Review and road test of the Volvo V40 Cross Country (2013 - 2016)
BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The 'Cross Country' derivative of Volvo's V40 model was launched in 2013 to offer an alternative at the premium end of the growing Qashqai-class Crossover market - an option perhaps to the Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA-Class or BMW X1 that target buyers might have been thinking about. Though the changes over a standard V40 were slight, in buying one of these, you do get an up-market feel, class-leading efficiency - and the option of 4WD at the top of the range.
(5dr hatch, 1.6, 2.0, 2.5 petrol, 1.6, 2.0 diesel [ES, SE, SE Lux, R-DESIGN, Cross Country])
Qashqai-style Crossovers now fill our roads, family hatchbacks with a touch of the Outback about them. But is it really necessary for a brand to design a product from scratch in order to compete in this growing market niche? In 2013, Volvo said it reckoned not, bringing us this car, the V40 Cross Country. If the ordinary V40 didn't exist, you might see this as a very credible kind of compact crossover. As it is, we know that this is a V40 in a pair of hiking boots - though unlike some supposedly 'proper' Qashqai-class models, it does have the top-of-the-range option of 4WD.
From Volvo's perspective, there's everything here that you need in a compact Qashqai-class Crossover - and nothing you don't. And the 'everything you need' bit includes class-leadingly efficient 2.0-litre petrol and diesel Drive-E engines. These were gradually introduced throughout the early production life of the 2013 to 2016-era V40 Cross Country models we're going to look at here, the D4 diesel and T5 petrol powerplants arriving first, with lesser engines appearing towards the end of 2015. It was soon clear that this technology represented a big step forward from that employed in the old Ford-derived units. The 190bhp diesel D4 model could sprint to 62mph in less than 7.5s, yet could return a combined cycle average of nearly 75mpg, with CO2 returns below 100g/km.
Here, in other words, was a product headlining a model range now promising to offer a very compelling proposition indeed. Which was very necessary in view of the tough completion this Swedish contender had to face. Buyers were slow to realise the extent of the improvements though, so to help re-position the V40 Cross Country, Volvo gave it a minor facelift in the Spring of 2016.
What You Get
Pay the extra for the rugged 'Cross Country' bodystyle and you get silver roof rails, glossy black window trim and, for that SUV look, a contrasting rear bumper with integrated skid plate. Other extra 'Cross Country' niceties include power-folding mirrors and auto wipers. Otherwise, the recipe is exactly as it would be in any normal V40, a car with plenty of cues to Volvo heritage, like the familiar V-shaped bonnet. There's a broad-shouldered look that references the Amazon models of the '50's and you also get the hexagonal tailgate we first saw on the classic P1800ES coupe that Roger Moore drove on TV in 'The Saint' back in the '60's. The wedge-shaped silhouette and lean-forward stance draws your attention to a front end that we think is particularly elegant, with its heavy creases, sculpted headlamps and a ground-hugging stance emphasised by a low, wide high gloss front grille. American Designer Chris Benjamin calls it 'a 3D piece of art you can drive'.
Inside, there's a beautifully positioned infotainment screen that, once you've figured out its complicated menus, enables you to deal with audio, navigation, 'phone and other functions almost without taking your eyes off the road. The idea is that, like IKEA furniture, this cabin should be typically Scandinavian, comfortable, simple, intuitive and visually pleasing. And broadly it is. Yes, the storage space on offer is certainly bettered by some rivals (the door bins are tiny for example), some of the stalks could feel a bit more substantial and the trademark 'floating' centre console has rather too many small buttons on it, but these details apart, the overall effect is far more successful than anything Volvo has previously managed, the eye drawn to slick detailing, much of which was optional for original buyers, things such as the frameless rear view mirror and the translucent gear selector.
One of the nicest touches that lots of customers opted for from new is the hi-tech TFT instrument display. With the flick of a switch, you can choose between three different dial layouts - an green back-lit 'eco' setting to help you drive more economically, a red back-lit 'performance' mode to better suit for spirited driving and the more usual amber back-lit 'elegance' setting for more comfort-orientated day-to-day motoring. We'd also be tempted by a car fitted out with the lovely optional 'theatre lighting' which can be adjusted through seven mood themes, from red to blue.
You can get carried away with things like this and forget more crucial considerations. The seats for example. It's remarkable how little importance we attach to the things we'll be sitting on in our cars, given that we'll be spending many hundreds or thousands of hours in the things, and down the years Volvo has quietly earned a reputation for making the comfiest chairs in the business. This V40 continues that form line with what have to be the most supportive yet wonderfully pillowy seats in the family hatch sector.
Courtesy of a curve on the doorsill, access into the back isn't quite as easy as with some rivals, but once you're inside, leg, shoulder and kneeroom are quote good for two adults, courtesy of the way that the seats have been angled slightly inwards to give rear occupants more space and a better view forward. Mind you, that doesn't do much for the centre part of the rear bench, a place you won't want to be confined for any distance. Still, there isn't any contender in this segment able to comfortably seat three fully sized adults across the back over long distances. Headroom is fine, provided you're not in a plush variant fitted out with the large panoramic glass roof.
And luggage space? Well, the 335-litre boot isn't the biggest in the sector, but it is at least 10% larger than a Focus, though that's not saying much. Still, you can make very good use of it if you use the useful twin-floor arrangement, which makes the floor completely flat when you push forward the 60/40 split folding rear bench to free up 1,032-litres of total space - while leaving a concealed storage area beneath. There are hooks for grocery bags and useful options like a hanging load net and an optional 'Load Organiser' to compartmentalise the space and keep your eggs from mixing with your Iron Bru. Should you need to regularly accommodate something really long - say a surfboard or a bike - you'll need to find a V40 whose original owner chose to kit it out with the optional fold-forward front passenger seat.
