Lifestyle. That word, whether used in earnest or with cynical tenuousness has come to dominate marketing for all sorts of products in this day and age – not least of all the humble automobile.
It’s part of the reason for the rise and rise of the SUV, that image of an active lifestyle – that word again – being the one so many yummy mummies and faddish dads would like to project, by contrast with that of the workaday estate or dowdy MPV.
But what if, for you, ‘lifestyle’ isn’t just another marketing buzzword? What if you do need a car that can carry mountain bikes, skis, rock-climbing gear, lifejackets and sails, yet also tow a trailer and find its way up rutted, rocky tracks to where the action is? Enter the Volvo V60 Cross Country.
The Cross Country, or rather its predecessor, the V70 XC, was one of the first of these jacked-up, ruggedised estate cars. Alongside the Subaru Legacy Outback and Audi’s A6 Allroad, the V70 XC set out to fill a role its successor is still tilting at today, and while rivals like Mercedes’s E-Class All-Terrain and Skoda’s Scout range have joined the fray since, the Cross Country remains one of the go-to off-road estates.
Today, you can have your Cross Country in your choice of petrol T5 or diesel D4 flavours; both 2.0-litre four-pots, with the former touting 247bhp and the latter 187bhp. As you might expect given Volvo’s inexorable march upmarket, there’s plenty of standard equipment – leather seats, adaptive LED headlights, power tailgate, and of course the de-rigeur sat-nav, auto headlights and dual-zone climate control.
It’s a rather lovely place to be, too, with Volvo’s now-familiar dashboard architecture gently curving this way and that, garnished with shining slivers of metal or, if you prefer, open-grain wood. You get a digital set of gauges which you can change the look of and of course, Volvo’s portrait-oriented central screen which controls pretty much everything else.
It’s reasonably usable, this, but it isn’t perfect; changing the climate control settings on the move is fiddly and pulls your attention from the road in a way it wouldn’t if you were using physical buttons and knobs. Some of the other menus are rather complicated, too, and it’s a shame the smartphone mirroring system only takes up half the screen when you’re using it – oddly, it’s the bottom half, meaning you have to look down from the road each time you want to check your Waze directions.
For all these niggling faults, the central screen is at least clear and attractive to look at, and what little physical switchgear you do get is tactile, slick and beautiful to use. Par for the course with a modern Volvo, in short.
No matter where you’re sitting in the V60, you won’t really want for space; there’s a surfeit of nooks for smaller odds and ends up front, while in the back there’s head and leg room aplenty – though your passengers might be irritated by the fairly intrusive seat bolsters on each end of the bench, which force their elbows forward. The boot, meanwhile, is more than adequate for most needs, though surprisingly not as vast as a Volkswagen Passat’s. You do at least get an assortment of straps, rings and hooks with which to manage the space.
Back here, you’ll also work out why you might choose a tall estate like this over an SUV for those outdoorsy escapades we talked about earlier. While both cars’ capacities might be similar on paper, an estate’s load bay is generally longer with the seats folded down, where an SUV’s is taller and squarer.
So while the SUV will prove more useful for carrying tall items (and, it’s worth noting, give your dogs more head room), a car like the V60 Cross Country is better-suited to carrying longer loads – mountain bikes or skis, for example.
You twist a knurled knob down by the automatic gear selector to start the V60 up, and it isn’t hard to tell it’s a diesel. Even on the move the engine is a little more clattery than you’d find in, say, a VW Group product, though it stops short of being truly intrusive and quietens down once you’re on the move.
Volvo still hasn’t quite nailed its tuning of ZF’s eight-speed torque-convertor unit as sweetly as, say, BMW; here, it shifts adeptly most of the time but just occasionally it’ll hold onto a ratio then thump home the next gear a touch roughly. It can be too tempting to hunt through the gears if you flex your right foot, too, and it’s rather slow to react when you call for a fast get-away.
The Cross Country’s ride is a bit of an odd one, because it’s soft and cosseting over larger bumps, yet doesn’t quite have the sort of response needed to damp out short, sharp imperfections. The result is a car which is caught napping by rougher sections of road, potholes or recessed drain covers, all of which invoke a rather sharp jolt.
The majority of the time, though, the Cross Country is as comfy as you could hope, especially on the motorway where it smears along quite effortlessly unless it’s really pushed hard. Here, those terrific seats come into their own, the support exactly where you’d want it to be. You can get adaptive cruise control and even lane-keeping steering to further ease your longer journeys, though both are options, which feels a little measly on a premium product like this.
