Rocky Mountain High: Volvo's New Cross Country

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Sep 16, 2016

PINEY LAKE, COLORADO—It was a dramatic moment. We were at 9,350 feet in the Colorado Rockies, and the sun was rising over the snow-capped peaks and a half-frozen lake. On a podium in front of us, a covered 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country.

The V90 Cross Country debuts near 10,000 feet. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Built on Volvo’s versatile Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, the V90 Cross Country wagon (with a series of Drive-E four-cylinder engines) splits the difference between the S90 sedan and the XC90 off-roader—even the fuel economy (not yet revealed) should be right between the two. The handsome beast looks more like a wagon than an SUV, though 8.3 inches of ground clearance and black cladding around the wheels offer off-road cues.

The V90 Cross Country replaces the XC70, and it sits on the company's new platform. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Cross Country (replacing the XC70, and simultaneously unveiled in Sweden and Switzerland) goes on sale in March of next year, and will start at $56,295. AWD is standard.

The new wagon fits in the company’s rapidly changing lineup, which (largely on the strength of XC90 sales) has taken off this year. Volvo Cars USA CEO Lex Kerssemakers touts double-digit sales growth in each of the last 14 months.

Piney Lake is reached via 10 miles of dirt road--all the better for testing the AWD. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Cross Country, introduced in 1996, has been a cash cow for Volvo in the U.S.—200,000 have been sold since the introduction. Along with a lot of safety tech (from collision avoidance and lane keeping to pedestrian/cyclist detection), it’s the next Volvo to offer the company’s Pilot Assist, which can take over (with you alert in the driver’s seat) on highways and in stop-and-go congestion.

The S60 and XC60 offer luxury choices on a smaller budget. (Jim Motavalli photo)

There are many levels for self-driving cars, and Pilot Assist isn’t as sophisticated as Volvo’s system that will hit the road in XC90s next year in Gothenburg, Sweden. That fleet of 100 cars will serve commuters dicing it up in regular traffic. And yet another technology suite is in place in the XC90s that will hit the road in Pittsburgh before the end of the year, as part of a ride-sharing pilot program that also includes self-driving Fords.

The V90 meets the morning sun. Volvo hopes it's the dawn of a new day. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Clearly, Volvo is getting serious about this self-driving thing. “Uber was looking for cars to drive, and we had them,” said Kerssemakers. Lutz Stiegler, a powertrain controls and calibration specialist, explained that the sensor package in the Pittsburgh cars is not Volvo’s own, but is instead a proprietary system developed by Uber and its partners. Exactly when the Volvos will begin picking up fares in Pittsburgh is unclear, but it should be within a month or two. Ford’s Fusion-based “Boron 6” cars, with 20 cameras and seven lasers, launched this week.

The Cross Country will be offered with a pair of two-liter Drive-E engines, the turbocharged T-5 and the turbocharged and supercharged T6. It weighs 300 pounds less than the XC90, so performance should be a smidge better. I didn’t get a chance to drive it, but enjoyed sitting in the massage-friendly seat and admiring the black walnut on the dash.

Inside the V90 with the massage seats and black walnut dash. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I did get a chance to drive the 2017 S60 Cross Country and XC60 between mile-high Denver and Vail’s ski country. These downsized versions offer a compelling case, not least in the bottom line. An S60 AWD Cross Country I drove—loaded—came in at $48,820, not cheap of course but certainly competitive for European entries in this class. Blame all the onboard tech that buyers love—the average price of a car sold in the U.S. has risen to $33,650, says Kelley Blue Book.

The two-liter turbo, connected to an eight-speed automatic, produces 30 mpg on the highway/22 city, which is quite good considering all the safety technology the car carries. And it was darned comfortable on a two-hour drive. If I had a quibble, it was with the sometimes-confusing and complex navigation system. We Americans like it simple.

Goodbye, my beloved 122S....(Jim Motavalli photo)

This week, for the first time in probably 30 years, I’m not a Volvo owner. My beloved 122S wagon is going to a new owner in Philadelphia. I guess I’ll have to go Volvo shopping again. A new one this time? Here's a closer look at the V90 Cross Country on video:

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