2016 Volvo V60 Cross Country Review

Rating: 6.5
$63,375 Mrlp
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Volvo's V60 Cross Country D4 Luxury continues the Swede marque's legacy of jacked-up, all-surface, rough-and-tumble wagons
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The description ‘rough and tumble’ has slipped casually into CarAdvice vernacular in an attempt to square up a once unorthodox set of vehicle specifications tailored to suit the unorthodox needs of particular buyers.

How many so-claimed ‘needs’ are actually non-essential ‘wants’ can be hotly debated, though there’s little argument that Volvo played a big part in pioneering plastic wheel-arched, jacked-up, wagon-esque not-really-off-roaders, perhaps with trekking into the Arctic north of the carmaker’s Gothenburg HQ in the forefront of product planners’ minds.

It arrived in the mid-’90s, called the V70 Cross Country.

Fast-forward and late 2015 saw the arrival of the new, and allegedly all-new, 2016 V60 Cross Country, primed for slippery winter slopes of Mount Hotham and the like - though just as likely to see service in the sunburnt urban sprawl. And facing an increasingly motley array of rough and tumble five-door alternatives as disparate as Volkswagen’s Golf Alltrack and Audi’s A6 Allroad – even disregarding the myriad all-paw SUVs out there - as viable all-season, soft-roading options.

The context is that the V60 CC is rightful heir to this narrow-focused if broad-ranging motoring niche that - let’s be honest here - Subaru virtually owns Down Under with its Outback. It’d want to be rough and tumbling enough to lead the adventure-themed pack, be it through merit of abilities, in the vagaries of feel-good appeal or for sheer freshness.

For newness in design, Blind Freddy could see that, with Volvo’s range in mid-revolution, the V60 CC errs towards the old guard, adopting little of the foresight of, say, the XC90 SUV. During our first overseas drive last April we described the petrol version as: “a throwback to the past, a stopgap measure…until (Volvo’s) new era begins.”

Australia doesn’t get the 184kW/361Nm turbocharged petrol five-cylinder version we’ve sampled overseas last year, but instead features a one-engine-fits-all-trim-levels 2.4-litre twin-turbo diesel five producing 140kW and 420Nm. This cylinder count plus four-wheel drive separates the soft-roading CC haves from the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel front-drive V60 wagon have-nots, more of which is explained further in our pricing and specifications story.

Speaking of which, our V60 CC D4 Luxury (as it’s officially called) test car is fitted with the $4000 cost-optional Driver Support Package, which adds a host of active safety and convenience features - and lifts its price from an un-optioned $63,375 list price to $67,375 before on-road costs. That’s serious coin for a mid-sized, jacked-up wagon. Particularly when, at just $35,490, there’s a diesel Outback available with both similar mid-sizing and all-weather aspiration to the V60 CC. (However, the caveat here is that even the pricier $41,490 Outback 2.0D Premium lacks the option of Subaru’s clever EyeSight active safety tech that our as-tested Volvo comprehensively counters). A chunk of the investment, it would seem, goes towards that Cross Country badge.

Perhaps in a more realistic cross-shopping context, once Euro cache weighs in, the V60 CC plugs the fiscal gap between the current Volkswagen Passat Alltrack $48,290 and Audi A4 Allroad $72,000, both of which are due for replacements this year.

On paper, the V60 CC strikes a fine blend of requisite Euro luxury, depth of quality (build, engineering, materials, core safety, etcetera) and brimming specification. It’s just that in the experience throughout, it comes a little short in a great many areas – not for lacking ‘stuff’, it’s just that the stuff it plies isn’t as fresh, well designed, well executed or resolved as it could be. It’s a car left a little wanting from initial first impressions and it doesn’t get noticeably rosier with extended experience. And in areas wide-reaching enough to cause difficulty in deciding where to start…

How about the cabin space? Well, it feels tight - certainly more cosseting and less airy than our memories of Outback…or even the (whole segment smaller) Golf Alltrack that passed through the CarAdvice garage recently. Fortuitously, we happened to have Subaru’s small-sized XV cross-over concurrently on test, so A-B-ed the pair for interior space: while the Volvo’s cabin is slightly better for shoulder room, the XV was otherwise more spacious up front, and noticeably larger for head and legroom in the second row. Yet, the XV is supposedly a class smaller…

Interior design has made a long and prosperous march to the slick simplicity of Volvo’s XC90 to the tired layout the V60 CC continues to endure. The small, seven-inch non-interactive, low-resolution infotainment screen looks old hat, the four-dial submenu-based interface is clunky, and the button-festooned centre stack is distracting and haphazard to use. Meanwhile, the single-dial instrumentation has clarity of information, but adjusting the driver’s info screen, via a stalk dial, confounds. In how it looks, feels and interacts, the cabin is well behind the times.

