Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A luxurious wagon with off-road airs.Practical and safe, yet fun to drive.
Volvo's Cross Country AWD estate wagon, jacked up in the suspension and rigged with a permanently engaged all-wheel-drive device for trekking across rugged terrain, is the company's clever alternative to a sport-utility vehicle.
The Cross Country boasts an elevated chassis that rivals an off-road wagon, no-dent body armor to brush aside trail debris and traction applying to all wheels. It can plow down rough routes to reach a backwater fishing hole or camping spot, yet on pavement deliver sophisticated traits of a refined road car with agile handling and a smooth ride quality. In other words, it possesses the go-anywhere attributes of a sturdy SUV when you want to venture away from pavement, but otherwise behaves like a nimble sedan while always coddling passengers in luxurious comfort.
The Cross Country comes with an impressive pedigree derived from a new generational design for Volvo's mid-size V70 estate wagon. It stocks a turbo-charged engine and a five-speed automatic transmission, extensive luxury features typically found on European touring cars, plus innovative safety measures. Compared against the V70 foundation, though, the Cross Country stretches 1.2 inches longer in length and is several inches wider due to an expansion of the front wheel track by 2.3 inches. It's also 2.8 inches taller at the roof, with the chassis raised by 2.4 inches to clear 8.2 inches.
Volvo's traditional focus on active and passive automotive safety devices carries over to the Cross Country with its safety cell body structure and seats that react to collision forces to thwart whiplash injuries. Occupants are shielded by airbags set ahead, beside and above. Then, to avoid a crash altogether, the Cross Country driver can draw from active safety tools like quick-to-cut steering, anti-lock brakes and a traction controller to reduce skidding and the emergency stopping time.
As a bonus, the wagon format creates a generous flat-floor cargo bay in back where an optional third-row seat may be added. A second-row bench splits and folds in three sections to vary the mix of passengers and gear, and an available electric refrigerated cooler box plugs into the center seat section to chill road picnic snacks. Volvo's all-new V70 mid-size wagon may be practical and safe, but it also has another side that's luxurious, sporty and wild.
The practical nature becomes apparent from the adaptable arrangement of seats for as many as seven passengers and an expandable cargo compartment with tie-down hooks and various accessories available to manage on-board freight loads.
Its luxurious side comes from posh appointments in an insulated passenger compartment in the mode of elite European touring sedans.
Volvo's historical emphasis on safety lives on with innovations to safety cell structures and active seats rigged to thwart whiplash injuries. Occupants are shielded by airbags positioned ahead, beside and above. To avoid crashes in the first place, the driver is armed with active safety tools including responsive steering, anti-lock brakes and traction control to reduce skids.
The sports appeal comes from turbocharged power and an adaptable five-speed automatic transmission designed to propel the car quickly up a freeway on-ramp and allow it to keep pace at autobahn speeds when desired.
And its wild side comes into play from a rigid chassis with sporty suspension tuning and the choice of a manual five-speed shifter for the high-output turbo T5 edition.
The Cross Country shows up in a single body style spinning off Volvo's V70 mid-size wagon: It's a five-door estate wagon hiked higher in the suspension and outfitted with an all-wheel-drive system linked to a 2.4-liter inline five-cylinder light-pressure turbo engine with a five-speed automatic transmission.
Pricing begins at $34,900 with many standard safety features aboard, including side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and a traction control system.
Accessories and luxury equipment grouped in packages add to the bottom line, such as a leather upholstery kit for $1,300, touring gear for $1,250, a power sunroof at $1,200, premium audio with in-dash CD player for four discs ($1,000), and Volvo's pop-up navigation system ($2,500). The new generation design for Volvo's V70 estate wagon of 2001 splits into two front-wheel-drive models that differ in terms of powertrain and interior equipment.
The V70 2.4T draws from a 2.4-liter inline five-cylinder light-pressure turbo engine linked to a five-speed automatic transmission. Pricing for this base model starts at $32,400 with many standard safety features aboard, including anti-lock brakes and traction control.
The V70 T5 for $33,400 packs a 2.3-liter inline-5 high-pressure turbo that musters 247 horsepower through a manual five-speed gearbox. The T5 uses firm suspension settings for a sporty flavor.
