Published on Friday 19 December 2014 13:21
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 D2, D3 and D4 diesels, plus T4 and T5 petrol variants, the later the only one with AWD. With beefier, jacked-up styling, these V40s look the part - but are they anything more than a branding exercise?
First the bad news. There's only one all-wheel drive model in the V40 Cross Country range and it's the top 245bhp T5 petrol model. This variant gets one of Volvo's clever 'Drive-E' range of modern era engines, but it's still going to be of minority interest to UK buyers. 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 62mph in around 6 seconds and directs 350Nm 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. The next best thing is Volvo's latest generation 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre diesel mated to 2WD, a unit developing 190bhp and an impressive combination of power and parsimony. Below this variant, there are two other older-tech 2WD diesel models on offer, starting with the 115bhp D2 and moving up to the 150bhp D3. There's also a couple of front-wheel drive petrol options in the shape of the 1.6-litre 180bhp T4 or the 245bhp 2WD T5. These are well worth a look if you feel the all-wheel drive 2.5-litre 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. 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.
Even on the SE models though, you get plenty as standard - things like autofolding door mirrors with ground lights and black mirror covers, 16" alloy wheels, rain sensor, textile/T-Tec upholstery, tread plates and silver roof rails. At 'Cross Country Lux' level, you can also expect to find leather-faced upholstery, active bending xenon headlights, 17" alloy wheels, LED day-running lights, rear reading and theatre lighting.
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 'Drive E' 2WD diesel version as an example. The stock V40 D4 records a combined fuel economy figure of 74.3mpg and the Cross Country model drops that marginally to 70.6mpg for a manual car, with 104g/km of CO2. Fitting an automatic gearbox hobbles the figure to 65.7mpg. But what of the 'proper' Cross Country, the 4WD 2.5-litre T5? That manages 149g/km of CO2, a figure unmatched by any potential rival.
The D2 version is a 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 - ideally the efficient 190bhp D4 - 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.