Home Reviews 2021 Volvo V90XC Review: Understated Elegance 

2021 Volvo V90XC Review: Understated Elegance 


The V90 Cross Country makes a reappearance after being absent for 2020, and becomes a tempting mid-size wagon in the process. Armed with a new twin-charged motor, a sound system that will make your ears bleed, and pitched oak interior bits, the V90XC isn’t here to mess around. It also happens to have perhaps the best sound system I’ve ever experienced, read on to see why the new Cross Country is an absolute winner.  

Out of Spec Score: 72/100

Volvo V90XC in front of a snowy mountain range

Styling 8/10

First and foremost, I do have a soft spot for wagons, especially when they’re reminiscent of a shooting brake. Volvo’s new V90XC certainly is of that camp, and my goodness does it look good, especially when spec’d with the Thunder Grey paint that I was treated to with my presser. Elegant with a hint of athleticism, there isn’t a single angle that the V90XC doesn’t look good from. That said, I would argue its side profile is really the best part, due to the long sweeping windows and how they end near the rear hatch, flowing back at an almost 45 degree angle parallel to the tail lights. It’s fantastic, and the LED tail lights are absolutely striking without being over designed, a trait many modern cars tend to suffer from. 

Up front, things are just as elegant as the lavish grill and LED headlights are unmistakingly Volvo in the best way possible. 20” wheels do an exceptional job of filling the wheel wells without sacrificing too much off pavement potential that merits the XC badge in the first place. The added optional cargo carrier uptop really pushes the agenda that this V90 is made to go places, with function leading to form, and I am a huge advocate of that mentality.

During my stint with the V90XC I spent plenty of time looking at it, especially after parking. If you’re a regular, you’re starting to catch that this is my test of if a vehicle truly looks good, and the V90XC passes with flying colors, earning a styling score of 8 out of 10. 

Interior 7.5/10

2021 Volvo V90XC interior dash

The V90XC keeps the elegance train rolling into its interior as well, it’s absolutely fantastic, and every bit on par with some of its German rivals, perhaps even better. A mix of premium leather, piano black, brushed aluminum, and pitched oak, the V90XC manages to impress with both material quality, and ergonomics. A 12.3 inch digital screen serves as the gauge cluster, with high quality pixels and elegant fonts that are unmistakingly Volvo. A simple center console is dominated by a vertically oriented 9 inch touchscreen infotainment system that controls everything from audio to heating and air con. 

One of my favorite bits about the interior of the V90 is the aluminum speaker covers on the door for the Bowers & Wilkins 19 speaker audio system (more on that later) as it screams bespoke goodness. Lastly, the perforated leather seats absolutely look the part, even if they weren’t as comfortable as they looked, which I will get to later. Overall I was blown away by the quality of the V90XC’s interior, and equally impressed with how on par it has become with its southern rivals from Deutschland, earning it an interior score of 7.5 out of 10.

Performance 4.5/10

Before we dive into this, it should be noted that Volvo has never built a car strictly for performance, as even some of the ‘R’ models just err on the side of sporty. The V90XC doesn’t try to break that motif at all, and while it does have a fancy motor dripping with useful tech, I was left a bit disappointed. My ‘T6’ badged presser was equipped with a 2.0L twin-charged inline four that sings to the tune of 316 horsepower at 5,700RPMs and 295 pound feet of torque at an impressive 2,200RPMs. That’s a lot of torque at just over two thousand RPMs for a four-cylinder, the T6 motor is able to achieve this by utilizing a positive displacement roots-type supercharger for the low end that uses a clutch to disengage at 3,500RPM when the turbo is fully spooled. While on paper this combination seems awesome, in practice I found it very peaky and lacking of low end grunt as it really didn’t come alive until around 4,000RPM. For a vehicle that’s over sixty thousand dollars and twin-charged, it needs a little more oomph.

Motor disappointments aside, the eight speed automatic that power is funneled through to all four wheels, was excellent, offering crisp and smooth shifts even when the motor needed it to kick down a few gears. Toss the V90XC into a corner and it’s a bit soft, but once the air suspension loads up it’s predictable and surprisingly nimble for a vehicle that has zero intentions of impressing you with its sporting prowess. Braking power is acceptable though pedal feel is a bit spongy in spirited situations.  However, if you’re in the market for a V90XC none of this is likely to bother you as performance is probably the last thing you thought about when purchasing one. Simply put, the V90XC can’t be bothered by its performance score of 4.5 out of 10, which arguably makes it even cooler.

Practicality 8/10

While it may have scored low for performance, potential buyers will be pleased to know it earns back points in the practicality section, in typical Volvo wagon fashion. Despite all of the lavish interior materials, the optional rubberized floor mats and cargo area communicate that you shouldn’t shy away from using your V90XC for its intended purpose, which is traveling places, even when the pavement ends. If that’s not enough to convince you that the XC is begging to go places, check out the massive optional cargo carrier. Combined with the 26 cubic feet of cargo volume and 97 cubic feet of passenger volume, you can travel comfortably either alone or with company.

My presser was equipped with optional air suspension, and while it doesn’t raise the vehicle, it does level it out, which seems like a missed opportunity for more off road potential, but it works well nevertheless. It should be noted as well that despite being equipped with just four cylinders, the V90XC in T6 trim is capable of towing 3,500lbs. That’s more than enough for a small pop-up camper or a couple of dirt bikes, which further accentuates the V90XC’s take me on an adventure attitude, helping it earn its 8 out of 10 score.    