Volvo's computer-linked Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) system may be added to either version ($1,250 for the 2.4T, $1,100 for T5), and a navigation system adds $2,500 more to the bottom line.
Using the basic sheetmetal structure of Volvo's V70 wagon, the Cross Country variation stretches long over a wedge-shaped shell that's cocked high at the boxy tail but slammed low in front for a tapered nose. An exceptionally wide wheel track spreads the body across a broad platform.
Protective body cladding rings around the base of the body, uniting deep front and rear bumpers, wheelwell flares and door sills. The cladding contrasts against painted metal surfaces of the wagon to create the illusion of an even higher stance. The plastic compound used for the protective cladding is tinted a dark shade throughout so off-road scrapes and scratches will not be obvious.
In front, the cladding rises above a massive bumper to surround a rectangular chrome grille inset with a bold egg crate pattern and Volvo's signature diagonal slash bar. Stepped creases in the bowed hood taper inward from the broad base of the windshield to sides of the grille and thrust it forward as the leading edge of the wagon. Long horizontal headlight clusters shielded by curving polycarbon lenses tuck into notched recesses on each side of the center grille, while round foglamps cut into the thick bumper.
On sides above rolled shoulders, body-colored pillars and dark window glass bend inward to reach the roof panel, softening hard corners and diminishing the visual massiveness of a wagon's rear bay. The rear liftgate also bows slightly in curvy profile but maintains an essentially vertical plane to maximize interior cargo space. Composed of steel-reinforced polyresin fiberglass, the top-hinged gate mounts between rear pillars capped by long and narrow vertical taillights.
On the roof, a pair of rails linked by two sliding cross braces set up a flexible car-top carrier for extra cargo or sports equipment such as bicycles and kayaks. Overall shape of the V70 vaguely resembles its predecessor due to a wagon's naturally boxy rear bay. But closer scrutiny reveals fresh styling lines for a larger package that looks aggressive due to a wider track. There's also something here that was missing from the typical tank-like shape of previous Volvo wagons: Shapely curves.
The form evolves from a basic wedge-shaped shell with high tail and low prow capped by a rectangular chrome grille that has the signature diagonal slash bar common to all Volvos. Hard creases in the bowed hood taper from canted A-pillars to sides of the grille and thrust it forward as the leading edge of the vehicle. Headlight clusters unified behind curving polycarbon lenses notch in recesses flanking the grille to further accent it, while body-colored bumpers trimmed with black molding wrap around the face to front wheel wells and form a broad ground-level base that extends below sleek flat side panels.
Above prominent rolled shoulders, pillars and side glass bend inward to meet the roof panel, softening hard corners and diminishing the visual massiveness of a wagon's rear bay. The rear liftgate also bows slightly in curvy profile but maintains an essentially vertical plane to maximize interior cargo space. Composed of steel-reinforced polyresin fiberglass, the back door tucks between two thin vertical taillights mounted high in a format carried over from the previous wagon.
The plush passenger compartment of the Cross Country provides luxurious seats trimmed in a muted monochromic color scheme. Volvo has some great interiors nowadays, but the seats in our Cross Country came in dark brown leather that wasn't as appealing.
A conventional layout puts two bolstered buckets up front on either side of a multi-purpose console. The second-row bench seat features three-point safety belts for three positions. These seats feel extremely comfortable, but they can also perform tricks when necessary for safety or saving space. For instance, each front seatback contains a device designed to minimize the whiplash effect during a collision from the rear. At the onset of such a crash, the seatback moves rearward to reduce acceleration forces induced on the rider's back and neck, as the headrest pushes forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head thrust backward.
The broad rear bench fits three adults comfortably. It splits into three sections of 40/20/40 percent, and each seatback can be flipped forward to form an extension of the flat cargo floor in the rear. Also, the smaller center section may be removed entirely, creating either an aisle for access to the rear bay or space for an accessory, such as a removable softside gear bag or the hardside electric refrigerated box for stashing car snacks. You'll need to spend some time reading the owner's manual to fully appreciate versatility of the rear seat design.
For infants and toddlers, anchors are in place in the bench seat to secure two designs for rear-facing child's safety seats that use a base frame to house a cradle-style padded seat with integrated safety straps. One style fits infants weighing up to 20 pounds and another suits a child up to 40 pounds.
