Review: Volvo V40 XC

When the words ‘cross country’ appear on a vehicle, there’s an immediate issue in managing expectations. Volvo’s new V40 derivative suffers from just such a challenge.

Cross-country it’s not. In truth, the V40 XC is a compact, premium, sporty all-wheel drive hatch in which regularly maintained, secondary dirt roads can be tackled with a reasonable – albeit measured – degree of enthusiasm.

Avoid anything with washaways, berms and camel-humped crowns common to roads deep within the inner reaches of our continent because, as sure as a Kevin Rudd meltdown, it will all end in tears on the back of a Quiklift. The V40 XC is a shrink-wrapped pastiche, which will make city folk think and feel like they’re ready to go interesting places when, in fact, it’s only down to the local shops.

Just two auto-only XCs are imported here from Belgium, in the same Luxury spec level as the front-drive V40. And they’re crammed with nice kit such as heated leather seats, centre colour screen, rear camera, adaptive digital instrumentation, eight-speaker multimedia, daytime running lights, and sat-nav.

In its front-drive guise, the 2.5-litre V40 T5 costs $49,990. In the T5 XC version, the same 187kW/360Nm five-cylinder stormer is coupled to a Haldex all-wheel drive system and six-speed auto, and costs $3K more ($52,990). This extra cash adds visual bling that mimics the style of big-brother XC70 through cosmetic, but sensibly durable polymer cladding on the sills and bumpers, plus anodised black on framework and mirrors, and integrated roof rails.

The ergonomics are, as you’d expect, first-class, and the cabin, while constrictive (particularly in roof height compared with logical SUV rivals like the Audi Q3), oozes a quality Scando ambience. The AWD system, with torque vectoring and stability control, works a treat in the T5. It has an engine always keen to get involved yet, on our brisk sample drive, it still returned 9.4L/100km.

What doesn’t make much sense, aside from its cheaper price, is the 130kW/400Nm 2.0-litre diesel version – the D4. This is a two-wheel drive “cross country” – visually identical to the T5, but significantly less capable of anything, apart from using less fuel. While turbo-diesels are usually the bush driver’s engine of choice, going scrub in the XC D4 armed with only a slightly higher ground clearance (barely 15mm) and without the necessary all-paw grip, would be courting disaster.

So here, then, is the V40 XC’s conundrum: it’s a wannabe soft-road SUV bereft of a turbo-diesel AWD version, which, by charting the success of others in the market, would appear to be a no-brainer.

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