Frozen lakes were our playground to test the capabilities of the newest hardy wagon
While an Arctic chill shut things down in Michigan, we headed to the Arctic Circle for comparative warmth. And while Americans continue to unabatedly love SUVs and crossovers, we were in northern Sweden because, to our great joy, Volvo continues to make wagons. Delicious dichotomies.
We flew to Lulea, Sweden, to get behind the wheel of the 2020 Volvo V60 Cross County, a hiked-up wagon for those who want their daily driver to double as a toy in the wild with all-wheel drive, hill descent control, extra ground clearance, and lots of room for gear and other playthings.
Volvo is on an upswing with a string of beautifully styled vehicles on new architectures that leave the old partnership with Ford far in the rearview mirror. In addition to SUVs or crossovers, the Swedish brand remains committed to cars, including even lower-volume wagons, in the U.S.
American demand for wagons is so low that Volvo dealers don’t stock them in all sizes—you have to order the larger V90 online. But the midsize V60 is in a sweet spot, and dealers will have it and its Cross Country cousin shipped from Torslanda, Sweden, and in stock.
The Cross Country, being more rugged and closer to the almighty crossover, is expected to outsell the regular V60 4:1. Dealers will start taking orders in March for delivery in July. Pricing has not been announced, but expect the rugged wagon to start in the $45,000 USD range.
Return of the V60 Cross Country
Volvo last offered a V60 Cross Country for the 2018 model year. There was a conventional 2019 V60 but no Cross Country.
So for the return of the V60 Cross Country for 2020, we packed our long johns and fur-rimmed hats and headed to a fairy tale land of ice and snow to test its mettle. Temperatures were in the -17 degree Fahrenheit range just south of the Arctic Circle. Ironically back home in the U.S., Detroit was registering -11, nearby Chicago was -23, and parts of Minnesota registered an eye-popping -48 courtesy of a Polar Vortex that brought frigid air down from Canada.
For northern Sweden, icy temperatures are the norm, which resulted in ice so thick on the Gulf of Bothnia this year that when we attempted to measure it, the depth exceeded the normal 32-inch measuring tool and we were left to guess how much deeper it went. The Gulf, which stretches to neighboring Finland, and other frozen bodies of water served as ice roads and handling courses for our two days of frozen fun with the newest Cross Country.
We had a fleet of T5 AWD models with the turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter engine in all Volvos. It generates 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The North America will only get the T5 powertrain with an eight-speed automatic transmission, but we found the power to be more than adequate.
Our T5 was outfitted with Michelin X-Ice North studded tires. Ice caught in the wheels created an imbalance that made it hard to really gauge the vehicle’s on-road manners. But they should not differ much from the V60 wagon that MotorTrend found to be more relaxed than a BMW 3 Series wagon, with little urgency and often seeking more power than the transmission is delivering. It shines in Comfort mode. The 60-series has left behind the old Ford EUCD architecture and has joined the 90-series on Volvo’s global Scalable Product Architecture.
Clear That Snowbank
Much of our evaluation was centered on how well the wagon handles snow and ice. The Cross Country has almost 8.3 inches of ground clearance compared with 5.8 inches on the regular wagon. Some of that comes from bigger wheels (we were on 235/45R19); the rest is from the raised chassis. A track extender allowed Volvo to set the wheels about 1.2 inches wider. The wheelbase remains the same as the regular V60.
The Cross Country has 8 percent softer spring rates to prioritize comfort over rough roads. It has a control-arm front suspension, but where bigger brother V90 Cross Country has rear air suspension, V60 Cross Country gets a transverse composite leaf spring at the rear axle, which kept the cruising comfortable in all conditions. The electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was tuned to match the elevated chassis and made both control and drifting easy tasks. Although we were on 19-inch wheels, the Cross Country is also available with 18s and 20s in Europe.
All-wheel drive is standard on the Cross Country. No buttons to push; it’s an updated version of the fifth-generation BorgWarner (formerly Haldex) system. The improvements largely reduced weight and cost while making it more fuel efficient.
