Stick Shift: Volvo, Vail and the V90 Cross Country

I find myself gliding down a narrow dirt road, winding through bright hues of yellow and autumn orange. I’m on my way to Piney Lake, just up the “hill” from Vail Colorado. The air is cool and pine scented. It’s also getting pretty thin at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. As an auto journalist based in the dry Phoenix Arizona desert. I’m savoring every precious degree below sixty Fahrenheit, and trying to visually digest each tall tree and snow capped mountain peak that I can. The landscape is breathtaking. Delightsome to each of my five senses. It’s also wild and rugged, full of unknown adventure and beckoning me to drive harder and explore deeper.

Image via Brandon Randall
Image via Brandon Randall

It’s no surprise that the car, whose big reveal I’m driving to the oxygen thin top of North America to see, comes from the house of Volvo. Though we’ve only recently begun to see a strong return from this competent Swedish car manufacturer, they’re fully back on the scene now, completely redefined and ready to take the North American auto industry by storm. Volvo intentionally held back for a number of years until it felt it could deliver a line-up that would not just be successful, but truly special.

I’m comfortably maneuvering around rugged tight bends and tree lined dirt straights, sitting behind the wheel of the new XC60. Starting in 2008, Volvo was using 6-cylinder and 5-cylinder Penta engines. Today, as part of their brand overhaul, we find an efficient 4-cylinder turbo in every 60 series car. The spirit and character of my XC60 matches the landscape beyond. It’s beautiful and inviting, but rugged enough and equipped with all the right stuff to meet adventure head on.

Every design feature makes a bold statement. In clear Scandinavian fashion, every line is clean, each button intentionally positioned to keep clutter minimal. There’s three dramatically different XC60 styles to choose from. The Cross Country is aimed at the more active, with capable off-road gear, 2.5” of extra ground clearance, hill-start assist and more. The R-Design comes with lots of sporty flare, unique 20” alloy wheels, aluminum interior inlay and pedals, specially made leather sport seats and more. Finally, the Inscription model delivers added wheelbase with best in class legroom to comfortably chauffeur friends and family around in what amounts to the most luxurious XC60 of the bunch. With many of its underpinnings being the same, but such a plethora of differences between these three models in other ways, they can feel like three totally separate cars. I’ll circle back soon and give my XC60 R-Design the attention it deserves in a separate review. For now, lets get back to Volvo’s big reveal.

After about 10 miles of some of the most scenic driving I’ve ever done, I’m pulling up to the Lake. Volvo has picked a spot so painfully picturesque that I have a hard time focusing on the wagon shaped something hidden under a thin grey fabric cover, sitting on a wooden platform at the lakes edge. It’s still early enough for a mist to hang on the waters surface. The bright yellow sun is starting to punch its way through fluffy white clouds, decorating the waters surface with colorful patterns of green and blue. I lift myself out of the elegant XC60 and step into an Albert Bierstadt painting.

As I Stamp my chilled feet and blow hot hair into my hands, Volvo finally pulls back the covers to reveal the stunning new V90 Cross Country. Let’s dive right in shall we. The first thing you’ll be happy to notice is the classic Volvo wagon shape. Maybe they weren’t the first, but Volvos been fine tuning the wagon design for over 60 years now and nobody does it better. Moving away from the very obvious to the more subtle, you’ll see a substantial 21 cm of ground clearance, flared fenders to widen the cars stance and allow wider tires for better off-road handling, an abruptly snubbed nose, tall tail lights and strongly designed head lamps with an artfully integrated ‘hammer of Thor’ shape. With black gloss trim around the windows, and cladding in a contrasting color to the rest of the car, this luxury wagon stands in a league all its own. I feel short of breathe as I slowly walk around it, taking in every line, curve and detail. That might just be the high altitude. Regardless, there’s nothing visually quite like the new Volvo V90.

Within its very DNA reverberates the environment in which it was raised. Considering that 80% of Switzerland is covered in forests and lakes, Volvo set out to combine extreme levels of luxury and sport utility in one gorgeous package. Critical in accomplishing this was the development of their new Flex Chassis. Plenty of hours were spent testing and fine tuning over 200 details of the chassis. Simulation models were used to ensure high driving performance both on and off the road. To keep you in full control, Volvo has developed its 5th generation AWD system. It’s aided by double wishbone suspension on all four corners and air suspension in the rear. An 8-speed gearbox is paired to a powerful engine with direct injection and a turbo and supercharger, producing ample power across the full rpm range.

The inside, like the XC60, might just be the best part. The new V90 Cross Country exudes Scandinavian splendor from every open black walnut pore. The pearl stitching, soft leather, massaging seats, long sunroof and overall aesthetic is excruciating in its attention to detail and obvious efforts to create a space that’s clutter free, perfectly ergonomic, and ultimately, more comfortable than your own living room.

It’s been an exciting couple of years for Volvo, with the XC90 being showered with praise and accolades, The S60 offering a compelling sedan option and the XC60 perfectly hitting the mid-sized SUV mark, a segment that’s fiery hot in North America. The V90 Cross Country is the perfect way to round off what this thoroughly transformed brand has to offer. What would Volvo be without a wagon option after all. Despite such a successful re-branding, Volvo has no plans of letting the momentum die. Currently in development is an auto-pilot system to create fully autonomous models down the road. They also revealed the noble, albeit lofty goal to pack so many safety features into future cars that they’ll become virtually fatality free. Without a doubt Volvo has given us plenty to love, with plenty more coming our way.


By: Brandon Randall

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