It's been a minute (okay, a few decades), but there was a time when the streets of America, especially the suburban streets, were packed with station wagons.
The earliest station wagons were beasts of burden, meant to carry a bunch of people and their luggage from train stations to hotels and resorts. But by the 1950s, Ford, seeing a post-war Baby Boom and an emerging migration to the suburbs, decided to aim the station wagon straight at the heart of the American family as something both utilitarian and desirable. The fanciest ones---the ones with the (fake) wood paneling that were a callback to the genuine wood bodies of pre-war wagons---Ford named those the "Country Squire".
And as the "Ford family of fine cars" expanded, they made sure every model this side of the Mustang and Thunderbird got wagons, too. Because the Baby Boom lasted from 1946 to 1964, there were families both big and small that needed hauling all the way through the 70s.
It wasn't just Ford---by the late 50s, all of the Big Three (what we used to call the domestic automakers---Ford, GM and Chrysler---in the days before imports ate their lunch and started building cars here, too) were fielding wagons (and so were the imports)---but Ford sold more. And the prestige wagon---the one everyone wanted---was the full-size (based on the Ford Galaxie/LTD), wood-paneled Country Squire. Until...
National Lampoon's Vacation didn't single-handedly kill off the big American wagon. But ask yourself this--- if you were alive when that movie came out, would you have wanted your dad to bring a brand new Country Squire home anytime after? Two months after "Vacation" hit theaters, Chrysler introduced the 1984 Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan, the first minivans, with more efficient packaging, more efficient operation and---if you wanted it---fake wood paneling.
For the remainder of the 1980s, wagons were pretty much dead. Except at Volvo, which made them cool, verging on badass, for those who still saw the appeal in a wagon whose excesses were in the seemingly opposite virtues of safety and speed.
Which brings us to the present day---where the quick, well-built Volvo wagon is very much still a thing. Volvo actually makes two of them---the big V90 and this, the mid-size V60.
Under the hood, it's a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 247 horsepower and mated to an instant-traction all-wheel drive system and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Sixty from a standing start happens in 7.1 seconds, which isn't an advertising-worthy number anymore, but it's two seconds quicker than the bad black brick of the 80s.
Low to the ground and equipped with a double-wishbone front and integral link rear suspension and riding on 18-inch alloy wheels, the V60 will absolutely out-handle any minivan or crossover. It's simply a more satisfying driver's vehicle than most contemporary family haulers.
Base price of the 2023 Volvo V60 Cross Country AWD Ultimate---the top-trim version and our tester---is $55,195. That price brings a 12.3-inch digital driver display, a 9-inch integrated touchscreen, LED headlights and foglight, a comprehensive active safety suite, a moonroof, perforated Nappa leather seating surface, heated and ventilated front seats, four-zone climate control, auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors, a 12-volt charge port in the cargo area, and an upgraded Harman Kardon premium audio system.
That would be a very nice wagon as-is, but as they say in Sweden, Men vänta, det finns mer.
Our tester came with extra-cost options like the Climate Package (headlamp cleaners, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel) for $750, a luggage cover for $345, the Black Metallic paint is an extra $695.
Then there's the power-operated tailgate for $200, an upgraded set of 20-inch wheels for $3,200, and a further upgraded Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system for another $3,200.
That makes the bottom line on the window sticker read $63,585.
If you asked me to be critical of one thing, I could---Volvo absolutely buried entirely too many functions in its touchscreen. The owner's manual is in there. Has been for years. And I can never remember how to find it (hint for future me: See that rectangular button just above the big round knob? That's the "home" button like on old iPhones). Way too complicated, way too fussy and way too distracting if you want to do anything while in motion---which goes against Volvo's longstanding safety ethos. That needs a redesign ASAP.
So there's that. But overall, the Volvo V60 Cross Country is all the good stuff about station wagons. Yeah, the price tag is steep, but Volvo's a premium brand.
No, you can't get it with fake wood paneling on the sides.