(Source: arstechnica.com)

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

  • Volvo

  • Volvo

The Internet—or at least the bits of it that like to think about cars—has, over the years, coalesced upon a few favorite vehicles. There’s the Mazda Miata, championed as the perfect car by those who idealize driving purity and bolt-action gear shifts. The Subaru WRX used to be another, before it lost its way a generation or two back. And the brown Volvo station wagon is often a contender, for the people of the Internet have broad and varied tastes—and perhaps a sense of irony. A four-wheel antidote to the boy racer, the brown Volvo station wagon stands for safety and practicality with some clever Scandinavian design values in there, too. Here, then, is the 21st century brown Volvo station wagon: the 2017 V90 Cross Country T6.

Further Reading

Review: Hands-on mandatory, but Ars lets Volvo’s XC90 drive itself in trafficThe past few years have been good ones for Volvo. Under Geely’s ownership, the company has been given a giant pile of cash with instructions to make good stuff, and that’s what it has done. There’s an all new platform to be used as the building block for a new line-up of medium and large vehicles, called Scalable Product Architecture. A very good infotainment system called Sensus comes along. And the latest iteration has class-leading driver assists, part of a corporate policy that wants 2020’s Volvos to be the safest passenger vehicles ever. Our first taste of the new Volvo was the XC90 SUV. Then there was the S90 sedan, a nordic alternative to the default German luxury car. And now the V90 offers the missing piece of the 90-series Volvos: the station wagon.

Further Reading

Man and machine driving together in harmony: The 2017 Volvo S90Well, sort of. Station wagons are a dying breed in the US, whether the Internet loves them or not. They’ve been done in by the SUV and the crossover, and that’s technically what we have here. You see, the normal $49,950 Volvo V90 wagon is only available if you special order one; go visit a Volvo lot looking for a new wagon and you’ll just find the Cross Country, which starts at $55,300. At the time, Volvo USA’s CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, explained that by making the V90 special order only, it would “provide the fullest range of options to wagon lovers.” A less charitable interpretation would be that American Volvo dealers didn’t want to get stuck with a bunch of unsold cars.

Mechanically all but identical, the V90 Cross Country is lifted up 2.3 inches (60mm) on its slightly retuned suspension, giving the car a little over eight inches (210mm) of ground clearance. Volvo has also fitted softer tires, and there are some Cross Country-specific styling tweaks like aluminum roof rails, wheel arch extensions, and skid plates.

But you still get the same supercharged, turbocharged engine found under the hood of the normal V90 T6 (and the S90 T6 and XC90 T6). It’s a 2.0L gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine, rated for 316hp (230kW) and 295ft-lbs (400Nm), coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission. In due course, 400hp S90 and V90 T8 plug-in hybrids will be available, but for now that powertrain is the sole preserve of the XC90 SUV.

Man and machine, driving in harmony

Wisely, Volvo decided that its Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving aid should be standard equipment. It has the usual mix of adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, and it continues to be one of the best in class alongside Audi and Tesla in our experience. I spent about two-thirds of my week with the V90 with Pilot Assist active, often stuck in heavy traffic. In these situations, it is brilliant. The car keeps to the center of its lane, it accelerates and brakes (in relation to the speed of the cars in front) smoothly, and it did a lot to preserve some sanity during a two-hour, bumper-to-bumper drive home from a vet with an extremely demonstrative cat.

Under more flowing road conditions, I found I was quickly able to lapse back into the habits I picked up with its S90 sibling, using the thumb controls on the steering wheel to nudge my speed up or down in small increments rather than use the throttle pedal. And as with the S90, this car is also programmed to take a tighter line around left-hand corners than I’d prefer, which creates some nice counterweight to steer against. It’s a rather relaxing, extremely digital way to find pleasure in a drive, but it makes me smile as I travel from A to B, so I think it counts. However, on nearly empty roads I did find Pilot Assist would wait until very late before braking for a stopped car up ahead, later than I was prepared to trust it in most cases.

These findings, both positive and negative, should serve as a reminder that Pilot Assist is just that—an assist. It only works if the person in the driver’s seat is there to provide situational awareness.

Further Reading

The state of the car computer: Forget horsepower, we want megahertz!There was more to like about the V90 Cross Country than just clever sensors and algorithms. The interior is a wonderful place in which to spend time, in no small part thanks to the massaging front chairs that come as part of the $4,500 luxury package. Again, these came in very handy when whiling away the hours on the Beltway. With the rear seats folded flat, cargo capacity is immense—6.4-feet (1.98m) long and 3.5-feet (1.1m) wide, with a total volume of 53.9 cubic feet (1526L). Sensus continues to be a great infotainment system, something Ron Amadeo covered in great depth in a recent feature. And it’s a handsome car—even in Maple Brown metallic paint—although it is rather huge.

Not particularly frugal, though. The EPA gives the V90 Cross Country a combined 25mpg, and 22mpg in city driving. But with me at the wheel, that never got above 18mpg. The traffic and the heat may be more to blame than my heavy right foot—after all, I did let the Volvo control its own speed (and acceleration) most of the time. But its stop-start function (which switches the engine off instead of idling) stops operating when the ambient temperature creeps above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius), and it has been a very hot summer here in DC.

We bet the regular wagon is better

But the V90 Cross Country didn’t wow us like previous Volvos. It’s attempting to bridge a gap between the XC90 SUV and V90 wagon that perhaps shouldn’t have been bridged. I’m sure it’s as capable as Volvo claims when it comes to frozen dirt roads near the Arctic Circle. But on the paved streets of the mid-Atlantic, it comes across as compromised. Just around the corner there’s a rather nasty bit of tarmac that makes up the slip road from Maine Avenue onto 14th St SW. For about two car lengths, the road surface is rippled and dimpled, and it’s a great test of a car’s suspension set up. The V90 Cross Country was at sixes and sevens each time it was confronted with this task, doing terrible things to the ride as each corner tried to sort out its relationship to the ground.

This ought not to be a surprise; after all, what else happens when jacking a car up by a couple of inches and then fitting some squishy tires? More ground clearance means a higher center of gravity and body roll in the corners. It’s just that I don’t see the point, because if you need a luxurious Volvo with plenty of ground clearance and off-road ability, there’s a perfectly good one available in the shape of the XC90. On the other hand, if you want a luxurious Volvo with luggage-hauling abilities and you don’t want compromised handling inherent in an SUV, there’s the regular V90 wagon. Yes, a special order will take a bit longer than just picking one off the lot, but I’m positive you’ll be happier with the results.

Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin

More Info: arstechnica.com

Advertisements