Travel with us back to the mid-1990s, for there we shall find the font of the 2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country.

It’s 1996, at the Torslandaverken near Gothenburg, Sweden, and Volvo has begun building the 850 AWD. The AWD is a standard, front-drive 850 wagon fitted with a newly developed Haldex all-wheel-drive system, which necessitates an ever-so-slight increase in the 850’s ride height. Around the globe, and particularly in North America, the obvious ripples of an SUV sales boom are coalescing into a genuine wave, and many carmakers have been caught off guard. Some, including Volvo, simply don’t have the resources to quickly change product direction and paddle after the wave. The 850 AWD at least offers tweed-jacket Volvo loyalists in the eastern United States and the UK something a bit more in vogue.

About a year later, following introduction of its new V70 wagon, Volvo unleashes a successor to the 850 AWD— the V70 Cross Country. The Cross Country features the Haldex AWD, a more substantial increase in ride height and a lot of dark vinyl cladding around its bumpers and lower flanks. Sales are strong. In 2003, when Volvo launches the XC90—its first ground-up SUV, developed with an infusion of Ford Motor Co. cash—the still-popular V70 Cross Country becomes simply the XC70. Volvo’s jacked-up wagon soldiers on through 2016.

Now back to today, 23 years after the 850 AWD: Volvo has three full-height SUVs—some will call them crossovers—and the company in Gothenburg is riding the wave like Kelly Slater. Volvo Cars sold a record 642,000 vehicles in 2018, and its top-sellers in descending order are its XC60, XC90 and XC40 SUV/crossovers. And still Volvo clings admirably to the tradition it started with the 850 AWD. In the span of a year it’s introduced two new jacked-up wagons: first the V90 Cross Country, and now the V60 Cross Country. You might be wondering why.

Even Volvo’s marketing folk concede that the V60 Cross Country cleaves a fairly narrow slice. It slots between the recently launched V60 wagon and the top-selling XC60 SUV, sharing the same 113-inch wheelbase on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture platform. The 2020 V60 Cross Country will be offered only with all-wheel drive (the standard V60 and XC60 are both available front-drive). In the United States, the Cross Country will offer one powertrain option.

That starts with the only combustion engine Volvo currently offers in the States. In the V60 Cross Country, the company’s modular 2.0-liter turbo four presents in medium-boost T5 grade, minus the low-speed supercharger that distinguishes the T6. That makes for peaks of 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is Volvo’s Aisin-built eight-speed torque-converter automatic. The all-wheel drive is a direct descendant of the Haldex system introduced in the 850 AWD, though it’s now branded BorgWarner, as BW acquired Haldex Traction AB in 2011. The current evolution can split power 50 front/50 rear as necessary, but it shuts off the rear axle whenever possible during steady-throttle operation to maximize fuel economy.

Beyond the all-wheel drive, substantive changes from the standard V60 T5 to the Cross Country rest entirely in the controls and the chassis. The Cross Country adds an off-road control program to manage the throttle map, shift strategy, AWD and skid control to take some of the work off the driver’s shoulders, should the Cross Country driver drive it off pavement. Off Road mode includes hill descent control.

Underneath, the Cross Country’s suspension is identical in layout to that in the standard V60: coil-over struts in front and a multi-link arrangement rear, with Volvo’s familiar transverse composite leaf spring and conventional hydraulic shocks all around. The difference is the springs, shocks and length of some suspension pieces, which serve to raise the Cross Country’s ride height 2.4 inches (the longer bits also increase front and rear track slightly, compared to the standard V60). It’s finished with more matte black lower-body cladding, including protective wheel arches, but the Cross Country is still a really good looking car. It’s longer and lower in overall appearance and less stodgy than Cross Countrys of yore.

The extra 2.4 inches of ride height create the Cross Country’s defining trait, compared to the standard V60. The ride height translates into an essentially equal increase in suspension travel and ground clearance (with a corresponding increase in drag coefficient). In the V60 Cross Country, we have a more conventional wagon that delivers the same ground clearance as the XC60 SUV, with a lower concentration of mass and a roof that’s fully six inches lower in height. That matters, according to Volvo.

It matters because active, outdoorsy types may find the ease of loading the Cross Country’s roof with kayaks or bikes a decisive factor in their decision to buy. Volvo’s marketing crew in North America expects Cross Country buyers to be more inclined toward outdoor and do-it-yourself stuff than XC60 buyers. The Cross Country buyers will be older and more likely past the kids-at-home stage, with value, performance and styling higher on their priority lists. XC60 buyers will have more kids at home or still in the way.

If there were no V60 Cross Country, would those buyers instead choose a standard V60 or an XC60? Not even Agneta Jilden, the Cross Country’s global launch manager at the home office in Gothenburg, can answer that question with certainty. What Jilden knows with some confidence is that Cross Country buyers are more likely than XC buyers to load the roof with something—anything--and drive into the woods. XC owners are more likely to think they’re adventurous without actually behaving so.