We were warned of the region’s ample moose and reindeer population—a perfect way to test the vehicle’s large animal mitigation system, which warns of large, often-antlered creatures at the side of the road and automatically brakes if a collision is deemed imminent. Alas, no such sightings occurred on our drive. We had to simulate sudden lane change maneuvers with cones on a frozen sea. The only reindeer was on our plate. In Scandinavia it’s the prevalent protein source and is consumed with a lovely gravy and spoonfuls of lingonberries to juice up the lean meat.
City Safety is the umbrella term for Volvo’s standard collision avoidance systems. Pilot Assist provides steering, braking, and accelerating assistance as part of the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist systems.
On a 1.2-mile (1.9-km) handling track on pure ice, we did laps with traction control engaged to feel the back end try to slide out, only to be forcibly—but not abruptly—pulled back into line again and again and again. Volvo takes its reputation for safety very seriously.
Then we tuned the Swedish nanny off and got to really play. The takeaway: Wagons are an incredibly fun body style to drift. The long back end acts as the tail wanting to wag the dog. But the vehicle is also adept at transitioning from one curve to the next with a little throttle and hands working to resist overcompensating and spinning into the snowbanks lining the course.
An obstacle course built of ice and snow showcased hill descent control, which kicks in automatically when in Off-Road mode to control the wagon down a steep hill while the pedals are foot-free. It’s notable how quiet the Volvo system is. Many competitors have noisy descent control akin to tennis players grunting to telegraph the effort involved. Similarly, the hill start assist is seamless in its ability to stop, hold in place, and continue on up the hill with no action needed by the driver. Snow obstacles twisted the long body of the wagon and left no marks while giant snowbanks created a faux halfpipe and showed how well the tires can keep a heavily tilted vehicle from toppling over.
Just Cross Country
There are no Momentum or Inscription or R-Design trims to choose from—it’s just Cross Country. Our evaluation vehicles were white with a black interior and attractive metallic trim to brighten it up. Volvo has become known for its open-pore woods, but designers also developed an edgier and more modern ambience with the careful use of metals and leathers with pearl stitching. The seats are darn comfortable, too.
A personal gripe: USB ports hidden in the covered console you have to open to access. Given the inability of society to part with devices, new vehicles should offer easily accessible and exposed outlets and a spot to rest the charging phone. Volvo did design slats into the cupholder section to stand up two phones, so Brownie points for that. And infotainment is via the Sensus system with its large screen and often-slow-to-load software.
Many luxury vehicles have a single setting to heat the steering wheel, but the V60 Cross Country has three. Birthed in a cold nation, Volvo understands the value of heat. I dare you to stay on the highest setting for a lengthy drive. There are also three degrees of heated seats.
Cross Country variants date back to the original 1997–2000 Volvo V70 XC, followed by a second-generation V70 XC in 2001, and a third generation debuted in 2008. The introduction of a V90 Cross Country for the 2017 model year marked the fourth generation, made possible by the flexibility of the new architecture.
V60 T8 teaser
We also spent a little time in the V60 T8 with Volvo’s plug-in hybrid Twin Engine powertrain providing all-wheel drive. Global T8 production is not scheduled to begin until the spring of 2020, and at this point there are no plans to sell it in North America. Volvo is taking a deliberate wait-and-see attitude to gauge demand for the V60 overall. The U.S. could get the T6 plug-in hybrid instead of the T8, but again, no green lights yet.
The T8 we drove briefly had Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 studded tires and the telltale grabby brakes of a hybrid. The plug-in felt heavier and not as spirited to drive. Nor is its battery-only range groundbreaking at only 27 miles (43 km), though it beats the XC90’s 19 miles (30 km) on electricity alone. Push a button for permanent all-wheel drive to be engaged with the help of the gas engine augmenting the electric motor already supplying power to the rear wheels.
At the Lulea University of Technology, a research project classifies different types of snow. It is this focus on elements that forged a car like the V60 Cross Country. We can now attest to its abilities in harsh conditions and look forward to spending more time with it on regular tires, in regular conditions, and on regular roads.
|2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country|
|BASE PRICE||$45,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD 5-pass, 4-door wagon|
|ENGINES||2.0L/250-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,000-4,150 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||188.3 x 72.8 x 59.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||July 2019|