Can a more powerful and efficient new engine help the Volvo V40 Cross Country overcome its shortcomings?

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In essence this is the same Volvo V40 as before with off-road styling tweaks, to give it a more rugged appeal similar to the way the XC70 was the go-anywhere version of the V70.

As for the engine range there are three petrol options, a 1.5-litre T3, which is only available with an auto 'box, and two variants of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit to choose from, while there is also three variants of Volvo's 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine too. Most are channelled via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, while the T3 and the diesel engines can be had with Volvo's slick six-speed manual.

On paper the 0-62mph figure of 7.3sec looks fast, but the reality is it feels stately and adequate rather than outright quick

Good news for company car drivers, then? Well potentially, because at £23,750 placing itself among the mid-range Audi A3 Sportback and the higher echelons of the Volkswagen Golf range, while our options-heavy test car was a whopping £37,295. That means despite an 18 per cent tax banding, a higher rate company user would pay £2685 a year.

In 2016, the Volvo V40 was given a minor facelift, most noticeable is the 'Thor-shaped' LED day running lights that premiered on the Volvo XC90 along with the introduction of a few more fuel-efficient engines.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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, Audi Q5, or even the V40’s bigger and more accomplished SUV brother, the Volvo 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.

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John Howell

John Howell
Title: Senior reviewer

John is a freelance automotive journalist with more than a decade of experience in the game. He’s written for most of the big car mags, not least as a road tester for Autocar and as deputy reviews editor for our sister brand, What Car?. He was also the features editor at PistonHeads and headed its YouTube channel.

Cars, driving and machines are in his blood. When he was barely a teenager he was creating race-bale racetracks on his family’s farm – to thrash an old Humber Sceptre around. It broke regularly, of course, which meant he got a taste (and love) for repairing cars. That’s why he eschewed university, choosing instead to do an apprenticeship with a Jaguar dealer. That’s where he built up his technical understanding.  

After that he moved into high-end car sales, selling Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris and Maseratis through the franchised network. But it was a love of writing and appraising cars that, eventually, led him to use his industry experience to prise open the door of motoring journalism. He loves cars that exceed their brief in some way. So he finds as much pleasure in testing a great, but humble, hatchback as he does sampling the latest Ferrari on track. Honest.