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First drive: 2015 Volvo V60 Cross Country

Volvo's V60 Cross Country is comfortable on roads, confident venturing off them

On the surface, the V60 Cross Country may seem to be a tall version of Volvo’s standard wagon. Fortunately it is more than the sum of its parts.

As the sun rose over Lake Tahoe, California, I was crammed in the back of a Volvo wagon screaming 40 mph in reverse across an airstrip. The man behind the wheel was none other than the Swedish Secret Service’s driving personal instructor. Just as I was wondering what had brought me to this juncture, the mad Swede slammed the Volvo into a vicious J-turn.

If all this sounds confusing that is only appropriate, because the V60 Cross Country is a confusing car.

The latest offering from the Swedish automaker is, in essence, a lifted, ruggedized version of its V60 Wagon with a confusing web of connections to other Volvos. It features a similar suspension setup to the XC60 crossover, a similar purpose to the XC70 wagon, as well as a legacy powertrain. Yet, despite this, it manages to have a character all its own.

Sport wagon or crossover?

Volvo uses terms like “sport wagon” to describe the V60 Cross Country, but this probably isn’t the best way to think about the car, despite Volvo giving a chance to thrash the car on an impromptu track.

The plan had been to put the Cross Country’s Haldex all-wheel drive to the test on an ice-covered track. Unfortunately, global warming had different ideas. Despite being high in the Sierra Nevadas, only a few short miles from where the Donner Party was snowed in and reduced to eating each other, the track was just too warm.

2015 Volvo V60 Cross Country
Peter Braun/Digital Trends

So instead of ice, we got a chance to play on the dry pavement. The course was an accident avoidance scenario of hard braking and turns and a tightly spaced slalom. Thrashing the car with driving instructors from Sweden was revealing.

For starters, the car has more power than most drivers will ever need. The Cross Country model will only be available with Volvo’s legacy T5, a turbocharged inline five-cylinder, which produces 240 horsepower. Power delivery isn’t exactly thrilling, but acceleration is solid at nearly any speed thanks to the 255-pound-feet of torque available across nearly the entire rev range.

Despite the increased ride height, the car corners with only a little body roll, even when being thrown through a slalom. Steering also remains precise despite riding on bigger, chunkier tires. In fact, in one way, the Cross Country appears to be a dynamic improvement over the standard V60: braking.

The standard S60/V60 has great braking performance, but I have always found the pedal to be numb and uncommunicative. This seems starkly improved on the Cross Country.

Even with all of these superlatives, the V60 falls down when compared to other European sports sedans. Even with its all-wheel drive, the Cross Country understeers when pushed. And, while the steering is precise, it is also a touch numb.

It is probably better to consider the V60 Cross Country as an alternative to a traditional crossover. In terms of performance, there really is no comparison; the V60 Cross Country is both more pleasant and more rewarding to drive than its taller, bulkier competitors.

Stylish utility

The V60 Cross Country may seem to be a wagon in heels, but its all terrain capability should be no worse than the vast majority of car-based crossovers.

Volvo’s engineers have managed to stretch an impressive 7.9 inches of ground clearance out of the car. They have also equipped it with stronger suspension components and hill descent control.

The V60 Cross Country is both more pleasant and more rewarding to drive than its taller, bulkier competitors.

These additions don’t transform the family wagon into a trail-busting off-roader, but they are more than sufficient to get to the ski-slopes or handle bad forest service roads.

The Haldex all-wheel drive system in particular stands out. The system allows only a small amount of slippage before redirecting power to the other wheels. Whether on snow, mud, or simply wet pavement, this system provides drivers with both a surprising amount of grip and confidence.

The fact that the wheels don’t need to slip much before the computers and differentials take over will help give the off-roading amateurs likely to be driving this more confidence and more peace of mind.

On regular roads, the Cross Country is probably one of the most comfortable cars in its price range. It combines a smooth and quiet ride with excellent seats — a Volvo specialty.

2015 Volvo V60 Cross Country

Unfortunately, backseat passengers won’t be able to focus on the lovely seats, because they will be distracted by the fact that there is surprisingly little legroom. Adults can fit, but they will feel pretty cramped. And, while children will fit comfortably, their parents will have a hard time reaching in to adjust car seats or clothing thanks to the small doors.

This is a problem shared with the standard V60, but stands out even more when compared to other rugged wagons like the Audi Allroad and the Subaru Outback.

Conclusion

The lack of rear room stands out in a car that is otherwise nearly unassailable as a family car. It combines pleasant driving dynamics, with great safety, all-weather ability, and far above average comfort. Unfortunately, this family excellence comes at a price … the price.

The car starts at $41,000 and can be optioned up substantially. While cheap by German standards, this pushes the car into a field that has a lot of competition.

Even so, the V60 Cross Country is an excellent effort. Anyone interested in buying an AWD V60 should seriously consider springing for the Cross Country instead.

Highs

  • Comfortable quiet and on road
  • Surprisingly good all-terrain ability
  • Excellent safety
  • Distinctive styling

Lows

  • Lack of new Drive-E engines
  • Cramped back seat
  • Fairly high price