Let’s be honest with ourselves here; do we like the idea of 4x4s because we frequently get stuck crossing fields? Or is it because they look a bit tougher, give a more commanding view of the road and are a bit more interesting than a standard hatchback?
By Matt Joy
You can answer that one for yourself but the reality for many people is that four-wheel drive is like a diver’s watch; useful and practical but rarely extended to the limit of its abilities.
But they are hugely popular whether they are full-on mud pluggers or just look like them, which explains why Volvo has introduced a Cross Country version of its V40 hatchback.
There’s a little clarification required here too; XC in Volvo-speak means SUV, such as the XC60 and XC90. But this isn’t an XC, it’s a Cross Country, so the majority of the range is only available in two-wheel drive.
That might sound like an odd decision, but the prospective V40 Cross Country customer will be more interested to hear about how it has improved cabin storage compared to the standard car, right down to a slot for the ice scraper with a drainage channel in the front door pockets - very clever.
In fact, the V40 is packed with this sort of thing, with the option of a folding front passenger seat, a storage pack for the boot with rails and dividers, and a clever false boot floor that can be flipped, removed or folded together.
It’s the kind of attention to detail that Volvo is well known for, and makes a car like this so much easier to live with.
The most obvious changes are outside however, where the Cross Country wears all the trappings of an off-road machine.
There are chunkier bumpers, substantial scuff plates front and rear, smart roof rails finished in silver and a choice of alloy wheels including handsome 19-inchers.
The Cross Country also comes in a unique colour dubbed Raw Copper - it looks a lot nicer than it sounds.
Add to that the ride height raised by 40mm and arguably you have a car that makes the standard V40 look a little plain - unless you go for the R-Design version, of course - which is no coincidence.
Unlike the rest of the range, the top T5 model comes with four-wheel drive as standard, and all the better for it; the T5 designation means there is a turbocharged five-cylinder engine under the bonnet pumping out 254 horsepower and 295lb.ft of torque.
Taken to the wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, the Cross Country T5 has the numbers to make it something of a performance car; 0-62mph is despatched in under seven seconds and the top speed is only a fraction short of 150mph. It feels that fast on the move too.
Like all good Volvos, there is a characterful beat from the engine when extended which encourages you to make the most of it.
Whether you leave the gearbox in automatic mode or flick it up and down with the lever, it switches ratios smoothly and quickly, emphasising the performance.
And the four-wheel drive system is clever and highly effective; some time spent driving the Cross Country on a frozen lake in Sweden revealed that it is secure and reassuring with Volvo’s DTSC system switched on, and surprisingly playful and fun with it turned off.
The modest flurries of snow and cold weather in the UK wouldn’t trouble it in the slightest.
But most of all, the Cross Country makes you feel cosseted as the driver.
The seats are superb (with the option of contrasting trim, which looks pretty smart), the driving position is excellent and, of course, a fraction higher thanks to the increase in ride height, and the dashboard is both visually attractive and easy to use.
The ‘floating’ centre console design has been around for a few years but it still looks fresh. The simple button arrangement is easy to use and the clear display screen is simple to navigate.
The standard V40 is far from impractical but the added features on the Cross Country version are still welcome.
It sounds much too like an advertising slogan but it gives a strong impression of being equipped for life, with plenty of thought given to the layout and how it can best suit a multitude of users and situations.
In fact, there are only two quibbles with the V40 Cross Country.
Firstly is the price, with this T5 version checking in at almost £34,000, but then that is to be expected of a range-topper.
The second is the four-wheel drive; go for a cheaper version with a more economical diesel and you lose the traction of two driven wheels.
However, if there’s sufficient interest, the decision may be reversed, and you also have to honestly ask whether you really need four-wheel drive at all.