September 21, 2014 @ 05:28 PM

Volvo V40 CrossCountry - one stylishly rugged hatchback

It isn’t a hatchback or a station wagon and definitely not an SUV. This vehicle is somewhere in between Words: Chris Ng

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All is silent, barring the sleepy beats that are coming from the stereo system. Dawn just broke, I could see signs of the sky beginning to change colour starting in the east. Where I am, the roads are still dark and needs illumination of the headlights to brighten up the way. Not that it is crucial, I can see where the road ends and the trees begin, but I am in no mood to roll over the odd iguana and have reptile goo to wipe off later. Besides, I have not taken pictures of the car yet.

 
It also helps that I’m not tearing up the road to reach my destination. The fact remains; I’m on roads that are already torn up by heavy lorries and poor maintenance. The last time I rushed up a mountain, I was in a brightly-coloured metallic orange C30, the last Volvo that was properly fun. It had a 2.5-litre turbo-charged straight-five that turned over 230bhp and 320Nm into the front axle. Its handling was not as well-sorted as its contemporaries but it was as much fun as wielding a Viking warhammer.
 
The Volvo that I am in, the V40 CrossCountry, also have a turbocharged straight-five but it is a 2.0-litre mill and not the 2.5-litre monster of old. So instead of pushing out massive power, the new engine is tuned for efficiency – the sign of the times. In its current state, the V40’s drivetrain will do a respectable 7.5l/100km. Yet, the engine could still generate 213 horses and 300Nm of twist without hesitation.
 
OK, maybe it can get hesitant breaking away from standstill. The engine is mated to a six-speed Geartronic (read: torque convertor) automatic gearbox that, when locked into the sport mode, will alter its shift pattern. The revs are held on to longer, letting speed accumulate at a quicker rate as opposed to lazily shifting in its normal state. In both cases, the pick-up from zero kph always feels a second too slow. 
 
However, once the ratio locks in, the rush is tremendous and the car becomes a rapid thing on wheels. Zero to hundred is reached in just 6.9 seconds. It isn’t the fastest or the smoothest thing on the planet. But that is not what the CrossCountry is about. More on that later. 
 
Once up to speed, the gearshifts become much easier to swallow. You’ll be pacing briskly with the engine rev turning just over 2,000rpm. The constant low rumble tells you that there’s still plenty more power in storage, which is handy during overtaking. Provided you can wait a while longer so allow the gear to kick down and pick up speed.
 
Which means you need to choose your overtaking points properly, you need to know if you can put the entire convoy behind you or if you could slip in between cars should on-coming traffic appear without due notice. In short, you need a strategy before revving that engine. 
 
Swinging from one apex to the next makes one thing clear – the V40 isn’t a Golf GTI. That said, the V40 is grippy and controls its body roll well although it won’t hesitate to run the front wheels wide when putting out too much power in the corners. The steering, in spite being guilty of vagueness, is precise and eager to turn. The ride itself is on the firmer side of the river but never too jarring or bounces too harshly.
 
If the V40 CrossCountry doesn’t seem like a hot hatch, it is because the CrossCountry is not designed to be one in the first place. And it isn’t a hatchback by definition; that particular title goes to the V40 T5. Now, the difference between the CrossCountry and the non-CrossCountry V40s is its ride height – 145mm versus 132mm. Not much, just 13mm separating both but it is a world of difference on broken roads; the difference between getting stuck or driving away scot free.
 
I don’t think it’s a missed shot if I said that the CrossCountry is Volvo’s compact crossover, much like what the GLA is to the A-Class. The additional armour it wears on the body hints at the ruggedness of this V40. Visually, it seems as if the car is prepared to roll up its sleeves and get dirty. And that it would not mind trekking through some light mud, hard gravel or tarmac obliterated by progress; things you’ll drive over in the back roads. Or even through an orchard.
 
The only thing that is keeping this V40 from kicking up a dust storm is its lack of a four-wheel drive system. That’s right; the task of moving the car forward starts and stops with the front wheels. At the very least, the V40 has torque vectoring. 
The CrossCountry is fearless when it comes to the uneven and undulating roads. Normally, one would slow down if one encounters a patch of roads ruined by progress and littered with small stones, or roads that suddenly takes a sharp dip that would have scraped a portion of the side skirt. In here, you will be powering through it all as if the tarmac is in working condition. 
 
Throughout the journey, you won’t forget that you’re driving the best looking Volvo car in the market today. Every line is in place, every angle is in its right position and the curves only serves to enhance the appeal of the car. Tour the outside and you’ll be hard pressed to find the ugly side of the car.
 
What awaits you inside is an interior style that only Volvo can pull off convincingly. Never mind that it oozes with a certain casual luxury but it also proposes that you can make shiny plastics classy. The leather-wrapped furniture does enhance the luxury bits but it is ultimately the homey ambience that makes its comfortable and familiar.
 
The meter cluster needs to be mentioned. It is digital and it gives you a choice of three display themes. The Elegance, in brown, is the most standard-looking of the three. The ECO changes the left panel into an efficiency meter that tells you how eco-friendly you’re driving, and then rewards you with an ‘e’. Hit the Sport theme and the meters turn red. The speedometer now takes centre stage with the rev meter fringing it. There’s also a power meter that appears on the right panel that tells you how much force you’re milking from the engine. And not much else. Oh well.
 
Not that you’d be racing around the country with this V40. Which is fine by me. The CrossCountry, with its tall ride height, is suited more for a long leisurely drive along the countryside rather than scorching up the tarmac. In that sense, it would be very unfair to compare this to the Golf GTI or the BMW 1-Series or even the Mercedes-Benz A-Class – the Germans are in a class of their own.
 
The V40 is different. The V40 CrossCountry is even more so.

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