Few automakers offer such a challenging choice
We fell hard for the original Volvo XC90. It waltzed away pretty cleanly with our 2016 SUV of the Year calipers, and I personally bonded with the long-term XC90 T6 that spent its wondrous year in Detroit. But we auto scribblers joke that our absolute dream vehicle is a second-hand brown station wagon (ideally with a diesel and a stick-shift, rendering the car all but unsalable to civilian buyers, so we never have to put our money where our mouths are). After a week stylin’ and profilin’ in this longer, lower, lovelier V90 Cross Country T6 AWD riff on the same basic hardware and architecture, how do these two long-roof, high-ground-clearance Volvos compare?
Let’s start with price. The brown beauty like the V90 Cross Country pictured at top rings the register at $69,440 USD, as compared with our 2016 XC90 T6 Inscription’s $69,625 USD. Suffice to say they’re both lavishly equipped with all the sensible safety features and sybaritic pleasures any middle-class Midwesterner could conceive of. Base 2018 pricing puts the entry-level T5 and T6 variants of the V90 XC ahead of their XC90 counterparts by $3,200 USD and $1,700 USD, respectively.
Moving on to more practical matters, having started my career as an engineer in vehicle packaging, I understand the benefits of elevating the chairs up off the floor. The XC is only a half inch longer on a 1.7-inch-longer wheelbase, yet its 9.2 inches of additional height find room for three rows of seats. Curiously, although the XC is 1.7 inches wider, interior shoulder room is only 0.6 inch wider in the middle-row seat. The front seating positions are much more legs-out, and the driver gets 1.3 inches more legroom, which comes at the expense of 1.1 inches less space for rear legs. SAE passenger space measures identical in front, 2.8 cubic feet smaller in back.
Not surprisingly, the wagon’s cargo volume shrinks, as well—down from the XC’s maximum of 87.5 cubic feet to 69.0 cubes. Put the middle seats up, and you can still fit 41.8 cubes in the XC and 28.6 in the V. V90 models only get two rear tie-down hooks, whereas the XC90 puts tie-downs at each corner of the load floor and even offers hooks integrated into the front seat tracks for securing things when all the seats are down. On the plus side for the wagon, the load floor is just 26.8 inches off the ground as compared with 30.8 inches for the XC90. The wagon also boasts power-folding rear seats and a handy pop-up cargo organizer that includes two bag hooks. The latter is included in the $1,950 USD Convenience package; four hooks come standard molded into the sides of the cargo area. The wagon’s cargo shade also motors up and down automatically when you open the hatch (which is part of a $4,500 USD Luxury package). Both long-roof Volvos include just under 3 cubic feet of under-floor stowage. In the wagon, a hydraulic strut–supported panel covers a thin space above the spare tire, whereas in the ute it’s a deeper cross-car well at the back, where we tended to keep all the XC90’s drop hitch, its locking pin, and other towing paraphernalia.
Speaking of towing, the XC90 is rated for 5,200 pounds (2,359 kg), and the V90 Cross Country can only manage 3,500. That’s thanks primarily to the ute’s broader stance (in addition to the longer wheelbase, its front and rear track widths are greater by almost an inch) and its curb weight, which runs about 300 to 400 pounds (181 kg) heavier than the wagon’s. Engine and brake specs are a wash (at least when you equip the V90 Cross Country with the 18-inch or larger wheels).
In addition to that fuel economy–penalizing weight difference, the wagon enjoys considerably slipperier aerodynamics, thanks to its much smaller frontal area—25.5 square feet versus the XC90’s 29.9. Interestingly, the XC90’s 0.33 drag coefficient is slightly better than the wagon’s 0.35–0.37, but the wagon ends up with a 5 percent drag-area advantage. As a result, the wagon’s EPA city/highway/combined ratings are 2 mpg (117.6 L/100km) better across the board—22/29/25 (10.7/8.1/9.4 L/100km) versus 20/27/23 mpg (11.8/8.7/10.2 L/100km), when comparing T6 models. (With T5s the difference is larger still: 23/31/26 (10.2/7.6/9 L/100km) versus 22/28/24 mpg (10.7/8.4/9.8 L/100km) for AWD models and 24/34/27 (9.8/6.9/8.7 L/100km) versus 22/29/25 (10.7/8.1/9.4 L/100km) for front-drivers, though then the V90 loses its Cross Country designation.)
Not surprisingly the wagon is swifter and nimbler by about as much as it is thriftier than the SUV. It completes both the quarter mile and our figure-eight circuit 0.2 second quicker than the XC—14.8 seconds at 93.7 mph (150.8 km/h) and 26.4 seconds at 0.68 g for the V90 Cross Country T6 versus 15.0 second at 94.0 mph (151.3km/h) and 26.6 seconds at 0.66 g average for the XC90 T6. Tooling around town, this difference isn’t readily apparent, though I found myself more comfortable attempting quick lane-change maneuvers and jinking through traffic in the nimbler wagon than in the taller, heavier XC90.
Which one would I be more likely to chisel money out of my own tight wallet for? Despite having learned to drive on a wagon and having owned six of them in my day, and in spite of this V90 Cross Country’s fetching Maple Brown Metallic finish and low, luscious styling, I’m afraid I’m just too left-brained to pay extra for the styling and then find myself unable to tow the TEN party trailer or haul my 29-inch-tall air compressor up to the lake place. Now if a manual diesel option appears on the wagon order sheet …