Of all the crimes perpetrated against the automobile, the senseless destruction of the estate car market is perhaps the most heinous. Even with their virtues of a sedan-like driving experience and fuel efficiency combined with useful cargo capacity and versatility, there was simply no way that station wagons could resist the onslaught of the SUV’s raised seating position and assertive image. It’s mainly local demand in niche markets such as western Europe that still keeps the upper class estate car alive. The Germans make some great estates, and France and Italy has been known to surprise us with stylish wagons of their own. But everywhere else, the SUV has almost completely destroyed that market segment.
So what’s a company to do if they make an excellent estate car that people don’t buy because it’s not an SUV? Simple. They turn it into an crossover – a car for people who really want a nice, sporty estate, but are forced to appear all active and outdoorsy with an SUV. This is the thinking that turned the normal Volvo V60 into a Cross Country, with the recipe working for the Audi Allroad and Subaru Outback as well. Fortunately, if ever a company was perfectly equipped to succeed in putting a wagon in hiking boots, it’s Volvo.
For decades, their wagons symbolised ultimate practicality. They were basically big boxes for you to carry stuff and people in comfort and safety. Some of them were even quite quick, and some of them still are. But they know how to make a good SUV as well – the success of the XC90 over a decade and a half is proof of that. What happens when you mix all these components? Well… you get a slightly taller wagon with all-wheel drive and some plastic around the sides. And that’s just fine, because the V60 is a really, really nice estate car.
Don’t think it looks anything like the Volvo wagons we used to know, though – it’s all curves and sleek lines around the outside, bookended by a gaping maw up front and delicately shaped LED strips in the tail lights. The V60 might be getting on in years, but it’s still a very good-looking thing. It’s not the most capacious estate to ever come from this company, for that sloping and tapered backside does eat into the luggage space, but it’s worth the penalty for such attractive styling. The slightly taller ride height (210mm, up from 124mm) makes for a suitably macho stance, and the body cladding gives a passable impression of light off-road chops. They probably wouldn’t be up to the rigours of rock climbing, though – unless the rock in question is the sidewalk outside Killarney Mall.
The tough-and-ready theme thankfully doesn’t extend into the cabin, where it’s Volvo business as usual: classy, quiet, comfortable. Our Twilight Bronze test car had rather sombre shades to its interior trim, but with enough brightwork on the dashboard and steering wheel to keep it from feeling like you’re slogging away at a coalface. Since the V60 rides on Volvo’s previous-generation platform, it doesn’t feature the (newer) XC90’s giant iPad-like central touch screen, but that doesn’t mean that it is in any way lacking in technology.
There’s a clearly legible digital (and customisable) dashboard in front of the driver and bending bi-xenon headlights with high beam assistance. Volvo’s customarily full house of safety equipment is present as well, including an optional lane departure warning and forward collision warning to go with the standard automatic emergency braking. The test car also featured a host of luxury options, such as keyless entry, a rear parking camera and navigation. A thundering 8-speaker audio system is included as standard.
Under the bonnet, things are a little more old-school. Since the switchover to their advanced new Drive-E power units commenced, Volvo’s number of five-cylinder engines on offer has steadily diminished. Fortunately, the V60 Cross Country is still propelled by the charismatic five-pot diesel engine. It’s a fairly staunch unit, with 140 kW and 420 Nm, and the older-generation 6-speed automatic transmission does a decent job of transferring the power to all four wheels, but its biggest drawcard is the contented rumble it emits when asked to work hard. There’s nothing startling about its performance, with a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 8.9 seconds and a top speed of only 205 km/h, and it’s not as economical as the new-generation engines, but its relaxed demeanour on the open road more than compensates, as does its effortless overtaking acceleration.
It’s nice to be in a car which isn’t ashamed about prioritising comfort. The seats are simply superb – just enough bolstering to hold you in place, but cosseting enough to allow for many pain-free hours behind the wheel. The suspension plays along to this theme. There’s enough wheel travel and bump absorption to deal with Gauteng’s pockmarked and speedbumped roads, yet it’s still firm enough to keep body motions under tight control. It’s not exactly sporty (the steering is too slow and remote for that) but the suspension tuning allows the Cross Country to excel at the athletic discipline described in its name – it’s sure to make a sublime long distance runner.
This is where the V60 Cross Country distinguishes itself. It’s made to devour long distances with disdain, crossing the countryside in big, quiet bounds and leaving its occupants as fresh as when they departed. The normal V60 does all that too, of course, but the Cross Country’s added height adds an extra layer of insulation between the occupants and our poor road surfaces. As far as compromises go, that’s as good as it gets: stylish wagon on the one hand, all-road athlete on the other. Maybe the SUV-calypse wasn’t just all bad, after all?
Volvo V60 Cross Country D4 Inscription Specifications
Engine :2400 cc straight-five, turbocharged diesel
Gearbox :6-speed torque converter auto, all wheel drive
Output :140 kW @ 4000 r/min, 420 Nm @ 1500 – 3000 r/min
Performance :0-100 km/h in 8.9 seconds, max speed 205 km/h
Consumption (official) :5.7 ℓ/100 km
Luggage compartment :430-690 litres
Price (before options) :R 566 900