The generous cargo bay can be fitted with convenience items like a container for shopping bags ($125) or an optional third seat sized for children. The third seat is included in a Versatility Package ($1,150) that also brings a cargo net divider draped vertically behind the second seat and a horizontal cargo security cover.
Cross Country appointments include power controls for virtually all equipment and an automatic climate system, with deluxe audio equipment available including one kit with an in-dash compact disc player for four CDs ($1,000). The stereo is a challenge to learn how to use and the operation is fussy. Most of us don't need to save 20 stations. A stylish interior environment features rich appointments with an understated air of elegance in muted tone-on-tone colors with sparing touches of ersatz redwood trim on the glovebox and side door panels. It's a clean design with buttons and switches in logical positions and analog gauges housed in an uncluttered instrument panel.
A conventional layout sets two bolstered buckets between a multi-purpose console. The rear bench seat features three-point safety belts in all three seating positions, which are anchored in the backrest. Seats are anything but conventional, however -- they're extremely comfortable and also smart, performing tricks when necessary for safety or saving space.
Front seatbacks incorporate mechanisms to guard against the whiplash effect from a rear-end impact. During such a crash, the seatback moves rearward to reduce acceleration forces induced on the rider's back and neck, as the headrest pushes forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head thrust backward.
The broad rear bench easily fits three. Seatback sections move to two different positions, one for comfort with a 30-degree tilt and the other more vertical at 25 degrees when a few more inches of space would make room for more gear in the rear. The seatback also folds forward easily to form a flat cargo floor.
That back bay can be fitted with convenience items like a container for shopping bags or a table that pops up from beneath the second-row seat for use with an optional third seat sized for children. For infants and toddlers, anchors are in place to secure two new designs for rear-facing child's safety seats that use a base frame to house a cradle-style padded seat with integrated safety straps. One style fits infants weighing up to 20 pounds, and another works for a child to 40 pounds.
Luxurious appointments include power controls for virtually all equipment and an automatic climate system, with deluxe audio equipment and an optional Dolby Surround Pro Logic system with nine speakers and in-dash compact disc player for four CDs.
On pavement, the Cross Country behaves like an agile European touring car with a lush but firm ride quality and quick steering responses, due to a stiff structure anchoring independent suspension elements with front MacPherson struts and a rear multi-link axle, plus rack and pinion steering.
Away from pavement on rough terrain, it changes character and acts more like an off-road vehicle, thanks to the elevated chassis, nubby Pirelli Scorpion tires and an all-wheel-drive system that automatically channels engine torque to the set of wheels that gets good traction.
The Cross Country we steered up a rugged two-rut trace on Mount Manchester in Vermont maintained steady forward progress, despite trail obstacles like rain-slick rocks and tire-sucking mud traps. With the higher suspension we cleared all bumps and debris without fear, and the automatic traction distributor kept tires rolling so driving became no-brainer easy. Volvo's all-wheel-drive apparatus normally directs about 95 percent of the engine torque to the front wheels, although when on-board sensors detect wheel spin the mechanism can redirect the power to whichever set of wheels has the best tire bite. It's a seamless system that functions automatically, so a driver never must make a conscious decision to shift into four-wheel-drive mode.
A traction controller for all four wheels operates in conjunction with the all-wheel-drive system to brake a spinning wheel, and anti-lock controls for the disc brakes also work when needed to help maintain stability on pavement as well as dirt.
For muscle, the Cross Country draws from a 2.4-liter inline five-cylinder light-pressure turbo-charged engine that generates 197 horsepower. It produces high torque at relatively low engine speed without the typical turbo lag, bringing fast off-the-line starts and still enough juice retained at highway speed to inspire a quick pass around slower traffic.
The engine mates to a five-speed electronic automatic transmission equipped with Volvo's Geartronic mode that allows shift-it-yourself maneuvers. Simply slap the gear lever to the left and lock it in the gate, then push the stick forward to move to the next higher gear or tip it rearward to drop to a lower gear. It's useful for working through heavy traffic or undulating terrain.
