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Comparison: 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country vs. 2005 Volvo XC70 Cross Country

Despite of many pundits’ outcries, station wagons are not dead. They never really left us. Some of the most popular SUVs are simply jacked-up wagons with body cladding and a promise of a rugged outdoor life. Volvo’s popular Cross Country models were always that, jacked up versions of their conventional models. Their latest offering in this genre is V90 Cross Country – the SUV’ed version of the V90, which is the wagon version of the gorgeous S90 sedan.

In the process of switching owners and generally reinventing itself, Volvo has done an extraordinary job of remaining Volvo. The company’s core designs have been retained but were fortified with more style and technology. But how does this new technology and design of the new V90 Cross-Country compare to a weathered twelve year old XC70 which has always favored function over form?

Much like the sedan, the V90 Cross Country uses the styling language first seen on the XC90. From its male symbol badge to its vertical taillights, it is unmistakably Volvo. While the sharp edges have been curved, the silhouette remains very similar. The pictured V90 was equipped with the luxury package that included color coordinated sills and bumpers, blurring the lines between it and its conventional wagon sibling which is available as a special order only.

In comparison to the older XC70, two key differences emerge. The front bumper, which for years has been the standout feature of all Volvo cars, is pretty much absent from the V90. The grill is now the most forward part of the vehicle which could prove costly even in a minor collision. In the back, the typical right angled D-pillar and the nearly vertical hatch have been cut to almost a 45 degree angle. While this may look modern, it has a substantially negative impact on the cargo volume and rear visibility.

While the exterior remains somewhat familiar to the old vehicle, the new interior is completely different. Gauges have been replaced by a screen that displays gauges. Radio and HVAC controls have also been replaced by a screen of the touch and slide variety. This system seemed to have an updated software from the XC90 I drove some time back, with improved Apple CarPlay integration, but it was still slow at startup. Overall, the interior is exactly the same as the XC90. If there is anything to complain about is that the wood trim was too dark in some places, giving an otherwise rich finish a dull appearance. 

Seats are something that Volvo always got right and that has not changed. Wrapped in soft but thick Nappa leather, all seats are simply comfortable with the front providing space and sufficient adjustments for even the tallest people. In addition to being heated and cooled, the front backrests have a massaging feature. The rear bench is split 60:40 and there is a pass-through behind the center armrest. Surprisingly, the kids said that they had a little more space in the old car despite the seating dimensions being almost the same.

Cargo area is where things do change. The aforementioned sloping hatch can be directly contributed to reduced cargo volume from 37.4 cubic feet in the XC70 to 33.9 in the new V90. This may not seem like a lot until that one road trip when your better half decides to bring everything. Sadly missing from the new car are also two rear-facing seats that kids with strong stomachs love. Some say that this is due to new crash test standards but Tesla Model S and Mercedes-Benz E-class wagon still offer them.

Many of the Volvos seen in the northeast have some kind of a roof rack attached to them. The old XC70 made attaching anything to its roof really simple with two beefy rails running from the front all the way to its squared off rear. The new V90 has something different. Volvo got together with Thule and developed low-profile curved rails that run along the roof. Feet which raise the crossbars from the roof can be placed anywhere along these rails and easily accommodate many of that company’s cargo strapping accessories. With a proper hitch, both cars have a towing capacity of 3500 pounds.

The old inline five engine is gone. Volvo offers only one engine choice on the V90, the supercharged and turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder. It makes 316 horsepower at 5700rpm and 295 lb. ft. of torque between 2200 and 5400rpm. The power goes to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. I have raved about this engine in past but for some reason, it seemed a bit less responsive in the V90 than I recall it from the XC90. EPA rates the Cross Country at 22mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway. Not bad for a large 4221-pound vehicle.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the old XC70 Cross Country and the new V90 Cross Country is in Volvo’s marketing. Much like Audi, Volvo decided to bring itself up-market. This is why the beautifully redesigned car has the latest technologies and features in it whereas the older car focused more functionality and safety. In 2005, the pictured XC70 sold for around $35,000, which is about $44,000 in today’s money. The vehicle pictured here starts at $55,300. Equipped with Convenience and Luxury Packages, Bowers and Wilkins audio, rear air suspension, and several other items, it retails for $69,440 with destination charges. 

Through all the changes at Volvo, some things have not changed – the little things. The feel of the switches, the smell of the leather, Volvo’s iconic font, the sound various things make, they are all typical Volvo. And Volvo’s idea of what a wagon should be has not changed, either. In a world overloaded with SUVs, wagons might still make a comeback. Oddly, it won’t be due to their practicality or lower costs but rather to the fact that wagons are simply something different, perhaps something that a young family’s parents were not driving.

[Disclaimer: Volvo Car Corporation provided the V90 Cross Country for the purpose of this review. My friend Ari provided the 2005 XC70 Cross Country. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2017]

  • Zentropy

    This was my hands-down favorite car of the Detroit Auto Show. I’m admittedly enamored with station wagons, but this car impressed regardless. With such a car available in the American market, I don’t understand the argument for SUVs.

