Car reviews - Volvo - V40 - Cross Country
Styling, D4 performance and economy, open-road ride and handling prowess, classy interior, cutting-edge safety gear
Room for improvement
Tight back seat, tiny rear glass area inhibits vision, big turning circle, firm ride, D4’s low-speed gruffness
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13 Nov 2013
Price and equipment
SUBARU ought to be flattered.
Volvo quickly followed the groundbreaking Liberty-based Outback of 1995 with its own ‘Cross Country’ version of the first V70 known as the XC, and that model lives on today as the XC70.
Now the Swedes seem to have been inspired again, since the new V40 Cross Country appears to owe more than just a little to the very popular Subaru XV.
Both are, after all, jacked-up C-segment hatchbacks promising a bit of extra adventure.
For $2000 over the equivalent V40 diesel (and $3000 over the corresponding petrol version), the V40 Cross Country has a bit of extra body cladding with tailored blacked-out trim, a honeycomb grille, vertical daytime driving lights, more height (it stands 40mm taller), unique roof rails and marginally greater ground clearance (at 120mm).
It also debuts an improved City Safety automatic braking system, which now recognises cyclists as well as pedestrians or a vehicle out in front at speeds up to 50km/h (it was 30km/h), before stomping on the stoppers automatically.
But as a luxury contender, the Volvo is a far more expensive machine, particularly when equipped with the $5K driver assistance package that includes adaptive cruise control, a blind spot monitor, a cross-traffic alert when reversing, a collision warning system, and an auto-parking system called Park Pilot.
That was included in our ‘base’ $47,990 D4 Luxury-spec front-drive five-cylinder diesel auto, taking it to $53K before on-road costs.
For your money you receive climate control air-con with a pollen filter, auto-on/off headlights with active bending lights, theatre-style ambient interior lighting, a higher-end audio system, sat-nav, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, rear parking camera with sensors, rain-sensing wipers, electrically adjustable front seats with driver’s setting memory, leather upholstery, and specially designed 17-inch alloys.
Adding all-wheel drive with a hill-descent control system adds another $5K to the price, but is only currently available with a five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine.
This is curious pricing, as diesels normally attract a $3K-plus premium over corresponding petrol versions. Plus, you might expect the former rather than the latter to be paired with AWD.
If you’ve been in any Volvo over the last decade, the V40 Cross Country’s interior will immediately be familiar.
But while the trademark ‘floating’ centre console (with its hidden rear storage area) makes a comeback, the old fiddly sat-nav system has at last been binned for a somewhat more intuitive (though still needlessly complicated) version.
Volvo’s new ‘Adaptive Analogue instruments’ bring a fresh take on the company’s always solid interior presentation. Offering a trio of changeable TFT screens – Eco, regular, and Sport – it combines simplicity with personalisation, so the driver can choose which dials or trip-related info he or she wants to view.
After a period of exploration we’re sure there’s something here for everybody.
Indeed, other than the high waistline that limits side and rear parking vision, there is very little wrong with the Volvo’s interior.
Great front seats that support in all the right places are a great start, setting the driver up for a commanding view of the dash and road beyond.
The Swedes know a thing or two about ambience and ergonomics.
Much the same applies to the rear except that the door apertures are surprisingly tight, legroom isn’t exactly class leading, the lack of face-level vents betray the V40’s Ford Focus origins, and fixed outboard headrests further obscure vision and add a slightly claustrophobic feel.
Furthermore, while the bench itself is comfortable for two adults, you can’t really add a third without really feeling the pinch. Don’t expect compact SUV/crossover levels of back-seat space.
But as a four-seater adult conveyance, the quiet, refined and opulent V40 Cross Country’s cabin does the trick.
Beyond, the boot is a bit too small compared to other Euro hatches, with a shallow floor limiting practicality despite a space-saver spare living underneath.
Is it a coincidence we’ve previously said exactly the same thing about the Subaru XV? At least that has the excuse of permanent four-wheel drive hardware underneath.
Engine and transmission
Like many of our readers, your tester grew up in the era of five-cylinder turbo-charged Audi engines. They have a way of wiggling beneath your skin.
And so it is with the rambunctious Volvo five-pot diesel, even in the relatively small 130kW/400Nm 2.0-litre D4 variety, and even if it sounds gruff in the cold reality of an early morning start-up.
