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The Best Off-Road Wagon Is Now On Sale in America — Here’s Our Review

Multiple rugged wagons are available; Volvo’s is the overall winner.

Over pre-dinner champagne at Fäviken Magasinet, a middle-aged journalist from Sweden (who accurately — eerily — resembled a younger Max Von Sydow) explained to me that he doesn’t use metal studded tires, despite proximity to the Arctic Circle. He’s wary of fine metal particles that end up ground into the air by road surfaces, worried about his and his family’s lungs.

Despite winter dragging its claws over these United States, studded tires, while widely permitted, are seldom seen. When you’re driving the new off-road Volvo wagon on frozen Swedish lakes, however, studded tires are a must. When combined with a massively impressive all-wheel-drive wagon, studs make you feel invincible, lungs be damned.

The V90 Cross Country carries on a now two-decade-old series of rugged, all-terrain-focused vehicles from everyone’s favorite Swedish carmaker. Its predecessor, the XC70, was as handsome as wagons came, with its lithe lines, raised suspension and tough wheel-well cladding. And out of all of Volvo’s current and future offerings, I promise you that this is the one you want.

At the present, Volvo is doubling efforts to completely revamp its entire model lineup, and fast. The new, very recently minted XC90, is likely the best-looking SUV on the road, and an all-new version of the XC60, the XC90’s little brother, is debuting at the Geneva Motor Show in a few week’s time. But it’s the brand new S90 sedan that, until now, led the design charge: impossibly sexy, laden with thoroughly modern technology and incredibly safe. The V90 wagon is a stretched version of that car: the Cross Country will land on U.S. soil this spring; the “regular” V90 will follow later in 2017.

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country

Engine: 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: eight-speed automoatic, all-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 316
Torque: 295 lb-ft
MPG City/Highway: 22/30
MSRP: $55,300

This segment — one luxurious notch above Subaru’s stake in the market — features stiff competition: the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain, which is the high-luxury option, and Audi’s A4-based allroad, which is a commendable entry, though its all-wheel-drive system leaves a lot to be desired. It’s worth pointing out that our review of the E-Class names it the best all-wheel-drive wagon in the world — I still think this one is better because it’s new from the ground up, meaning it’s purpose-built to, well, be better. It’s better-looking, not derivative. It’s supremely comfortable, not smugly cushy. Its power delivery and management are engineered for excellent response and mileage, an aim of Volvo’s new era. It’s a usurper of the stodgy (sorry!) E-Class and partial let-down Allroad.

It’s magnificent to look at, better to sit in and lustily more wonderful to drive than either the Mercedes or the Audi. The technology inside — from semi-autonomous driving tech to the beautifully large touchscreen controls — is top-notch and designed to be intuitive and unobtrusive. In this trim level, the cabin is airy and an example of exceptional Swedish aesthetics: minimal yet sumptuous, extremely detailed yet accessible and restrained.

I’ll never stop saying it, so long as I may live: as a category, wagons are, hands down, the best vehicles on the road.

The best part, though, is how it tackles classically Nordic winter roads. With 8.3 inches of ground clearance (it’s raised 2.4 over the standard V90), there’s little “country” in the average or even somewhat exceptional lifestyle that one might not be able to “cross.” Moreover, the lifted ride height, while functional, also does wonder for the wagon’s stance. Not all cars can look beautiful — some just look good, or modern, or well designed. The V90 CC is beautiful. And thanks to its low-slung stance and extra length, it’s balanced and poised perfectly for gracefully dancing its backend around on natural ice rinks, as evidenced in the video here. (That ice ballet, mind you, was done with an empty back seat and a cargo area full of four day’s worth of luggage and gear for two men.

I’ll never stop saying it, so long as I may live: as a category, wagons are, hands down, the best vehicles on the road. (The best singular vehicle is a different story…) They are pragmatic: plenty of cargo room, pleasant enough on the pocketbook when you fill the tank. But if you get the greatest possible combination of luxury, sport, tech, safety and design all rolled into one wagon, as you do with the V90 CC, pragmatism isn’t just a good thing. In fact, it may be the best thing.

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