer what you like. The V90 does have a massive complement of active and passive safety equipment, such as standard blind spot warning with steering assist, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control with pilot assist, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, road sign information, lane keep and lane departure warning, special headrest designs to prevent whiplash in a rear-end collision and more.

Reasonable Pricing to Boot?

Some folks consider Volvo in the same category for luxury as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, while others think of it as just a premium brand, like Buick or Acura. I find Volvo’s interiors easily as well-done as those in the swanky German brands, but Volvo prices itself as more of a premium brand.