What to Look For
The V40's reliability is as good as you'd expect from Volvo. The underlying mechanicals are tried and tested parts and shouldn't give cause for concern. The interiors are also more hard wearing than most, but do try to avoid the paler coloured upholsteries, many of which suffer from staining from denim jean dye transfer. Check for parking bumps and scrapes, especially on the R-DESIGN models. The big alloy wheels are very susceptible to kerbing. The more powerful versions have quite an appetite for front tyres, so check there's some life left in the rubber. One final word on these Cross Country models: if you're looking at one expecting to be able to go anywhere, you might need to manage your expectations a tad. Only the range-topping T5 petrol model (i.e. the powerplant nobody would choose for off-roading) is all-wheel drive. The more practical-looking diesels are, in fact, front drivers and almost useless when the going gets slippery.
(approx based on a 2015 V40 D4 Cross Country) Expect to pay around £175 for a brake calliper and between £90 and £105 for brake discs - though you can pay between £140 and £1560 for pricier brake disc brands. A set of brake pads should cost you somewhere in the £22 to £44 bracket. A drive belt will be around £10, while a radiator will cost you just over £190. Wiper blades cost between £10 and £15, though you could pay between £30 and £35 for pricier brands.
On the Road
This Cross Country variant drives in exactly the same way as its standard model counterparts.The 2013 to 2016 production period was a transitional one for the V40, a time in which Volvo was gradually introducing its new-era 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engine technology. This wasn't fully implemented until the very end of the time we're covering here in this review; which means that many V40s you'll find from this era - specifically the D2 and D3 diesel units and the T4 petrol engine - will still feature the old Ford-derived units. Where you can be guaranteed to find the much better 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre technology though, is with the 190bhp D4 diesel variant, which was the first to get it and is a derivative we'd certainly recommend. This model can sprint to 62mph in just 7.4s en route to 143mph, yet at launch was able to match the efficiency returns of the feeblest D2 diesel V40 variant - or at least it could when that D2 model had its old 1.6-litre Ford-derived engine. The other Drive-E engine introduced right at the beginning of this period will be a much rarer find, the 245bhp turbo petrol 2.0-litre unit used in the flagship V40 T5 Cross Country model, where it's mated with 4WD.
Enough on this Swedish brand's engine strategy. What's this car really like on the road? Well, if you've done a little homework before your test drive, then you might find yourself approaching this V40 with a conflict of emotions. Let's be honest. A dynamic drive isn't something you expect from a Volvo, yet this one sits on a platform shared with the best handling family hatchback on the planet, Ford's Focus. But then, not so long ago, we were told that about the brand's smaller and surprisingly stodgy C30 coupe. This car must do better. It does.
Here's a hatch clearly developed by people who care about driving. Four people in fact, in a Dynamic Chassis Team that included a Swedish rally driver and a guy used to racing a Mazda MX-5 at weekends. They pounded round awful British roads for thousands of miles until satisfied that this car could match or beat the best in the class, even with the standard 'dynamic'-spec chassis that even the humblest V40 models have. The result is a very good compromise indeed of absorbent ride and assured handling composure. Original buyers had the opportunity to spoil it by opting for a 'sports' chassis that offers firmer springs and dampers and lowers the ride height by just under half an inch, also lowering the centre of gravity.
We'd be equally suspicious of the optional three-mode Electric Power Assist Steering system which you can vary between figure-light and glutinously heavy but you'll mostly end up leaving in the 'medium' mode the engineers reckoned was best in the first place. A better feature is the Corner Traction Control system that brakes the inner driven wheel in tight bends, transferring power to the outer wheel and allowing you to fire the car from corner to corner in a way you just wouldn't expect yourself to do in a Volvo.
That's another reason why you might enjoy the pokey power outputs common to both the new-tech Drive-E engines first launched in this V40 line-up - the ones we mentioned earlier, the 190bhp D4 diesel and the 245bhp T5 petrol model. The T5 4WD variant comes only with the silky-smooth twin-clutch 8-speed Geartronic auto transmission that was an option on the D4 - and it's certainly a very rapid thing, making 62mph in just 6.3s en route to a maximum of 149mph.
If you do want to look at lesser derivatives of this car, it's worth asking your seller whether the version in question was fitted with one of the new-era Drive-E powerplants. Even if it wasn't, if the price is right, then this V40 could still make a lot of sense. For diesel drivers, the older Ford-derived engines include a 115bhp 1.6-litre unit in the D2 and a 150bhp powerplant in the D3. For petrol people, there's a 1.6-litre engine developing 180bhp in the T4.
Volvo customers from the 2013 to 2016 era who might perhaps have been a touch disappointed that the brand didn't have a purpose-designed Qashqai-class compact Crossover model were placated by this V40 Cross Country variant. It looks the part and was classy enough to compete with the smarter German brands.
It's no off-roading tool of course, even if you do specify the 4WD version - but then no car in this class really is. Of more interest to most potential owners will be the class-leadingly efficient Drive-E petrol and diesel engines that can be found beneath the bonnet if you choose your variant carefully. They characterise this car's more pragmatic approach to Crossover motoring. If that appeals to you, then you might well agree with Volvo that what we have here is a lifestyle-orientated family hatchback worth getting cross about.
Volvo V40 Cross Country (2013 - 2016) review by JONATHAN CROUCH