The seats, though, are excellent, as if crafty designers had hewn the supportive, curvaceous sports buckets using the leather and stitching from a classic Chesterfield lounge. The driving position, too, is sound, though the shallow footwell forces rearward seat positioning for taller drivers – nobbling second-row space – and their bulky bases will have fingers jamming themselves in the tight space between the seat controls and door trim when adjusting seat lumbar. Realistically, the seating provides a key lift to interior presentation - the materials and finishes are modestly premium at this price point; the air of quality is leveraged largely through austerity and the hefty, tank-like closure of the doors.

The second row does offer enough space for adults in the outboard positions (where Isofix is offered) and features pillar-mounted air vents and a single 12v outlet in the back of the centre console, while the centre foldable armrest has ample oddment storage and dual cupholders. Cavernous it’s not, but certainly serviceable for small families. The neat ‘booster seat’ function – where the seat squab folds out into a raised position for the benefit of small children – is inspired design.

The luggage space, at 430 litres rear seats up, is also on the modest side for a mid-sized wagon. There are, though, some neat features. The 40:60 split-fold seating, which places the ‘40’ kerb side, stows to create a flat floor and features an integrated roll-out cargo net that hooks into the cabin ceiling. Another plus is that the cargo space is completely carpet-lined to avoid noise when luggage moves around. There’s a single 12V outlet and tie-downs but no remote switch to fold the second-row seats in rear, while the spare is a space saver type. The tailgate, too, offers no automated functionality.

For a mid-sized wagon, the V60 CC drives a helluva lot like an SUV. It seems that whatever fiddling went on underneath, producing an extra 65mm of ride height, has engineered some lethargy into the handling package, despite the clever active Corner Traction Control trickery designed to enhance the on-road character.

It rides with an acceptable compliance across speed humps and through potholes but thumps across expansion joints noticeably. It’s just a bit wieldy on the move, feels heftier than it should be, and there’s a level of detachment sat on those 50-series Michelins that I don’t recall experiencing on other V60s. I’m not talking about hooking through country sweepers, where the V60 CC exhibits taut body control and hangs on with gusto, but rather merely guiding the thing around town. It’s just a bit, well, numb.

Compounding the disconnection between driver and road is the steering. And what a strange thing it is. Not merely does it filter out all sensation of the road surface, it’s quite heavily off centre, weight for weight’s sake that makes tracking a straight line tiresome and low-speed manoeuvring a chore.

What drew widespread criticism from the CarAdvice crew who drove the Volvo is its stop-start system, which turns the steering concrete stiff - inevitably in the straight ahead position - at engine shutdown too early in slowdown phase when coming to a standstill. Given that normal intuitive practice is to steer into the direction of travel prior to acceleration, this ‘moving stop-start’ application increasingly adopted by carmakers is an annoyance at best, downright dangerous at worst.

Also annoying is the overzealous calibration of some of the V60 CC’s active safety systems, a topic of much debate at CarAdvice HQ. For every view that a larger margin is a safer margin, there’s a counter that incessant alerts cause relentless distraction. In the V60 CC, the Blind Spot Information System is so hyperactive, glowing or blinking orange in the wing mirrors often for no suitable reason, that with time you tend to ignore it. Likewise the Collision Warning light tends to glow bright in the windscreen during the most defensive driving in urban hustle and bustle, rendering any actual warning of impending trouble somewhat redundant.

On balance, though, the optional active safety suite is superb, with systems such as City Safety low-speed autonomous braking a godsend.

Also lacking a little in finer calibration and consistency is the ageing powertrain. The evergreen diesel five-cylinder is an energetic unit, its 420Nm amply enthusiastic. Its rosy 5.8L/100km combined fuel claim, though, is a bit optimistic given that the V60 CC rarely dipped below sixes on the highway or below nines during light-throttle urban driving.

It’s also a noisy unit bereft of charm and there’s plenty of lag. Sinking the right boot is a cause and effect crapshoot, sometimes producing a progressive ramp-up of acceleration, other times yielding an explosion of torque, and usually dependant on the mood of the old hat six-speed auto that can be slurry and lazy in the upshifts. There’s enough muscle, though, to tow a braked 1900kg.

Activating Sport mode, by knocking the console shifter sideways, produces more consistency and predictability in progress, and heady march-for-the-horizon-type progress at that. The V60 CC certainly feels quick enough, though its 8.9sec 0-100km/h isn’t exactly worthy of trumpeting from upon high.

Sheer pace can’t gloss over a package that offers a mere smattering of highlights but, on balance, is inconsistent and patchy. A mid-sized wagon that drives like a large SUV and feels all the part the small car inside is hardly what you’d call moving the rough and tumble game forward. It leverages Volvo hallmarks of safety and surety but – clever interior details apart – doesn’t bring enough newness or freshness to the table.

The V60 CC is perhaps an all-new sum, if not a well-executed sum of far too many ageing parts. It’s a throwback indeed for the company that’s already moved on in other model ranges, and remains the stopgap in the wait for a new-generation replacement worthy of re-establishing cult car status to the Cross Country brand. Look no further than the current XC90 to see where such a replacement is heading.

If you fancy the Swedish cross-over wagon, it's well worth checking out the plastic-clad alternatives from Germany or Japan.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by Mitchell Oke.