I drove the Volvo V40 Cross Country on its UK launch and came away less than convinced. I felt that while Volvo could see a niche the car itself was a bit disappointing. After all, if you want a cross-country car, shouldnt it have four-wheel-drive?
However, in the interests of fairness, I thought that I should try one for more than a day to see if familiarity revealed hitherto-hidden qualities. This is what I found.
The recipe to engineer a 'crossover' is a straightforward and well-trodden path; lift it a bit and add on some faux-underbody protection. Which is exactly what Volvo has done.
So, the V40s suspension is higher than that of the standard car's, ostensibly to increase the ground clearance, while the bodywork gains (optional) side and rear underbody guards. The result is, I think, a bit awkward and false, which is a shame because the V40 shape is one of the most attractive on sale today.
The interior of the V40 has always been, and continues to be, a remarkably civilised place. No faux wood, no extraneous frippery, just modern, cutting-edge contemporary design, flawlessly executed. The seats, for example, dont look especially shapely but are extraordinarily comfortable, providing all the right support in all the right places.
Standard equipment levels are good but the options list lurks in the darkness, tempting you with all manner of unnecessary kit. Resist; Swedish design is about simplicity and an absence of clutter and the basic car is so beautifully detailed that you really wont miss anything that isnt there as standard.
Some of the most beautiful details are to be found on the frameless rear-view mirror and the crystal-like gear-knob but the quality of design is evident throughout.
The standard V40 handles brilliantly but logic suggests that raising the suspension can only lead to a deterioration in its dynamic ability. Logic is, as is so often the case, correct. The V40 Cross Country is still fluid, compliant, and calm but it isnt quite as fluent as the normal model. It feels top-heavy - and does so to an extent that youd think the ride height had risen by inches rather than millimetres.
Everything else is top-notch with the sweetest manual gearbox on sale today. Really, few cars are better to drive than the V40 and only the most pedantic of pedants will find anything else to moan about.
Off-road? Dont be silly. Despite the way it looks the V40 Cross Country remains a two-wheel-drive road car. You did know that, didnt you?
The five-cylinder D4 diesel engine is a peach. Displacing 2.0-litres it is fruity and torquey and the strongest argument yet that no one need ever buy a petrol engine in this class of car ever again.
Maximum power is 175bhp, with 295lb/ft of torque available between 1,750 and 2,750rpm. This makes it, as Im sure youve guessed, a powerful tool for mid-range overtaking and effortless motorway cruising. The D3 is almost as good (150bhp and 258lb/ft), but if you can stretch to it this is the engine to go for, giving the car all the power it wants - and you all the power youll ever need.
Fuel consumption is excellent. Volvo suggests that 64.2mpg is possible and experience shows that they might be right. Certainly 60mpg should be available to all but the most leaden footed. CO2 emissions are 117g/km.
The automatic gearbox adds 20g/km to the emissions for the D3 and D4 engines and knocks off about 10mpg too. While I am a big fan of auto boxes normally, the gear change in the V40 is so good that Id stick with the six-speed manual every time.
Value for Money
There is a 1,000 premium at each trim level to get into the Cross Country, which seems like a lot for a few cosmetic changes and raised suspension.
Unless you want the four-wheel-drive T5, in which case the premium rises to 2,500-ish over the (much better) T5 R-Design. So, is the Cross Country good value for money? The answer rather depends on how badly you want the lifestyle it represents. Wed save a 1,000 by buying the sweeter handling standard V40 and then spend some of the savings on a set of winter tyres.
Volvo expects to sell around 10 percent of its V40s in Cross Country guise, almost all of them conquest sales from other brands. Seen in this light the positioning makes absolute sense, especially in the developing markets that are so crucial to Volvo.
Otherwise, we arent convinced. While we can see the sense in the Volvo V70 Cross Country (first released as far back as 1997), the appeal of the V40 Cross Country eludes us. If you want a more individual V40 we recommend a V40 R-Design - and if you want a measure of off-road performance then wed recommend something with four-wheel-drive.
Or, if you are worried about all-weather mobility, a normal V40 (which remains an incredibly competent and desirable car) and a set of winter tyres.