Long-distance cruising really is this car’s forte, mind you, so it’s no surprise to find it isn’t all that exciting away from that environment; the steering is slow, though happily not too remote, and the high centre of gravity causes the Cross Country to lean over its outside front wheel rather ponderously. Mind you, it never feels anything short of safe, secure and composed; if you’re looking for anything more, you’re probably buying the wrong car.
If you’re buying it to tow, though, you might have better luck. Granted, the Cross Country’s 2,000kg towing weight means you’ll still need a proper SUV if you want to haul a big caravan, but it should still be more than enough for a dinghy, a few canoes or whatever other lifestyle accoutrements you care to mention. The 60mm boost in ride height and standard four-wheel drive, meanwhile, mean you’ll be able to scramble along rutted tracks and scale wet, grassy inclines with ease.
And in town, that plastic cladding might prove worth its weight in gold, defending the Cross Country from door-prangers and bumper-nudgers alike. It’s an easy enough car to handle in an urban environment, its height granting you a bit of extra visibility, though thanks to that slow steering and niggly gearbox, it can feel a trifle cumbersome from time to time.
On the whole, there’s much to like about this soft-road version of the V60. If you really need space, versatility and utility in the rough stuff, it should tick the right boxes, especially if the idea of a full-blown SUV doesn’t appeal.
What’s more, Volvo appears to have played a blinder in launching the V60 Cross Country when it has, with rivals rather thin on the ground. There’s Skoda’s Superb 4x4 and the smaller Octavia Scout, of course, though the latter is considerably cheaper and decidedly more utilitarian, while the former does without the Volvo’s extra ride height and is due a facelift soon.
There’s always the Subaru Outback, though that car’s plasticky interior, thirsty petrol engine and CVT gearbox limit its appeal; the Audi A6 Allroad and Mercedes E-Class All Terrain, meanwhile, are both bigger and pricier; fodder for the V60’s bigger brother, the V90.
Audi’s A4 Allroad and Volkswagen’s Passat Alltrack are nominally the most logical alternatives, but both are on hiatus pending the arrival of newer versions later this year. When they do eventually arrive on the scene, the Volvo looks set to best the Audi on practicality; the VW, meanwhile, will likely offer more room for less cash – although it probably won’t feel quite as special.
For now, though, the V60 Cross Country is probably the best car of its type you can buy. Yes, it has a few flaws, some more trifling than others, but none of them stop it from feeling benign, relaxing and stylish in that uniquely Scandinavian way all modern Volvos do. Of the many cars out there these days which claim to combine lifestyle and luxury in one seemingly ideal package, the V60 Cross Country is one of the few that really does.
Volvo V90 Cross Country D4 AWD
TESTED 1,969cc four-cylinder diesel turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE £40,435/now
POWER/TORQUE 187bhp @ 4,250rpm, 295lb ft @ 1,750-2,500rpm
TOP SPEED 137mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 7.9sec
FUEL ECONOMY 47.9mpg (WLTP Combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 135g/km (NEDC Combined with 18-inch wheels)
VED £530 first year, £450/year for five years thereafter, then £140/year
VERDICT For the time being the V60 Cross Country has the market to itself, but that isn’t the only reason why it’s probably the best of these go-anywhere estates. It isn’t perfect, but its flaws aren’t really deal-breakers and its blend of style, space and comfort is immensely appealing.
TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five
Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI 4Motion Alltrack, from £37,000
Passats are only being sold from stock now as the factory gears up for the facelift model, so if you can’t find one of these Alltracks in a dealer you’ll have to wait. It might be worth seeking out, though; it’ll stir the soul less than the V60, but it’s more practical and no less well-built.
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI 4x4 SE L Executive, from £34,295
Don’t need the V60’s ride height? Then the Superb should do you. It does without the look-at-me body cladding too, so if subtlety is your cup of tea you’ll love it – and there’s a boot the size of a warehouse. As smart as the Superb is inside, though, it simply isn’t as plush as the Volvo.
Subaru Outback 2.5i SE Premium Lineartronic, from £31,840
A bit of a bargain in this company, but it needs to be for the Outback feels cheap next to the Volvo, and the culling of the diesel-engined model means there’s only a thirsty petrol mated to a raucous CVT gearbox on offer. A deeply left-field choice, and hard to recommend.