Volvo gives the V40 a soft-road makeover and a raised ride height and calls it the Cross Country.
Never mind its ‘cross country’ badge, it’s doubtful you’d want to make this year’s ski pilgrimage in the new Volvo V40 Cross Country unless you can afford the range-topping T5 version.
For reasons we can’t quite fathom, Volvo decided to only put all-wheel drive and hill decent control on the $52,990 T5. The other half of Volvo’s new hatch model line-up – the $47,990 V40 Cross Country D4 - is like the rest of the V40 range and only available in two-wheel drive.
This means the Cross Country D4 will be no more capable in Thredbo’s icy conditions than the stock V40.
Volvo has effectively taken their small five-door hatch, jacked up the suspension for extra ground clearance and added some extra cladding to the bodywork for what amounts to little more than a soft-road makeover that’s high on looks, but low on off-road ability.
The Cross Country package costs $2000 more than the regular V40 Luxury versions on which it is based. For that you get a car that rides 40mm higher and looks tougher with its chunkier front and rear bumpers, plastic side scuff plates and rear skid plate (also plastic).
It also flaunts a very tidy set of 18-inch matte black alloy wheels, a distinctive honeycomb mesh grille, upright daytime running lights, glossy black wing mirrors and integrated roof rails.
Inside is the same premium look and feel of the regular V40, but for the embossed ‘Cross Country’ badging, brown contrast stitching and a copper-coloured centre stack inlay that all serve to further differentiate the model.
Nonetheless, Volvo is hoping the V40 Cross Country will rekindle buyer interest in the genre it first established back in 1997 with the larger V70 Cross Country model - though that car boasted standard all-wheel drive and a more convincing makeover.
Most importantly, it also accounted for more than 45 per cent of total V70 sales.
The new Cross Country range is ultimately aimed to provide Volvo with a rival offering to the likes of the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 soft-roaders, both of which are available as two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions.
However, you could also argue there’s no real disgrace in the lack of 4x4 in the V40 D4 model, given there’s plenty of compact SUV buyers these days ready to overlook all-wheel drive in favour of front-wheel drive pricing and lower associated running costs.
The V40 Cross Country gets the same generous list of standard features as the regular model, including a seven-inch infotainment screen with satellite navigation, eight-speaker Sensus audio system with Bluetooth phone and music streaming, reversing camera and rear parking sensors and rain sensing wipers with tunnel detection.
Also standard is leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel with metal inlay, electrically-retractable heated door mirrors with puddle lights, electrically-adjustable front seats (driver’s seat memory), Active Bending Lights, cooled glove box and climate control.
The standard leather seats are simply superb, offering the perfect blend of supple cushioning, bolstering and seat placement.
Like the standard Volvo V40, the V40 Cross Country needs to work as family transport for at least four people. Rear leg and headroom are adequate without being generous, while out the back the 335 litre boot isn’t huge (and the aperture is narrow), though it does expand to over 600 litres with the rear seats folded.
Likewise with the V40 Cross Country’s performance, the 187kW/360Nm 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol T5 we sampled first is an outstanding performer in every way.
Knock the illuminated shifter over to the left in Sport mode and you’ve got hair-trigger throttle response right from the get-go.
There’s no discernable lag either, with full-throttle acceleration still wonderfully linear and assisted by a peak torque band stretching from 1800rpm to 4200rpm.
Keep your right foot pinned and the V40 Cross Country T5 will hit 100km in 6.4 seconds (three-tenths slower than the standard T5 due to the additional 27kg weight of the all-wheel drive system), but it’s in the mid-range where this thing really delivers solid punch.
High-speed overtaking on country roads is a breeze, with the trademark five-cylinder snarl providing the accompanying aural entertainment. And it doesn’t seem to matter how hard you work this engine it simply never feels over-stressed.
Volvo claims fuel consumption of 8.4L/100km combined for the T5 and 5.3L/100km for the D4.
The standard six-speed automatic transmission – common across the Cross Country range - can’t match rival dual-clutch gearboxes for shift speed (no paddleshifters either), but it’s smoother and more refined. And like the standard V40 T5, engine noise is minimal inside the Cross Country version.
Its Cross Country D4 sibling was no slouch either.
Armed with a 2.0-litre 130kW/400Nm five-cylinder turbo- diesel, it’s decently brisk out of the blocks and feels better than Volvo’s claim of 8.3 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash. But again, it’s the D4’s mid-range performance that provides the most satisfaction.
There’s some subtle clatter from 1500-1750rpm, but it quickly morphs into the same familiar-sounding five-cylinder snarl that we so like the T5 petrol for.
More surprising still is that the high-riding V40 Cross Country offers up very similar road manners to the regular car. If anything, the new suspension system seems better suited to our decaying B-roads, proving even more pliant than the standard V40. Low-speed ride quality is very good, though it occasionally thumps at higher speeds on patchy surfaces.
There’s also little, if any, penalty to pay for the extra ride height in terms of dynamic prowess. There’s a tad more body roll on turn-in with the diesel, but it’s well controlled through corners even when pushed.
Understeer is equally well tempered with both axles seemingly working in unison to keep the Cross Country in check and wonderfully composed. The electric power steering is accurate and there’s a good amount of feedback.
While it’s highly unlikely that most Cross Country V40s will ever turn a wheel in the rough stuff, this soft-roader is more than capable of mixing it up in the gravel while delivering exceptional ride comfort.
Volvo’s core selling proposition is still all about safety and the V40 Cross Country benefits from a raft of innovative technologies, including the world’s first pedestrian airbag, which led to launch claims that it was the world’s safest car.
Additional safety features include City Safety (automatically brakes the car up to speeds of 50km/h if driver fails to brake), seven airbags, anti-locking brakes with hydraulic brake assist and electronic brake distribution and stability control with traction control.
V40 Cross Country buyers can also option the Driver Support Pack for $5000, which adds Blind Spot Information System, Cross Traffic Alert, Driver Alert System, Adaptive Cruise Control and Park Assist Pilot.
If you like the beefed-up look, added ride height and nicer wheels, then you’ll probably be more than happy to shell out the extra two grand for the V40 Cross Country.
But a lack of any substantial off-road capability means you’re more likely to see this Volvo shifting shopping bags around town in future than rambling up any mountain trails.