The station wagon was once the most on-trend form factor for family vehicles, yet by the middle of the 1980s the venerable wagon had become an embarrassing mom-mobile. Instead, everyone wanted the new hotness called a minivan, which not only looked a bit like that new hand-held vacuum cleaner that everyone just bought, but also offered greater utility for the parent-driver. Eventually the minivan was also painted with the uncool mom aura, and the market moved to SUVs.
Now, some 40 years after its zenith, time has almost run out on the station wagon. A handful of OEMs still pander to the wagoncurious, though, notably those stylish Swedes at Volvo. The company’s two most handsome products right now are arguably the V90 and V60 wagons, which both somehow fuse a hint of muscle car to traditional two-box shape. But those aren’t the only station wagons on the brand’s roster, because there are the Cross Country models. The idea takes the station wagon, then adds a couple of inches of ride height, giving it the ability to better traverse unpaved roads—cross country, you see?
I tested the V90 Cross Country three years ago, and today it’s the turn of the V60 Cross Country. Specifically, the $45,450 V60 Cross Country T5 AWD. You can distinguish it from the regular V60 by the fact that the Cross Country rides a couple of inches higher up, and it is adorned with raw plastic bumpers around its bottom edges, the better to cope with spending time on gravel. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but this eye beholds that those two little tweaks do the looks of this midsize wagon no favors.
On the inside I have no such complaints, although I prefer the woven textile seats, a no-cost option, to the cream leather interior that came with our test car. However, the view from the inside suffers from a bit of a blind spot caused by the driver-side mirror.
The digital instrument panel and nine-inch infotainment screen don’t have quite the wow factor they once had, and the car runs the older version of Sensus rather than the Android Automotive-based infotainment that Volvo is now adopting. That said, the minimalist UI theme is stark and free of extraneous information, and even if you hate it there’s (wired) Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
For US Volvos, T5 is the entry point to each different model, with a turbocharged 250hp (187kW) 2.0L four-cylinder gasoline engine under the hood. This is coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and since the point is being able to drive where other wagons fear to tread, every Cross Country comes with all-wheel drive.
For the same reason, the V60 Cross Country sits 8 inches (203mm) off the ground with just the driver onboard, 2.4 inches (61mm) higher up than the regular V60. That provides the Cross Country with an approach angle of 17˚, a breakover angle of 18.4˚, and a departure angle of 22.8˚. Volvo also says it can wade through 11.8-inch (300mm) deep streams, as long as one does that at a walking pace.
However, I tested none of these abilities, because I live in the middle of a city. And here, unfortunately, the effect of raising the ride height by a couple of inches is detrimental to the car’s handling. The trade-off for more ground clearance is a higher center of gravity, and that means the Cross Country’s softly sprung body likes to roll a bit in the corners. But then if you wanted a fine-handling Volvo station wagon, you’d probably order the plug-in hybrid V60 T8. That one comes with a little gold halo (and gold seat belts and brake calipers) courtesy of Polestar, but it also costs $22,495 more.
The V60 Cross Country’s ability to ride on rough roads has a tradeoff when it comes time to refuel. The V60 Cross Country averages a combined 25mpg (9.4l/100km); for comparison the front-wheel drive V60 averages 27mpg (8.7l/100km), and the plug-in hybrid V60 reaches 30mpg (7.8l/100km).
The Cross Country might lean a little more in the turns than I like, but that probably adds to its safety factor on the road since it enforces a “brake before the corner” driving style. Not that you ever feel unsafe cocooned in one of Gothenburg’s finest, which come packed with the latest and greatest advanced driver assistance systems, including forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, that recognizes large quadrupeds, cyclists, and pedestrians as well as other road vehicles. All the blind spots are monitored, and lane keeping is provided as standard, but you do need to pay for the Advanced Package ($1,900) to get adaptive cruise control, 360-degree parking cameras, a heads-up display, and wireless charging for your phone.
By now, you might have the impression I’m not entirely enamored with the V60 Cross Country. This is true, but it’s also irrelevant, for the sales numbers do not lie. For the first nine months of 2020, Volvo sold 1,048 of the normal V60 station wagons here in the US, but nearly three times as many V60 Cross Countries—2,903 in all. But here’s the stat that will make all us wagon fans feel bad: during the same time period, 20,462 people bought Volvo XC60 SUVs.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin