Is Volvo Too Focused On Its EV Push?
by Sean McElroy
Ever since Volvo completely changed its design direction with the new XC90, which came out around 2015, I’ve been a fan of the brand. It leaned hard into its Scandinavian heritage and seemed to be having more fun developing its vehicles. It calls the design of its headlights “Thor’s Hammer” and even sows little Swedish flags into its seats. The overall style of its cars are simple, yet to me they still look premium, which is a combination that I think holds up better over time. This is all true of the 2024 Volvo V90 Cross Country, the slightly higher-riding sibling to the regular V90 station wagon, which is no longer sold in the U.S.
Even though styling has not changed much over the years, I still think it looks modern and the larger wagon creates a bit of its own presence anyway. And massive 21-inch wheels are kind of like the cherry on top of a ice cream sundae. I find the interior equally inviting. Premium/luxury car designers can get carried away with options because they typically have a bigger budget for the interior, but I think Volvo did a nice job of complimenting colors and materials that has a way of drawing you in. Interestingly, while I usually find Volvo seats quite comfy, the ones in the V90 Cross Country were a bit stiff for my liking. There’s an ample amount of adjustment, which helps and the seats will probably improve as they’re broken in, but surprising nonetheless. Designers embedded the 9-inch infotainment screen into the dash and flanked it with a 12.4-inch digital display for the driver. Other than a few buttons for the front and rear window defrosters and the volume knob, pretty much everything else is controlled through the center screen. I would prefer that more controls, like the ones for the HVAC system, were broken out from the screen. I don’t like having to go through multiple screens to get to the controls and it’s touchscreen, so you have to tap to change temp, tap to change fan speed, tap to change blower position. It can also lead to misapplication because your body bounces while you’re driving and you have to take your eyes off the road.
In the U.S. there’s only one powertrain option for the V90 Cross Country. It comes with a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0L 4-cylinder engine that’s paired with a 48-volt mild hybrid system. The setup combines for nearly 300 horsepower, which feeds through the all-wheel drive system and helps provide a 0-60 MPH time of 6.1 seconds. This is not a station wagon that makes you go “wow,” but it has more than enough power on tap from any speed. If you want surprisingly shocking speed from a Volvo you’d need to step up to one of its PHEV models. One advantage the 48-volt system provides the V90 Cross Country is a near imperceptible stop/start system. But even though you really don’t feel the engine shut off or restart, like all stop/start system there’s a slight lag between hitting the gas pedal and when the car actually starts moving on a restart. So, it’s an odd experience because you don’t perceive the engine shutting off or turning back on.
In terms of ride and handling, this is a good car. The steering is always crisp in normal driving situations and the car feels planted. I would prefer a little softer ride, but I think a good portion of that can be attributed to the 21-inch wheels, which aren’t going to have as forgiving as a sidewall. The real problem for Volvo is that I think it’s ICE vehicles are getting passed up by other brands. And by brands that aren’t considered as nice as Volvo.
At the same time as the V90 Cross Country, we had a Subaru Legacy Sport sedan at the office. It probably cost at least $30,000 less than the Volvo (Our V90 Cross Country tipped the pricing scale at just over $73,000) and yeah, the Subbie doesn’t look as nice or have the same quality of materials and the infotainment screen was slow, but I can tell you I’d rather drive the Subaru over the Volvo. Not only did it ride better, but it handled just as well, the seats were more comfortable and it had more character. Combined with a 260 horsepower engine, the setup was shockingly good.
And that should be a problem for Volvo. It’s doing a pretty good job of selling pure electric cars. Close to 20% of all it sales are BEVs and it has plans to go purely electric by 20230. But that means over 80% of its sales are still ICE vehicles and thus its main source of revenue. Volvo did a good job of making its ICE platforms top-notch when they first came out, but it feels like its focus is more on electric and now it’s starting to get passed up by brands that are seen as inferior. So the race will be on to make the electric transition. And if some critics are right and EV demand is much lower than expected, Volvo could find itself being left behind.