Volvo’s Cross-Country progress
While there is neither denial, nor avoidance, of the UK new car scene’s present fascination with 4WD and all-road modes of transport, Iain Robertson is aware that one up-market player is still showing its hand.
When the good Gothenburgers of Volvo reflect on the past fifteen years of the New Millennium, 2015 is going to be a stand-out for many perfect reasons. From having tolerated a run of limited activity, with the notable exception of the new V40 model, a ’lifestyle estate car’ that replaced both the former Ford Focus-based V50 and S40 variants and also the C30 hatchback, which has enjoyed outstanding worldwide (110,528 units) and UK full year sales successes (12,679), both figures showing dramatic increases, despite replacing three models, this year is proving to be a genuine purple patch for the Sino-Swedish carmaker.
The most recent XC90 is a real star in the ascendant, doing for Volvo what the original and the company’s first SUV achieved in the early-2000s. Demand is unceasing. Values are on a high. Buyers perceive the car as a genuine SUV market leader in almost every respect. However, Volvo revolves around a safety-first core, all of which is centred on a 2020 commitment that NO Volvo driver will die through incidental means (short of personal health reasons), while driving any of its products. To the company, a four-wheel-drive remit is not regarded as an optional, or seasonal, extra but more as a means to on-going survival.
Therefore, it should arrive, without a shock, that the firm is presently on a 4×4-fest and, while not all examples will heft the additional drive train beneath their platforms, nor even be available in the UK for that matter, the prospect of a notionally safer, more stable and more capable Volvo will become a default option for its customers. Audi has carried off this plan for the past few years most fruitfully, although the largest percentage of sales remains firmly in the front-driven court, mainly due to fleet budgetary pressures, always a major consideration in the UK market.
Straying from the more usual ‘one car: one conclusion’ scenario, I shall make no apologies for featuring not a single but three, new all-wheel-drive cars, only two of which will be sold actively in the UK, while the D5 engine designation is something very fresh to the line-up.
Firstly, the S60 Cross Country. Following a growing trend for ‘coupe-like’ 4x4s, the S60 retains its attractive profile but enhances it with a hiked-up suspension system that affords it a slightly ‘tip-toeey’ appearance. Not unattractive, its purposeful stance is aided by the customary wheel arch ‘lips’ and underbody cladding. Yet, as the UK market has always been an estate car haven for Volvo, the S60 Cross Country is intended primarily for sale in the important (semI-)home market of China.
While hardly inundating our scene with Volvo estates, the V60 Cross Country utilises the same underpinnings as the S60 but with the roomier rear-end preferred by the majority of British buyers. Priced from a most affordable £30,195, the test car was an interesting mid-range SE example (£35,245), powered by the D3 2.0-litre 150bhp turbo-diesel unit mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox, a fairly ‘stock‘ offering.
While the old 240/740/940 models were the doyens of the antiques emporia and property shop managers, among a host of ‘professionals’ desiring the space and comfort provided, the current V60 pursues a more ‘lifestylee’ direction, a factor that has not exactly harmed its sales potential, even though buyers needing LARGE estates now prefer the Skoda Superb as their default load carrying option. However, crack open the rear door and the V60 is not exactly short of space, even though the lower sill is a bit higher off the ground than some similar products. Fortunately, there is only a minimal drop into the boot, which can be readily extended by folding forwards the split-fold rear seats in the usual ways.
From the outset, the driver is under no illusion that Volvo is concentrating its efforts on meeting its 2020 goal. The LED ‘distance warning bar’ that reflects red into the lower windscreen is an obvious addition to the top of the soft-touch dashboard. The now-familiar deep blackout area behind the rear-view mirror contains the myriad sensors (supported by the radar unit built into crosshatches of the front grille) for the distance alert, cruise control, pedestrian and cyclist detection, as well as the auto-on lamps and wipers functions. The BLIS (blind spot information system) that pioneered Volvo’s attention to safety detail and even cross traffic alert are built subtly into the mirror housings.
