VOLVO V40 CROSS COUNTRY: variation on a successful theme

I USED to hate cross country at school – mile after interminable mile of plodding through fields, ditches, across streams, down paths that had never seen a human before and usually in cold, damp, windy weather.

Couldn’t see the point.

But then along came a driving licence and ‘cross country’ took on a whole new meaning.

And now it’s taken on a whole new meaning for Volvo’s latest hatchback. Only don’t expect to to be heading into the wilds with one.

It’s got the name and the looks, but the V40 Cross Country comes in the main with just two driven wheels. Despite its take me anywhere gait, only the T5-engined models have four-wheel drive; the rest are front-wheel drive, like all other V40s.

But it’s a nailed on certainty that it will extend the appeal of the V40 range, along with the recently revealed R-Design version.

Volvo predict that they will sell 12,500 V40’s in the UK this year with 1,600 of them being the Cross Country variant.

It seems that in today’s marketplace, no niche is too small to fill – as Audi regularly demonstrates. So Volvo, with nothing but praise being heaped on the V40 hatch, are confident there are enough customers out there to make it economically viable to make a soft-roader version as well.

V40 is a hugely important car for the Swedish manufacturer, and the importance is highlighted by the fact the V40 uses the underpinnings from the Ford Focus as its startpoint.  And you can’t argue with a startpoint that gives a car very similar dynamic qualities to one of the acknowledged class leaders.

But don’t be fooled into thinking this is merely a nordic clone of the blue oval’s finest, because it isn’t.

Take a long, hard lingering look at V40 in the flesh and you’ll see a leaner, lower and wider profile than the higher roofed hatches that other manufacturers seem to prefer. The end result is a five door family car with its own identity, proud to wear the Volvo badge and all that represents when it comes to outright safety – whiplash protection, airbags aplenty and more warning devices than your ears are able to deal with.

For the extra money if you opt for the Cross Country route, you get a visibly different car. Most notably, the car sits on a raised (by 40mm) suspension, and there are dark contrasting bumpers, a honeycomb front grille and upright daytime running lights. The rear, too, has a unique new look.

The Cross Country handles very nearly as well as the standard car, which is quite some feat given the gain in ride height. There’s a bit of body roll evident, but it’s well controlled, so you can still corner in confidence. In the main the handling is very good and it’s well planted on the road. The steering flicks from lock to lock with ease, making the V40 an effortless car to drive, and, as with any Volvo, a very comfortable one too.

Cross Country models cost £1,000 more than the equivalent standard model and one of the main advantages is that you sit a little higher, which gives you a better view out – although, as in any V40, over-the-shoulder visibility is not great because of the swooping roofline and thick pillars.

Three prominent windscreen washer jets are arranged across the bonnet to keep the screen clear, and being sited there must benefit from the heat of the working engine to keep them operational in cold weather. And the rear washer dumps a veritable bucketload of water on the back screen, so there’s little danger of not beings able to see out of that. You might need to keep a vary eye on the reservoir though and keep it topped up in winter conditions.

The V40’s interior is a great place to go to work. Two standard trim levels – SE, and SE Lux – are available and even the lowest gives a decent level of equipment including tread plates, Bluetooth, and a quality stereo with a 5-inch colour display.

Add in Volvo’s sweet five cylinder 2.0 litre diesel engine with its big torque figure and you’ve got a very useable car indeed.

AT A GLANCE: Volvo V40 Cross Country D3 SE; £25,045; 1984cc five cylinder diesel, 150hp, 350Nm; 6 speed manual gearbox; Top speed 127mph, 0-60mph 9.1 secs; Fuel (60 litre tank) – urban 53.3, extra urban 72.4, combined 64.2; CO2 117g/km; kerb weight 1512kgs.

© Wheelwrite 02/04/2013

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