If you need to explain the return of the Cross Country, or why Volvo is slicing the compact-midsize wagon/crossover/SUV market so narrowly, it probably comes down to this. With the jacked-up wagon, Volvo can expand its product portfolio at marginal incremental cost and honor its heritage in the process. There will be enough buyers who appreciate the strengths engineered into the Cross Country to make it worth the investment. There are a couple decades worth of V70 Cross Country/XC70 buyers who loved their cars and would like to replace them.

Like the 850 AWD before it, the V60 Cross Country will be built at Volvo’s Torslanda plant. Dealerships can take orders now, with the first deliveries expected this summer. The Cross Country will just be the Cross Country, without the Momentum or Inscription trim grades almost universally applied to other Volvo models. Options, packages and pricing are still being sorted, but a pre-option retail price of $45,000-$46,000 is a pretty good guess.

Execution

The V60 Cross Country is more cross country than the standard V60, obviously enough. Compared to the V60 T5, as everyday road-going conveyance, the Cross Country doesn’t give up much.

Volvo’s 2.0-liter inline four is one of the smoother, more satisfying fours out there. The T5 tune in the V60 Cross Country isn’t the strongest variant in Volvo’s inventory, but it’s pretty strong among the vast range of 2.0Ts on the market and more than strong enough for the daily grind, even in a 4000-pound wagon. It’s hampered only a bit by the eight-speed automatic. In overall performance, Volvo’s gearbox ranks mid-pack among torque-converter automatics—a bit lumpier than some, a bit more indecisive than others. The trick is finding the right control mode for the circumstances, or going full manual as necessary.

Suspensions under the standard V60 T5 or T6 are not aggressively tuned, nor particularly inspiring of track day fantasies or even canyon rushes. Given that, there doesn’t seem to be a serious downgrade in the Cross Country’s road-going dynamics. There’s a bit more noise in the Cross Country’s steering feel with the same tires, maybe a bit more movement in the control arms. Let’s call it a slight increase in noise, vibration and harshness compared to the standard V60, but that’s the only real payback for the Cross Country suspension package on pavement.

Maybe there’s a hint more sway in the Cross Country, too, but with studded snow tires on a low-grip ice track plowed on a frozen bay in northern Sweden, you’re not going to care. The center of the Cross Country’s mass rests lower than an XC60 SUV’s, and the wagon delivers decent handling balance and great manageability, even with the stability control off. Its inclination is to understeer, but the rear wheels power up quick enough to get it dirt tracking with a little practice, and it’s always easy to collect. The easy-to-collect part will be valuable to a lot of buyers. The dirt tracking won’t be as valuable, probably, but it sure is fun.

As it is with just about every recently launched Volvo, the cabin and its accoutrements form one of the Cross Country’s strengths. The general finish is fantastic, compared to just about any Euro lux brand. There’s no point-and-click device, only a touch-screen for many operations, but the interface is as streamlined as they get. The dash is less cluttered than any vehicle in the competitive set of compact to mid-size Euro wagons and crossovers.

The off-road enhancements in the Cross Country aren’t Rubicon grade, but they’re legit. There’s decent wheel travel, and approach/breakover angles are almost as good as the XC60’s. The Hill Descent Control works great, handling the braking and minimizing slides on the way down slippery surfaces. Creeping through a series of moguls that leave one or another wheel hanging in space, there’s nothing like twist or groaning in the Cross Country’s unibody.

Compared to the generally well-done XC60, the new V60 Cross Country makes the preferred daily driver, at least in this guy’s view. It brings capability the standard V60 wagon doesn’t have. For one-car owners who enjoy back-country camping, or for families who live with a lot of snow, the Cross Country is still a better compromise than many SUVs.

Some odds-and-ends for comparing the V60 Cross Country and the XC60: Hip points (or seat bottoms) are higher in the XC60, but the SUV’s headroom surpasses the Cross Country by no more than a fraction of an inch in any seat. Maximum cargo volume in the Cross Country (50.9 cubic feet) actually exceeds that in the XC60 by a fraction of a cubic foot, thanks to the wagon’s longer load space. While the Cross Country’s roof may be easier to load, its maximum safe weight of 165 pounds is 55 pounds lower. Its maximum braked towing capacity of 3970 pounds also falls from the XC60, by 25 percent.

The Verdict

The V60 Cross Country is a throwback to an idea that kept Volvo in the game at the start of the SUV boom. It’s back because it was a pretty good idea to start. In certain respects the steps from a standard V60 wagon to the 2020 V60 Cross Country to an XC60 SUV are short and fairly subtle. Yet if rationality reigned supreme, the Cross Country would be the choice for a lot of drivers.

Source: Autoweek

February 13, 2019