Naturally, the seats are supremely comfortable and supportive for most driver and occupant frames. Multi-adjustable, allied to the rake and reach of the steering column, a safe driving and accommodating position results and travelling long distances stress-free is something that a V60 can turn its hand to with consummate ease. However, the overarching impression of the V60’s interior lies in its outstandingly high quality and delightful detailing. Storage spaces abound, not least behind the now typical Volvo centre console, which still has the look of a Bang & Olufsen stereo remote controller, if a touch over-wrought. To be honest, I would have believed that the multi-buttoned display would have given way to the XC90’s less complex layout by now but Volvo clearly believes that the more traditional V60 should wear its array of shiny buttons…for the meantime. Still, familiarity…and all that stuff…
Driving the Cross Country is as undemanding, yet rewarding, as any other Volvo. The new modular diesel power unit delivers a decent amount of punch (up 16bhp over the previous D3 engine), enabling a maximum speed of 122mph, despatching the 0-60mph benchmark in a moderate 8.9 seconds (marginally slower with the Geartronic auto-box). Emitting only 111g/km of CO2, its VED rate is currently at a low level but its fuel return of a realistic 47.8mpg is the stuff of city cars. It is worth pointing out that Volvo led the sector with its original V60 Cross Country, reaching showrooms a full year ahead of its Audi A6 rival. Personally, I would prefer the Volvo any day of the week, not least for its significantly greater dependability and far superior chassis dynamics. The V60 rides sublimely and handles confidently.
The other new Cross Country model is based on the delightful V40. Prices commence at £23,820 (with the 1.6-litre D2 SE), although the test example, equipped with 6-speed Geartronic (+£1,485), keyless entry/start (+£550), TFT information display (+£300) and a host of convenience and styling features comes out at a more typical, up-spec £33,650. Volvo has learned the ways of Audi, when it comes to pricing up the options (which is not necessarily the best way), so be careful when ticking boxes. The D2 engine is brand spanking, being the lowest power output of the 2.0-litre upgradable unit that features across the entire Volvo range. Its major impact lies in its extreme frugality (up to 75mpg!), while emitting relatively low CO2 emissions (just over 101g/km), which equates to econo-car running costs.
In the V40, it equates to 0-60mph in around 9.7 seconds, with a top speed nudging 120mph, which is fairly average for the sector. Yet, it is a refined unit that works strongly, even through an automatic transmission, the gearing of which is perfect for a runabout, while harbouring enough torque for towing and for those occasional off-road forays for which its greater ride height (over the stock V40 offering) is more than capable of handling.
Although more compact than the V60, its cabin is well packaged and there is plenty of small item storage within its generous dimensions. The driving position is excellent, despite the need to manually adjust the seats. Once again, the up-market trim detailing is superb and makes a joyful and worthwhile difference over the bland and all-pervading greyness of its Teutonic competitors.
The driving experience is what we have come to expect of the V40, being both exceptionally wieldy, thanks to accurate power steering, and possessing a satisfying ride and handling compromise. Although Volvo is keen to emphasise that its V40 Cross Country is aimed at the ‘occasional’ soft-road excursion, the Haldex system is more than competent at tackling surprisingly severe surfaces. It is only the relative ‘lack’ of ground clearance that becomes its limiting factor (along with how much underbody damage you might be prepare to tolerate) but speed humps and car park obstacles will not pose any issues.
The bottom-line is that, when budgetary demands are stretched but you do not want to lose the premium features, a V40 Cross Country more than makes muster. Spend a little bit more and the V60 alternative falls within your grasp. Volvo is a past master at creating this class of car and rather than simply being brand niche-fillers, the Cross Country models provide a convenient bridge to the XC variants, while fulfilling a vital safety requirement of extra traction, unrivalled grip and enhanced stability, regardless of what the weather, or environment, presents. As marketing propositions, they will only supplement the upwards trajectory that Volvo is enjoying lately.
Conclusion: In Volvo-speak, if you think of hardcore SUVs, then XC should be a target. Yet, there is a step down from that level that warrants the Cross Country’s viability. Audi might believe that it has stolen the march on its rivals with ‘Quattro’ but Volvo is every bit as experienced in the sector, with the added advantage of its intense (sometimes manic) attention to safety detail. Given the choice of just those two brands, the wise and realistic money will head towards Gothenburg and not Ingolstadt.