In the game of automotive masquerade that is the butch-wagon segment, dark-gray textured plastic is the equivalent of a kid’s cowboy hat. It’s the matte-plastic wheel-arch trim (and sometimes bumper-cover decoration) that says to buyers: “I’ve now become something else. Let’s play.”
And, though they must surely see the plain old station wagon underneath, buyers want to oblige. The dress-up wagons sell so much better than their donor versions that Subaru and Audi don’t even bother offering the non-butch versions anymore. But if dark-gray plastic is the key to success in this game, consider the following weird fact: If you pay enough for your V90 Cross Country, Volvo paints those bits the color of the body, making the Cross Country look nearly identical to the standard V90 wagon that the company also sells but on special order only. We don’t claim to understand this.
But boy, would a buyer pay enough if he chose a Cross Country equipped like our test vehicle. For 2017, the only available drivetrain configuration is the T6 model, which comes with a supercharged and turbocharged 316-hp 2.0-liter inline-four, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive. It carries a $56,295 base price, but our test car cost $69,440 once it was loaded up with soft-leather interior trimmings, massaging front seats, heated rear outboard seats, four-zone climate control, a Bowers & Wilkins audio system, head-up display, air-spring rear suspension, metallic paint, and other niceties. (For ’18, Volvo will also offer a less expensive 250-hp T5 model.)
This drops the Cross Country in the pricing chasm between the A4-based Audi Allroad and the Mercedes-Benz E400 wagon. The Volvo is the size of the Mercedes with an engine the size of the Audi’s.
Even so, that four-cylinder generates impressive output (with 295 pound-feet of torque to go with its load of horsepower). And the 4266-pound Cross Country’s 5.9-second run to 60 mph is plenty quick, if not quite on the pace of the Germans. The problem is the way in which that power is delivered. It surges and ebbs. If you’re riding the torque wave, this wagon feels genuinely quick. Fall off it, though—as you frequently will—and the car feels breathless and wimpy. Climbing back up takes a moment, and the engine moans at the effort. The Cross Country turns in a middling braking performance, requiring 173 feet to stop from 70 mph. And the brakes are grabby and difficult to apply consistently. Its steering is indifferent.
We’re glad to note that, despite wearing optional 20-inch wheels (in place of standard 19s), the Cross Country rides more comfortably than the somewhat flinty sedan on which it’s based. Put the mode selector into dynamic should you want a less comfortable ride. The Cross Country’s structure feels stouter than the sedan’s. We chalk that up to the cushier ride. This is good, because we really want the V90 to be great. It looks stunning (especially in non–Cross Country dress), and the interior is beautifully designed and finished. It’s roomy and practical. And dammit, we like wagons, even when they’re festooned.
But for $70,000, we want more than a cowboy hat. In fact, we don’t want a cowboy hat at all, but you know what we mean.