Volvo’s image has been given a cool edge by the Twilight films, but in the V40 this can quickly be lost amid the incessant nagging of the many onboard safety aids
The V40 Cross Country is a reinforced version of Volvo’s unusually attractive — for a Volvo — five-seat V40 hatchback. It takes the fetchingly hunched look of the original and adds underbody cladding, or as they say in the countryside, “Goat deflectors”. The ride height has been raised by 40mm and the car clearly imagines for its owner a life in which he or she might, say, splash through a ford or set off across a field — deliberately, that is, rather than inadvertently or because the sat nav went wrong.
Or maybe nowadays the natural habitat for strengthened, cross-country models is urban. The combination of a series of über-harsh winters and crippling local government cutbacks means that all kinds of inner-city roads are now technically off-road. Experts agree that some of the best gravel-topped surfaces for rallying are no longer in Welsh woods but in a network around Balham in south London — admittedly tight, but nonetheless driveable with the precaution of a helmet and a rollbar.
While exercising my loaned V40 in precisely that part of the world, I moved aside to allow an oncoming electric Riva G-Wiz through a narrow gap and watched it rebound seemingly catastrophically from the lip of a mile-deep pothole. The driver, as she passed, wore the pale and devastated expression of someone who knows that a large and unexpected bill for repairs is a certainty.
The G-Wiz never was the world’s most solidly built car, but the wreckage of Britain’s roads in 2013 now surely makes it finally unworkable as an urban transport solution.
With neither the climate nor the tightness of local services looking like letting up any time soon, this could be a very good time for rurally toughened vehicles in built-up settings. Stiffened frames, more muscular suspension rigs and harder sills are the way forward — not so much for people in the country, who now have it relatively easy, but for people whose journeying is mostly short school-run drops and lazy nips up to Sainsbury’s.
The days when people could hoot with derision because someone fancied they needed a Land Rover Discovery in the city are officially, if not behind us, then on the wane. The trouble with a Land Rover Discovery is, of course, that it is unhelpfully large when set loose on urban streets, so maybe something such as the V40 Cross Country edges it in this context, being lighter on its feet and easier to park.
It looks better than a Land Rover too. The use of new Volvos in the Twilight teen vampire film series wasn’t purely a piece of brokered product placement. It has its source in the original books, where Stephenie Meyer gives her vampire family a Volvo — which you could interpret as a warm joke about the indestructibility of the company’s products or as a suggestion of something slightly cold-blooded about the brand. Or possibly both.
Either way, Volvo happily colluded with the films, clearly seeing an opportunity to move along the brand message, which had rather stagnated over the years around a reputation for pioneering levels of occupant safety. That stuff is middle-class catnip, of course, but not the sharpest tool in terms of taking the word to a new generation.
Young people have now seen Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart step out of a C30 coupé and later an XC60, and whatever else this achieves in the long term, it has certainly taken Volvo’s “brand aura” into a new space: from the car your dad drives to the car the undead drive — a step forward, of sorts.
However, though clearly a product of the new, stylish, “major motion picture” Volvo era, the V40 Cross Country — or XC if you want to be hip — still furrows its brow over your security. Start the engine without first securing your seatbelt and the car immediately begins to bong at you in an insistent manner.
I didn’t have the nerve to try it but, presumably, if you then move away beltless, pictures of your face automatically start chattering out of fax machines in Swedish police stations and an international manhunt begins.
Moreover, I have never driven a car that was quite so convinced that I was going to crash it. The V40 is bristling with collision warning systems, and if anything solid moves into view a buzzer sounds and the dashboard lights up red as if you had just tilted a pinball machine.
On several distinct occasions the V40’s twitchy radar interpreted the presence of bollards on a central reservation — away to the right and no immediate hazard, I would have argued, just so long as I kept my hands on the steering wheel and my eyes open — as a head-on shunt about to happen and duly lit up and piped its urgent warning at me. Better safe than sorry, of course, although at times in the V40 you begin to wonder about that.
Still, there was no denying the premium feel — the smooth, easy gearshifts, the quiet efficiency of the 2-litre diesel engine. And, of course, it was good in a hole. I also recently drove the R-Design version of the V40 in which the car gets a high-end makeover and comes out with ornately stitched leather, soft-touch gearstick, silky alloys the shape of fruit juicers and sundry other signature touches. That was nice too. Probably one for country-dwellers, though. It’ll never make it in the city.
Climbs every mountain, fords every car park
Factfile: Volvo V40 D3 Cross Country SE 5dr
- Release date:
- On sale now
- 1984cc, 5-cylinder turbodiesel
- 148bhp @ 3500rpm
- 258 lb ft @ 1500rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 9.6sec
- Top speed:
- Road tax band:
- C (free for first year, £30 thereafter)
- L 4370mm, W 1783mm, H 1458mm
Mini Countryman Cooper SD, £22,240
For Fun to drive; endless ways to personalise it Against Tight on space; the bold design isn’t to everyone’s taste
Subaru Forester 2.0D X0h, £24,995
For Large cabin offers impressive practicality; four-wheel drive gives go-anywhere ability Against Economy of 49.6mpg can’t compete with the Volvo’s 64.2mpg
Published May 12, 2013Tweet