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Published on Saturday 25 May 2013 19:00
Ten Second Review
The Volvo V40 Cross Country might just be the coolest looking hatch on sale in the UK. It's eye-catching, well engineered, well equipped and the prices aren't exorbitant either. There's just one downside; only the priciest petrol model is all-wheel drive.
For a company from Scandinavia, Volvo were actually surprisingly slow to start offering all-wheel drive on their vehicles. The first Volvo product to direct drive to all four wheels was the 850 AWD in 1997, some 16 years after Audi showed how a Quattro could decimate all of its opposition on snow. If Volvo were a little slow on the uptake then, they've been making up for lost time ever since. We've had some great Volvo all-wheel drivers, from the massively successful XC90 and XC60 SUVs through to cars like the more tarmac-orientated XC70.
What is now the XC70 began its life at the turn of the century badged as the 'V70 Cross Country' and 'Cross Country' branding has now been given a place in the successful and increasingly desirable V40 compact five-door hatchback range, with a choice between 1.6 and 2.5 petrol and 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel models. With beefier, jacked-up styling, these V40s look the part - but are they anything more than a branding exercise?
Now the bad news. There's only one all-wheel drive model in the V40 Cross Country range and it's the top 2.5-litre T5 model, which is going to be the engine that nobody in the UK would normally opt for due to its fuel thirst. So where does that leave us with the rest of the range? With a bunch of front-wheel drive hatches. In other words, the 'Cross Country' bit is really only applicable if someone has considerately laid a few miles of tarmac across said country first. That also means that the V40 Cross Country isn't going to feel too far removed from a normal V40 to drive. Still, given that the standard V40 is brilliant, that's not much of a criticism.
The ride height has been raised by 40mm to 173mm which means that speed humps and non-dropped kerbs aren't such an issue. Volvo has also gamely fitted Hill Descent Control to the T5 AWD version, which controls the car's speed automatically when driving down steep inclines. The T5 also has a practical Hill Hold function that makes starting on a hill easier. This model really is the only one to really warrant the Cross Country branding and with a 254bhp engine to power it, the T5 has the power to really entertain. Even if you're not big on off-roading, it makes an awesome all-weather vehicle that will shrug off the worst of the British winter. It'll get to 60mph in 6 seconds and directs 400Nm of torque through its automatic transmission.
Of course, the car most people would want is a diesel with the all-wheel drive transmission but no luck there. There are three 2WD diesels on offer, starting with the 115bhp D2, moving up to the 150bhp D3 and topping out with the five-cylinder 2.0-litre 177bhp D4. There's also a front-wheel drive petrol option in the shape of the 1.6-litre 180bhp T4, which is well worth a look if you feel the all-wheel drive T5 is a bit of an extravagance.
Design and Build
You might feel that most of the V40 Cross Country range has something of the phoney about it, but it's hard to argue with the fact that this car looks great. Jacking up a hatchback and adding a few bits of 'faux-by-four' body addenda isn't an approach that figures amongst the most ingenious product development plans but it's resulted in a car that, somewhat annoyingly, works really well from an aesthetic point of view. The V40 was always one of the very best-looking hatches for sale and the Cross Country takes that smooth, well-resolved shape and gives it a little more presence and attitude. Cross Country customers get silver roof rails, alloy wheels, a contrasting front bumper, honeycomb mesh grille and upright day-running lights, contrasting sills and a contrasting rear bumper with integrated skid plate.
Some serious styling has gone into the V40's interior. The floating centre console houses a button-dense centre stack, and the eye is drawn to slick detailing such as the frameless rear view mirror and the translucent gear selector. It's not perfect. Some of the stalks feel a little cheap and headroom is a little pinched in the rear with narrow rear door apertures, but features such as the rubberised microswitch tailgate release, the full TFT graphic instrument panel and the deft piano black framed door mirrors keep the design balance well into credit. The boot is a decent size at 335-litres and features a hidden underfloor section to keep documents and valuables out of sight.
Market and Model
You'll pay a £1,000 to get the 'Cross Country' package on a standard V40, which many potential buyers will be tempted by. The only exception, as you might expect, is if you're comparing a T5 Cross Country 4WD model with a T5 2WD variant in the standard V40 range. Here, there's a £2,500 premium for Cross Country ownership. Overall, prospective V40 Cross Country buyers can expect to find a price span ranging from around £23,000 to around £35,000. Whatever version you choose, there's the option of paying a further £2,000 premium on top of the standard asking price and graduating up from standard 'SE' to 'LUX' trim.
Across the range, there's class-leading safety, including the world's first pedestrian airbag, plus the award-winning Volvo City Safety system. This uses a laser to scan the road ahead for potential collision risks. If one's detected, the driver is warned. If no response is then forthcoming, the car can even brake itself. If you go further and specify the 'Pedestrian Detection with full auto brake' system, similar technology can even brake the car to avoid pedestrians.
Cost of Ownership
The Cross Country doesn't return quite as impressive fuel economy as the standard V40, but there's not too much in it. Take the D4 version as an example. The stock V40 D4 records a combined fuel economy figure of 65.7mpg and the Cross Country model drops that marginally to 64mpg for a manual car. Fitting an automatic gearbox hobbles the figure to 54mpg. But what of the 'proper' Cross Country, the T5? That manages 194g/km and 34mpg on the combined cycle but I've driven a lot of these five-cylinder units and know that if you put any demand on the turbocharger, that figure heads south pretty sharpish.
The D2 version is the star performer as far as economy and emissions are concerned, recording 99g/km and an average fuel figure of 74.3mpg, both of which are absolutely brilliant for a relatively high-riding and sizeable vehicle. The public has taken to the V40 and as such, it commands excellent residual values, with the D3 diesel model of the Cross Country expected to be worth over 50 per cent of its original price after three years and 30,000 miles.
By most accepted measures, we'd call this one a swing and a miss. The Volvo V40 Cross Country doesn't really have anything cross country about it at all, with all models bar the range-topping T5 petrol version being front-wheel drive. In short it's a bit of a phoney. By all rights you should select the regular V40 as it's a brilliant car. The thing is, you'll walk into a Volvo dealership, see the chunky V40 Cross Country sitting there and you'll want it. It has something about it that will guarantee a steady stream of buyers.
Should you choose the T5 AWD model, you'll be rewarded with a car that is reassuringly over-specified in virtually every regard. It's the hatchback equivalent of a diver's watch. Most won't. They won't want to bear the upfront cost and the ongoing expense. For them, a diesel version will suffice, with the money saved in fuel bills being spent on a set of winter tyres. Job done. From what initially looked a rare goof from Volvo, a surprisingly attractive and practical proposition emerges.