    • Harry Callahan

      Sitting higher-up from the road seem to appeal to American motorists. I am with you however…I have no interest in the ill-handling, fuel-swilling trucks.

  • Not my kind of car, but a very interesting format (old vs. new), and much better executed than what I have seen in print (they usually reduce on size and HP comparisons). Keep on doing these!

  • Fred Talmadge

    “substantially negative impact on the cargo volume” Personally that seems like an exageration. I base this on my own TSX Sportwagon. What ever space I loose is space that I probably never actually use. I drove half way accross the country with a lot of my personal stuff in the back and if the back was squared off I don’t think it would of made any real difference.

    • Sjalabais

      We just got back from our vacation in Europe, and I agree on the loading thing when it comes to luggage and “stuff”. Our Camry carried four people and a biblical load of luggage just fine. Here’s my wife in the unloading process upon arrival:
      https://s3.postimg.org/g71ihcjgj/20170725_225647.jpg
      But there are very different, other loading situations that the configuration above misses out on. Maybe they are redundant, with the car being more a fine accesoire than an everyday hauler, but when I load firewood for instance, just the lowered roof line of my Honda van is in the way. Carry furniture, bike and other bulky stuff in the car, and the design is impractical. Maybe people who afford such a Volvo nowadays rent a van, have a trailer, or just get their stuff delivered – but the car is just not as versatile as it used to be.

      • Amoore

        Hold on, I have to be off topic for a second: why and how do you have (what looks like) a USDM XV30 Camry in Europe? Wasn’t only the Avensis sold there?

        • Sjalabais

          Norway (or Scandinavia in general) used to be a bit special, with a huge preference for bigger cars over the European small cars. So we got this officially, but it was the last generation Camry in Norway – since they didn’t offer a wagon, sales plunged. Per 2015, there were 201 2001 models and 263 2002 models registered in Norway, and a dozen or so for every consecutive year for the hardcore Camry fans (I see you laughing) who import them privately. Initially, I didn’t like the car – soft as a cake, strangely shifting automatic – but the running costs are unbelievably low. We also got it cheap and well-maintained, so this is a good one. It also happens to have a J-VIN, so I guess ut is JEM rather than UDM.

          (No brevity in my answers, sorry)

          • Amoore

            Got it, totally understand. If it weren’t for the 25 year rule I’d probably be all for importing Avensis wagons too so I completely empathize with that mentality. It’s interesting how the XV30 was actually sold in Norway though, I’m guessing alongside the contemporary Avensis? Haha, I feel you though; the first car I ever drove was the XV30 Camry of my driving instructor and it was such a wallowy meringue–so glad to be driving Hondas and Volvos now!

            • Sjalabais

              Actually, hearing you say you’d like to import an Avensis wagon makes me understand American’s reactions to our Camry more, ha! A friend of mine bought a beautiful dark green BMW 5 wagon with tan interior against my sound advice. It was gorgeous. It was crap. After I had to help him start the car with the measly battery in a 1971 Volvo 145, that looked almost beaten to death, he went straight off to buy a two year old Avensis wagon. That’s five years ago and the thing is moving as it should, always, at a low cost. Which is really what counts with the cars we move for reasons other than entertainment.

      • A proper Norwegian will have a trailer for the wood.
        http://www.cdn.tv2.no/images?imageId=8667623&x=0&y=0&cropw=93.140243902439&croph=100&width=344&height=208&compression=75

        I am packing up the van (LWB Vivaro) right now for the way up (well, not right NOW…), still 60% empty and almost done. Finally I get to take my western guitar, and Mrs nanoop took two couch tables, because we can.

        A sports car is a car that can hold all your sports gear (if couching is a sport, that is).

    • Fred – I’ve experienced this in many vehicles. The Acura MDX comes to mind specially. When I loaded up for a long ski weekend, the hatch hardly closed. Previous gen was more squared off and even with a numberically higher cargo volume I was able to stuff things into it more easily.

  • Sjalabais

    Awesome comparison, more of that, please! But you left out one big thing: How is the difference in driving them? Even in 2005, the XC70 you now describe as rugged was perceived as a step upmarked, but what is illustrating is how much this segment develops over time. Many have pointed out that Volvo might struggle to keep up with that, being a small and independent (from the other big, Western players, that is) manufacturer.

    male symbol badge
    Almost there though: The symbol displays the spear of Mars, the war god. The relation here is that Volvo was proud of building cars with highest quality Swedish steel, and Mars mythology is also related to that metal.

    • The name and badge originally referred not to cars but to the manufacture of bearings, for which both volvo = “I roll” and one of the traditional alchemical symbols for iron were quite appropriate.

      I have to wonder whether part of the reason the symbol was chosen was for its suggestion of a ball bearing in motion, as well.

    • This was over 1000 words long so fitting it wouldn’t have been easy. Also, it’s not really fair or relevant to compare a brand new car to one with 130k miles.