By Derek Price
For families who want something a bit different, Volvo is serving up the V90 wagon on a quirky platter.
This is one of the few cars that appeals for equally logical and emotional reasons. It has all the boring benefits of a crossover SUV — ample cargo space, a roomy cabin, modern features and all-wheel drive — with a not-so-conventional wagon shape, all of which is wrapped up in a sleek, modern, upscale design.
Personally, I think the current V90 is one of the prettiest utilitarian cars I’ve ever seen. It’s meant to haul kids and cargo, but it doesn’t sacrifice sexiness in the process.
A low-slung shape, sloping roofline, long hood and contemporary creases are all styling tropes that belong on a movie star’s two-door coupe, yet they’re applied to this wagon with great effect. Coupled with some of the nicest accent materials you’ll find in any luxury car, both inside and out, and it’s a recipe for automotive lust.
Again, that’s assuming you’re a contrarian. If you want to go with the flow, just buy an SUV like everyone else does. The V90 is different by design.
My tester was the Cross Country version that blurs the line between wagon and SUV. With protective body molding and a bit more ground clearance, it’s designed with some off-road adventuring in mind, but I also think it detracts from the best part of the V90: that gorgeous shape.
This wagon’s cabin comes in a close second. Gorgeous, open-pore wood trim, rich leather and clean, classically Scandinavian design make it a visually relaxing place to spend time.
Its driving feel is more lively than sedate, though, especially with the powerful T6 engine option on my tester. It doesn’t exactly carve corners like a sports sedan, but it doesn’t waft, either. It’s comfortable on the highway and responsive enough when you need to change lanes or have fun on a winding road, a well-balanced car, as I see it.
Part of the V90’s quirky charm is its unconventional engine lineup. There are two different versions of its turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine available, an odd choice in the luxury segment but one that works beautifully if your goal is blending performance with efficiency.
The base T5 engine makes 250 horsepower, enough to give it a premium feel but hardly overkill.
The upgraded T6 makes a meatier 316 horsepower yet still manages to eke out a respectable 30-mpg government rating for highway driving, even with all-wheel drive. That’s an astounding mix.
You can find more powerful cars than the V90, and more fuel efficient ones. I don’t know any that combine performance with efficiency quite like the current crop of Volvos, though.
No surprise for this brand, the level of safety equipment is substantial. One of my favorite features is Volvo’s brilliant Pilot Assist function, standard on every V90, that does a good job keeping the car centered and following traffic without driver input for brief periods of time.
Pricing starts at $52,895 for the V90 or $55,995 for the more rugged looking, off-road-focused Cross Country.
The more powerful T6 engine is a $6,000 upgrade on the V90 and standard on the Cross Country.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD ($54,900). Options: Lounge package ($2,800), advanced package ($1,700), metallic paint ($45), premium sound ($4,000), adaptive air suspension ($1,200), air cleaner ($250), 20-inch wheels ($800). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $67,740
Wheelbase: 115.8 in.
Length: 195.2 in.
Width: 74.9 in.
Height: 60.7 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (316 hp, 295 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 20 city, 30 highway
Why buy it?
It’s equal parts beautiful and practical. Its wagon shape is more unusual than cookie-cutter SUVs, but it doesn’t sacrifice functionality. Its Scandinavian design is outstanding inside and out.