Volvo has launched a facelifted version of its V40 Cross Country, so we decided to take the plush Swede on an adventure – an adventure befitting a stylish, luxurious modern crossover.
Some say adventure only starts on a road that has never been mapped before. Pity, then, that most roads, passes and 4×4 trails have nowadays been mapped. But the term ‘adventure’ also has a much broader meaning. It ranges from the most severe 4×4 pass where death and destruction is a real possibility, all the way to a neatly maintained gravel road that leads to a beautiful restaurant with spectacular views of a stunning mountain range.
Of course, there’s the wilder side, too. Like jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane with a piece of fabric strapped to your back. Or shark cage diving. Or abseiling downa waterfall. And so on. We’re big fans of all adventures, although we prefer for the great white sharks to stay in the sea while we remain on land. This month we headed on a luxurious outing to Karongwe River Lodge in Limpopo, for a much safer animal adventure: To try and spot Africa’s Big 5 in the wild. In a single day. And the facelifted Volvo V40 Cross Country is just the ticket for such an adventure trip, we reckoned.
Hey, that looks like a hatch Well spotted. Yes, this Cross Country is based on the V40 and it’s not aimed at the sort of person who likes to spend their weekends driving over boulders the size of houses. No, this car is aimed at the kind of person who spends their time exploring easily accessible gravel roads in search of interesting people and places. The additional 12mm of ground clearance is enough to keep the belly from scraping on typical South African gravel roads. This facelifted model has a few new bits and bobs, including Volvo’s so-called ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED lights, as seen on the XC90, and a new grille. It’s quite hard to tell it apart from the pre-facelift model, but the most important changes are to be found under that attractive Swedish body. We’ll explore those in detail as we go along.
Lots of luxury
The first leg of our journey down the N4 towards Dullstroom gave us the opportunity to explore the Volvo’s cabin up close. At this price, you’ll struggle to find an interior that’s as perfectly executed. It’s neat, logical and only the highest-quality materials were used. We feel the steering wheel deserves to be praised separately, because it’s such a lovely thing to hold. That may not seem as important to some, but since it’s the one touch point you’ll be using every single time you drive it, it certainly matters to us.
It also seems as if the Volvo product planners were in a good mood when they were deciding what to include as standard. The Cross Country is available in mid-level Momentum and high-spec Inscription derivatives, with our test unit being the latter. In addition to all the usual niceties like cruise control, rain sensors, full leather upholstery and parking sensors, the standard fare also includes a digital instrument cluster, electric seats, Bluetooth and USB functionality and an eight-speaker sound system with DVD compatibility. It has everything you need and more, but all of these things are nothing compared to the main reason we think this particular car is the best in its class.
One simply can’t drive through Dullstroom without stopping for a spot of lunch at one of its numerous eateries. We settled on a pub called Poacher, a murky establishment that smelled of smoke. We received some handy advice from one of the regular patrons: “Take my business card,” he said. “The roads from here are infested with potholes and I’ll come get you if your car is damaged.” If you’re familiar with the roads in that area, you’ll know how magnificent they are for enthusiastic driving. The tarmac curves its way through the beautiful Mpumalanga landscape, which provided the perfect opportunity to exploit the gem hiding beneath the CC’s bonnet.
The Cross Country D4 is equipped with one of Volvo’s advanced Drive-E powertrains. In the case of the D4, it’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel that develops 140kW and 400Nm of torque. It transfers the power to the front wheels via one of the smoothest eight-speed automatic transmissions in the business. Turbo lag is virtually non-existent and it pulls like a steam engine from standstill. Its gear acceleration is even more impressive, so slow moving vehicles had little effect on our progress. We were actually quite surprised at how willing and able this car was when we started pushing on a bit. The gearbox seemed to know what we had in mind, which meant the power was always on tap. One also has to applaud the stability when powering out of a corner.
Unleashing 400Nm on the front wheels and expecting them to track straight and true is a big ask, but the V40 manages quite impressively. The steering also deserves the highest praise. Some may feel that it’s too heavy, but to us, it’s near perfect. It’s heavier than the average SUV/crossover, but the additional resistance inspires confidence and makes for a more engaging drive. But to only praise the D4’s performance potential would be missing the point of the Drive-E technology. Economy is the new performance and in this regard, the Volvo delivers in spades. The real-time fuel consumption figure on the digital instrument cluster regularly dips below three litres/100km on the open road. After brimming the tank once our trip was complete, we worked out a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.2 litres/100km. This means one can drive up to 800km between refills, which is a joy if you hate sitting at petrol stations as much as we do.
That consumption figure is mighty impressive considering the size and performance potential, but that’s still not the reason we think the V40 Cross Country is the best car in its class.
A bit of dirt
No test of a Cross Country would be complete without crossing some countryside, so we found a dirt road and drove along it for a few kilometres.
