Back in 1997, Volvo was the creator of the off-road estate car genre with its XC70. The idea was to take a standard road car and beef it up with a sprinkling of mud-plugging ability.
However, with the V40 Cross Country there’s not much genuine green-lane talent. It’s front-wheel drive (four-wheel drive only being available on the T5 petrol version), and apart from a ride height that’s been raised by 40mm, basically all that’s changed from the standard hatchback is the addition of some shiny roof rails and a dash of black plastic on the lower bumpers and sills. From a distance it requires a knowing eye to tell them apart.
The infotainment system comes with a 5.0in display, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity, while upgrading to Cross Country Pro trim will get you Volvo's Sensus system with sat nav and an uprated sound system. As for the rest of the standard equipment, the Cross Country models get scuff plates, a skid plate, 16in alloys, numerous Volvo safety systems, climate control and electric windows, while upgrading to the Cross Country Pro models add a leather upholstery, cruise control, and auto wipers and lights.
Like the outside, the inside isn’t much different to that of a conventional V40, and sitting in the front that’s no bad thing. The seats are comfortable and it’s easy to get a decent driving position in what is essentially a premium-feeling cabin, helped by little touches such as the textured soft-touch dash and, at least in the car we drove, a copper-finish veneer on the centre console.
The infotainment system isn't the most intuitive, and the problem is exacerbated by the numerous and rather random scattering of buttons, although with practice you do get used to it.
Whether you would get used to the claustrophobic rear seats is debatable, especially if you’re above average height. The legroom isn’t great but it’s the angled rear windows - which also limit the driver’s rear vision - and particularly the poor headroom that create a feeling akin to incarceration.
Things don’t get better when you open the boot. Our test car came with a space-saver spare wheel, which makes the boot floor so high it comes as a real surprise to find there’s no additional storage beneath. In objective terms the boot is 324 litres, which is 56 litres less than an A3 Sportback and a colossal 106 litres behind the equally jacked up, but more expensive, Infiniti QX30.
The new engine pulls well once you get the turbo spinning at around 1500rpm. On paper the 0-62mph figure of 7.3sec looks fast, but the reality is it feels stately and adequate rather than outright quick. This could be down to the slightly laboured nature of the eight-speed gearbox, although looking at the stats, it should be quicker than the manual.
The auto does change smoothly through the gears, but if you’re erratic with the throttle it’ll let you know with an occasional thud through the car. It’s also worth mentioning that the gear selector has a needlessly stiff action.
In terms of refinement, at idle or shuffling around in traffic the engine is quite noisy, but once the motor spins up the noise becomes less apparent and morphs into a fairly generic diesel thrum. It’s also extremely well isolated from the body with no vibrations filtering through to the cabin. This, allied to low levels of wind and tyre noise, makes the V40 Cross Country a relaxing motorway cruiser.
Sadly, isolation isn’t something you get from the suspension. At pretty much any speed, on any road, this car amplifies bumps to the extent that apparently shallow ripples become canyon-like when the tyres crash over them. Jumping from the Volvo into a Ford Focus and travelling down the same roads in comfort confirmed just how bad the Volvo’s ride is.
However, unlike the firm but fun handling Audi Q5, the Volvo fails to make up for its stiff set-up with an entertaining chassis. For a crossover it’s perfectly adequate with a good body control, but the dull steering, with its overly enthusiastic self-centering action, means you’re never really inspired to push on.
It is very hard to recommend you pay the extra £1000 for the V40 D4 Cross Country over the standard V40 D4, let alone some much more accomplished out-of-house rivals.
Fancy the looks of a crossover but aren’t too bothered about going off road? Then save yourself a whole heap of cash by looking at the Skoda Yeti, Nissan Qashqai, or Mazda CX-5, which all provide better dynamics and greater practicality.
On the other hand, do you need a premium SUV that can attempt the odd muddy farm track? For around the price of our test car you could have an Audi Q3, Q5, or even the V40’s bigger and more accomplished SUV brother, the XC60.
Or perhaps you are looking for a decent sized, quality-feeling, practical hatchback? In which case you’d be wise to save yourself around £1600 and go for an Audi A3 Sportback, which offers similar performance and efficiency, a well finished cabin and a more spacious interior.