Comfort 7/10

In typical Volvo fashion, the V90XC is remarkably comfortable, save for one gripe. Ingress and egress are a breeze, which elderly potential buyers or those with mobility issues should consider a huge plus. Once inside, the cabin is quiet and ergonomically laid out, while the luxurious interior materials certainly help embody comfort. Ride quality is superb and where the V90XC earns most of its points, as it cannot be bothered by road imperfections, corrugated off road terrain, or washboard dirt roads. While I didn’t take the V90XC wheeling proper, I did go up the mountain to one of my favorite lookout spots which requires a fair bit of driving on unpaved roads that are extremely bumpy, even my Land Cruiser struggles with compliance on this section. In the V90XC I could barely tell I was off road. 

Despite the praises for ride quality, the seats have a very firm bar that runs across the lower section where you sit, which I found extremely uncomfortable, a thought paralleled by a few of my passengers. While they are massaging, it doesn’t make up for how uncomfortable this was. Were the seats lacking that hard spot, I would have given the V90XC a 9 out of 10 for comfort, but due to how harsh it makes simply sitting, ride quality aside, I have to score it a 7 out of 10. Aside from the peaky motor, this was my least favorite thing about the Cross Country.

Tech 7/10

Most of the V90XC’s tech is related to its twin-charged ‘T6’ dubbed inline four engine, which I found underwhelming. That’s not to say the V90XC is in the stone age however, as it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Starting with the leveling air suspension, the ride as mentioned above is fantastic, and the whichcraft that the system uses to make corrugated off road bumps disappear is something truly special. Moving to the interior, the 9 inch touchscreen infotainment system is beautiful, offering aesthetically pleasing fonts and an easy to use interface. One of my absolute favorite things about the V90XC is its wireless charging station, which is nestled beside the gear select in the perfect orientation. On most modern vehicles I have found the wireless charging station to be in an inconvenient spot if you actually plan to use your phone, or it will slide around and you eventually say the heck with it and put it in the cupholder and opt for the wired charger. With the V90XC however, my phone fit perfectly, was within reach, and didn’t move about if I so much as pulled out of a parking spot. 

Lastly, and the main reason it was able to squeak out a 7 out of 10 score, is the Bowers & Wilkins 19 speaker premium sound system. While the option does cost just over four thousand dollars, I reckon it is worth every single penny, as I have never experienced a sound system that is as nice as the V90XC’s unit. Volume, clarity, bass, mids, and highs are all as good as it gets. Whether it’s the latest dance track or an oldies classic, the Bowers & Wilkins system is sure to have your significant other yelling at you to turn it down when you pull in the garage. 

Connected Services 7.5/10

To say Volvo forgot about connected services with the V90XC would be ignorant, though it doesn’t have anything that is out of the ordinary by today’s standards. Bluetooth connectivity is standard as is Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and in car WiFi. Volvo’s ‘Sensus’ infotainment connection system is included on the V90XC but it is a little bit slow, though easy to use. It’s included for three months with new purchases and includes up to three GB of data per month. There are other apps that you can use within this to remote start your V90XC and schedule maintenance appointments etc. As you know, I am a huge advocate for over the air updates, which is something the V90XC does have for its software systems and some engine modules. These help the V90XC earn a connected services score of 7.5 out of 10. 

Active Safety 7.5/10

If there is one category that Volvo does exert a fair amount of effort towards excelling in, it’s safety, and though the V90XC does come with an impressive list of standard safety features, the list may not be as extensive as you’d think. It does have lane keeping and lane assist, automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and radar cruise control, all considered industry standard for vehicles in the V90XC’s class.

Other standard features include things such as blind spot detection and warning, and a useful parking assist system. Arguably most impressive however is the Pilot Assist semi autonomous driving system for highway use. Similar to Teslas that are not equipped with the full autonomous driving package, it will keep the lane you are in and maintain speed through traffic flow. Volvo lovers can sleep easy, as the V90XC continues Volvo’s safety reputation with a score of 7.5 out of 10. 

Value 7/10 

Before options, the V90XC starts at $56,945, priced similarly to its German rivals. Opt for all of the good bits like the Bowers & Wilkins sound system and air suspension, and you’re a bit closer to $70,000. It’s a lot of money, but the interior is every bit as nice as the offerings of the big three from Germany, and the ride quality cannot be matched by any of them. At full spec, it’s a fair bit cheaper than its German rivals as well, which ring up to just over $80,000 when configured similarly. Factor in the off pavement potential, safety, and Volvo quirkiness and you have a seriously lethal contender in the mid-size wagon market. I’m going to say it again, the sound system is absolutely worth it, though if you don’t need it (you do), it does knock a big chunk off the price. I score the V90XC at 7 out of 10 for value, as it’s the best bang for the buck in its class.

Editors Influence 8/10 

As mentioned in my remarks about the V90XCs styling, I love the fact that it’s more or less a four door shooting brake. Polarizing from almost all angles, the V90 really is a looker, even in Cross Country guise. It’s such a low stress car to just get in and drive, be it going to get milk or going for a crazy weekend adventure to see the Grand Tetons. Everything is easy to use, the learning curve is much less steep than many of its German rivals. Between the sound system and ride quality, you may even find yourself looking for excuses to drive it, I know I certainly did. 

While I absolutely love the V90XC, I have to deduct a few points for the peaky motor and comfortable but also extremely uncomfortable seats. While the motor tech is great, I really miss the inline five turbo from former generations, as it was the perfect balance of torque, noise, and quirkiness. I digress, this is the future, and it’s likely that most buyers won’t be too concerned about the engine’s power band. Were I in the market for a new midsize wagon, it certainly wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. In total, I score the Volvo at an 8 out of 10 for editors’ influence. 

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