As far as the Volvo is concerned, the road merely changed colour. The interior remained quiet and the suspension had no issues coping with the odd undulation. We also drove it through some light flooding, mud and snow. Not once did it feel anything but planted, and safe. It might not be able to drive up a dune, but the fact that it remained utterly composed during severe weather conditions pays testament to its inherent abilities.
Sure, hardcore 4×4 enthusiasts will probably scoff at the notion, but we’re all for the added safety and slightly improved off-road ability a hatch like the V40 Cross Country – with its extra clearance – provides. It handled the short gravel stint to the Karongwe River Lodge with ease and it has to be said that it looked sensational parked outside the classy establishment. It seems Volvos are truly classless. It looked at home parked outside a dodgy pub in Dullstroom and it stood out in the parking lot of a four-star facility. Perhaps it’s because it’s the perfect blend of sportiness, sophistication and elegance.
We left it right there and hopped in a game viewer in the hopes of spotting the elusive Big 5. That may sound like cheating, but it’s exactly what we talked about earlier. A car like this might not be able to bundu bash, but it can easily drive down a neat gravel road to a fancy establishment where you can do all sorts of interesting things. Our friendly game ranger quickly found four of South Africa’s Big 5. As always, the leopard eluded us, but four out of five was pretty darn good in the limited time we had.
The real reason
The next morning proved to be ideal for testing overall practicality. Leisure Wheels photographer Deon likes to hop from seat to seat in order to get driving shots from every angle. Every seat provided enough space for his substantial frame and the boot was commodious enough for his bulky camera equipment and our overnight bags. A family of four should cope just fine with the available space, but that’s still not the reason we think this is the best car in its segment. In order to understand why this Volvo is so special, one first needs to understand South African driving conditions. As it currently stands, around 40 people die on our roads every single day.
Driving as much as we do, we regularly witness monumentally stupid driving, and this trip proved to be no different. On a 100km/h stretch just outside Dullstroom, we came around a blind corner, only to be greeted by a City to City bus hurtling directly towards us, in our lane. This bus overtook a slow truck on a blind rise over a solid white line. We flashed the V40’s lights, and the bus driver gave us the bird.
We had to brake hard and swerve at the same time, getting out of the way of the bus. The Volvo performed admirably in that emergency situation, but we can’t help but wonder what the result would have been had we not reacted in time. This is just one simple example of the hazards South African road users face every day. This leads us to the reason we think the Volvo is the best car in its segment – and, perhaps, the most relevant car within a South African context. You see, until the XC90 came along, the V40 was the safest vehicle on sale in South Africa. In its price range it remains on top. Nothing else gets close to the spectacular results this car posted when Euro NCAP tested it.
The standard safety equipment includes seven airbags, ABD, EBD, ESC and Volvo’s famous City Safety system. This system will brake the car if it detects an imminent collision and the driver isn’t paying attention. In addition, the optional Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross Traffic Alert (CTA), Driver Alert System, Lane Keeping Aid, collision warning with full auto brake and pedestrian and cyclist detection, and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) systems are available as optional safety extras. When you think about it, in the middle-finger-rules conditions on our roads, safety really, really matters. A car like this will obviously be used to ferry kids and, as parents, we can’t think of a better reason than to ensure the safety of our little ones. That the rest of the Volvo is also spectacular is a bonus.
It must cost a heap of money Relatively speaking, not so much, no. The entry-level Cross Country D3 starts at R452 700, while our test unit retails for R492 000. And even if you want the additional grip all-wheel drive provides, you’ll still only pay R504 400 for the top-of-the-range T5 AWD. Talking about grip. Yes, an all-wheel drive set-up will obviously provide better ultimate grip. But the levels of composure and grip on the front-wheel-drive D4 are more than good enough and the diesel engine offers a great compromise between performance and frugality. Safe, fast, frugal, good-looking, elegant, luxurious, sporty, refined, smart and with an adventurous spirit. It’s all in a day’s work for the Volvo C40 Cross Country.
Place to stay
The Karongwe River Lodge, situated in the Karongwe Private Game Reserve, is a must for adventurers seeking a relaxing overnight or holiday experience. It offers four-star accommodation, delicious food and epic game drives. Dinner is served under the stars, which gives you the opportunity to mingle with other guests. You can simply relax by the pool or go on a game drive with the highly experienced rangers who will go out of their way to ensure that you see at least one of the Big 5. Information: karongweportfolio.com; Tel. 011 817 5560.
Volvo V40 Cross Country D4 Inscription
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Power 140kW @ 4 250rpm
Torque 400Nm @ 1 750rpm
Gearbox Eight-speed automatic
Ground clearance 145mm
Fuel consumption 6.2 litres/100km
Range Around 1 000km
Fuel tank 62L
Maintenance plan Five-year/100 000km
Standard price R492 000
Price as tested R492 000
Text: Gerhard Horn Photos: Deon van der Walt