As the 20-valve twin-cammer with an absolutely seamless Stop/Start spec reveals, this is no nail of a dated donk, walking a fine line between performance (0-100km/h in 8.3 seconds) and economy (averaging just 5.3L/100km).
On paper at least – we struggled to stay below 8.0L/100km during our week with the lardy (1561kg) Swede, but then again, we really loved revving it loud and hard.
Off the line, the V40 feels quite spirited and eager, helped out by a slick-shifting six-speed auto. Yet the Belgian beauty really stretches its legs when the revs roar past 3000rpm.
At freeway speeds, the drivetrain becomes but a distant thrum in the background, with the cabin taking on a quietness that not only goes some way in helping justify the premium pricing, but also encourages the keen driver to press on.
This feels like a big-hearted engine with a deep set of lungs. If you live out in the country or do plenty of highway commuting and want a frugal yet hard-charging diesel that feels unburstable, then the D4 may be for you.
Ride and handling
Like most Volvos, the V40 Cross Country only really shines at higher speeds, where its road-holding, handling poise and steering confidence all come into their own.
Around town things start off frustratingly with a larger-than-anticipated turning circle and a ride (on standard Pirelli 225/45 R18 tyres) that absorbs the bigger stuff very well but lets through many of the smaller imperfections.
However, while the light and direct steering could always use a bit more feel and feedback, there is certainly nothing at all wrong with its measured responses, or ability to filter out all that torque cascading through the front wheels.
Because there is so much available oomph, the V40 driver can quickly settle into a speedy and zippy flow with surrounding traffic, ducking in and out with little hesitation.
On the highway or at freeway speeds, everything seems to gel together even better, for the Volvo assumes a commanding attitude that feels unaffected by weather or road conditions. Excellent body control is a hallmark of this model.
Stay on to gravel and the ESC stability control system keeps a light yet knowing hand over proceedings, gently taking over when needed but otherwise relying on the accomplished chassis underneath to keep things moving smoothly and swiftly.
Yes, the V40 Cross Country feels a little heavy at first, but after a while that just seems to translate into a sense of solidity and quality.
Safety and servicing
You don’t need us to tell you that the Volvo’s safety credentials are amongst the world’s best. The company is probably more passionate about personal wellbeing than any other brand, besides perhaps Mercedes-Benz. Five stars all round is the least of it.
Even without the $5K optional helpful driver-assistance packages (they ought to be standard at these prices), Volvo needs to be applauded for the Cyclist and Pedestrian impact-mitigating technology, coupled with bonnet-sited airbag.
There’s no car this size we’d feel safer in.
Servicing? While there are no fixed-priced offers, every Volvo comes with a three-years/unlimited kilometre warranty, coupled with 12-months/15,000km intervals.
The funny thing about the V40 Cross Country is how much more alive and fitter it felt the faster (and longer and harder) we drove it. By the end of our time, we felt that the Volvo almost justified its premium pricing.
Almost. While in areas of safety, design, interior presentation and high-speed stability the newcomer is up there with Germans such as the Audi A3, we don’t think the near-$60K on-road price-tag represents great value for money.
At twice the price of the surprisingly similar (except for interior ambience) Subaru XV, maybe Volvo ought to think about bringing in more entry-level models, to make this sort of quasi-crossover option more affordable.
Ford Kuga Titanium 2.0 TDCi (from $47,740 plus on-roads).
Closely related underneath, the Focus-based Kuga is the most dynamic SUV on the market, even in heavy Titanium AWD guise. Loaded with similar (some Volvo-developed) safety features, this is the driver’s choice. Rides well too.
Skoda Yeti 103TDI 4x4 (from $37,690 plus on-roads).
It’s ironic that the Yeti is boxy enough to be a Volvo, since the Czech-made, VW Golf-based SUV offers similar virtues of no-nonsense quality engineering, in a roomy anti-style package. Firm ride aside, a bargain, with a sweet diesel to boot.
Mini Cooper Countryman D Diesel (from $39,450 plus on-roads).
Weird and ugly and firm riding on larger wheels it may be, but the base Countryman diesel auto provides BMW levels of engineering and dynamics in a fun and rorty package. Watch those exxy options though.
MAKE/MODEL: Volvo V40 Cross Country Luxury D4
ENGINE: 1984cc 4-cyl DOHC turbo-diesel
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 130kW @ 3500rpm
TORQUE: 400Nm @ 1750-2750rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-spd auto
TOP SPEED: 210km/h
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/multi-links
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $47,990 plus on-roads
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