All mechanical aspects of this vehicle work together to create a stable stance and proficient manners, whether on the road or off on a trail. It's easy to maneuver, rather frisky in a run through some esses on a hill course, and, with the stretched wheelbase and refined suspension elements, still plush on pavement. The aggressive Pirelli Scorpion tires make slightly more noise than a regular all-season tire, but are well within acceptable bounds. On the road, it's easy to forget that the V70 bears the format of a suburban car-pooler's station wagon fitted with ultimate vehicle safety systems because it possesses the spirit of an elite touring car and moves with downright sporty manners.
We steered a T5 prototype edition on an extensive course through the Maritime Alps of France's Provence region to sample the power and measure its poise while traveling on roads that varied from steep alpine grades to quick-paced multi-lane freeways. Sheer driving excitement occurred on the N85, a winding two-lane strip etched into hillsides between Castellane and Grasse, where our wagon handled kinks and curves with precise and controlled movements. Its lively kick and the lithe attitude kindled a soothing sense of confidence. The implication from this spirit is that it's an unpredictable path we travel with pitfalls along the way but the going doesn't have to be dangerous or even uncomfortable when you're steering the Volvo.
Regarding power, the V70 for North America offers two five-cylinder engines, with the T5 stocking a high-pressure intercooled turbo that puts 247 horsepower into play across a flat band of torque spread between 1800 and 4800 rpm. With high torque achieved at relatively low engine speed and the typical power lag from a turbo minimized, this engines impresses with its quick surges and quiet demeanor.
A five-speed manual gearbox, rarely found in the domain of station wagons, has a sporty short-throw stick and brings crisp control. The optional five-speed electronic automatic gets a Geartronic add-on that allows shift-it-yourself maneuvers by simply throwing the gear selector lever to the left and locking it in the gate. Then push the lever forward to bump up a gear, or tip it rearward to back down.
The V70 platform, lifted from Volvo's larger S80 sedan, has a longer wheelbase and broader track than the predecessor V70, which creates a solid foundation to attach suspension elements of front MacPherson struts and a rear multi-link axle. Bonding of body panels in lieu of spot welding during construction contributes to the exceptional torsional stiffness for the structure, which in turn defines the car's predictable linear behavior traits. Push the T5 through downhill curves on the N85 and it remains anchored to the pavement with the body maintaining a level stance. There's little lateral lean noted through the turns and scant dive from the nose when standing on brakes nor a dip from the tail during a sudden acceleration.
All adds up to an agile but controllable car capable of sporty moves and high performance, with the long wheelbase and refined suspension generating plush ride sensations in the flavor of a luxury sedan.
Active safety equipment extends to anti-lock brakes and a traction control system that transfers engine torque from a slipping wheel to one that maintains a better grip. Our T5 also stocked Volvo's optional Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) system that employs an on-board computer and various motion sensors tied to anti-lock brakes. The sophisticated device monitors the vehicle's forward progress and -- if potentially dangerous oversteer or understeer skidding is detected while turning -- acts automatically to correct the unstable pavement maneuver by braking one or more wheel without direct or conscious intervention required from the driver.
Based on the V70 station wagon, the all-wheel-drive Volvo Cross Country comes with body armor and a tall suspension for easy off-road forays. Yet on pavement it delivers the plush ride of a refined European touring car. It features luxurious appointments in a spacious passenger compartment.
The Cross Country delivers many of the sure-footed benefits of a rugged sport-utility wagon, but without an SUV's poor ride quality and sluggish handling traits. Volvo labels the V70 as the safest station wagon in the world, and the V in its nomenclature signifies versatility. At the least, it transcends the traditional image of a station wagon as practical but mundane family transportation to become a luxurious haven that's also fun to drive.
Cross Country AWD ($34,900). V70 2.4T ($32,400); V70 T5 ($33,400).
Torslanda, Sweden. Torslanda, Sweden.
Options As Tested
power sunroof, leather package, eight-way power driver's seat with three-way power passenger's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, auto dimming interior rearview mirror, cargo protection net and security cover, cargo grocery bag holder, dashboard navigation system, premium audio system with four-disc in-dash CD. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control ($1,100); power sunroof, leather package, premium audio system with four-disc in-dash CD, 17 x 7.5 in. alloy wheels with 235/45/HR 17 All-Season Pirelli P6000 tires.
Cross Country AWD. V70 T5 ($33,400).
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