Car reviews - Volvo - V40 - Cross Country
Rugged looks, growly diesel engine, classy cabin with signature floating dash, clever boot packaging, decent handling
Room for improvement
Cramped rear seats, big turning circle, steep entry price and big-cost options, ride suffers with SUV looks, AWD only on petrol version
29 Aug 2013
By BARRY PARK
IN THE Australian outback, Volvos are as rare as emu teeth. Head to the leafy inner city suburbs, though, and the roads are thick with the blue-backed iron badge fronting high-riding SUVs delivering kids to and from school, and picking up the weekly dry-cleaning.
It’s a big contrast to the image that Volvo’s expanding SUV range shows to the world.
The five-door V40 Cross Country is the latest Volvo to join the off-road wannabe club. It is based on the V40 five-door hatchback, but thanks to some clever tricks of the eye, it looks like a different animal.
The car is mated to either of Volvo’s most powerful engines used in the V40, a five-cylinder petrol or a five-cylinder turbo-diesel powerplant, and matched with a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. In the case of the diesel, the power only travels as far as the front wheels – there’s no all-paw diesel version anywhere in the world – while the petrol model has all-wheel-drive.
Hopping in behind the wheel of the V40 Cross Country through the decent-sized front door is similar to the drop-and-twist of the V40. The Cross Country version sits 120mm higher, but it is barely noticeable.
Unfortunately, jumping into the rear seat presents the same problem as the V40.
The door is small, the roof sill rakes steeply, and once inside, knee- and legroom are tight, although there’s a nice pull-out double cupholder in the drop-down centre armrest.
The boot space is small, but features a pull-up floor that divides the space into a couple of handy divided areas. The fold-up floor even has handy bag-holders integrated into it. That’s clever.
From behind the wheel, the Cross Country looks like any other V40 on the road.
It’s a nice, clutter-free layout with a high-set centre console display, and a digital instrument cluster that changes colour depending on whether your focus for the day is driving frugally, normally or fast. The handbrake rubs up against the front-seat passenger’s leg, though.
To make owners aware that they are in a Cross Country, a brushed chrome strip across the top of the small glovebox tells you just that. Other than a hill descent control switch on the all-paw petrol version’s dash, there are no other differences.
Annoyingly, rather than leave the Cross Country’s key in your pocket and punching the engine start button, you have to insert the key in the dash and then prod the donk into life.
We drove the diesel first. Driving it cold, the first word that springs to mind is “agricultural”.
There’s nothing subtle about the engine. It growls lustily and loudly as it accelerates, quieting slightly as it warms up. It sounds as though it would be more at home ploughing the bottom 40 acres than the streets of Canberra where our test drive started.
Step-off acceleration for the 130kW engine is a little laggy, as the motor needs to spin up to at least 1750rpm before its peak well of 400Nm is on tap.
However, once it is spinning up, the diesel five-pot is a strong unit, providing plenty of overtaking acceleration. The gearbox, though, works hard to keep the engine in its sweet spot.
The engine’s idle-stop function is fast-acting – as it is on the petrol version, too – although a burst of speed from a T-intersection needs a bit more planning in the diesel.
Punch the accelerator hard, and there’s an ever-so-slight tug on the steering wheel as the revs spool up and torque steer – where the engine forces twist through the front wheels causing them to pull to one side – rears its head.
The petrol engine, in contrast, is much smoother and more muted than its oil-burning companion despite a thirst for more expensive premium unleaded fuel. It is better at putting its power down to the ground using all four driven wheels, although in truth the Haldex system that underpins the V40 Cross Country means it acts like a front-wheel-drive until more traction is needed, and the rears are called into action.
Acceleration, unlike the diesel, is smooth and linear right from the get-go, although despite its 187kW of power on tap, it doesn’t feel that quick.
The electrically assisted steering is nice and crisp, light at low speeds and loading up linearly as the pace rises.
There are a few criticisms, though. The V40 Cross Country has some nicely sorted stretched underpinnings that helps it corner flatly, and the low-profile Pirelli PZero rubber it sits on grips tenaciously. However, the ride is jiggly and nervous at speed, and potholes and other road imperfections crash through the suspension.
The Pirellis, too, roar at speed over coarse-chip surfaces, and the rush of air around the big wing mirrors is a constant companion.
Rearward visibility is also compromised by the small rear window and the big headrests on the outboard rear seats, but a standard reversing camera helps with that.
Performing a tight turn, too, takes a bit of planning, with limited articulation from the front wheels.
We did take the V40 Cross Country off the bitumen, although on formed gravel roads rather than hopping over rocks or climbing sand dunes. Both versions of the car performed well, sitting stably and steering predictably despite some less-than-agreeable road surfaces.
What the V40 Cross Country does, then, is sell a dream. A nice dream at that – as long as you stick to city streets.
Off-road? Let’s just stick to the local winery’s gravel driveway, please.
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