Enter Volvo's V60 Cross Country, the Swedish brand's latest foray into this niche within a niche, albeit one that has had some serious staying power over the last couple of decades.
If it's Volvo solidity and style you're after, but you need (or at least want to look like you need) to venture into the woods, the V60 Cross Country is your default choice.
What is it?
Conceptually, the V60 Cross Country is pretty simple: Take one rather stylish wagon, add all-wheel-drive, jack up the suspension, and slap on some rubber fender flares. The idea turned Subaru around in the 1990s, so why shouldn't Volvo get in on the game?
Volvo has been here before. Almost 20 years ago, the automaker debuted its first V70 Cross Country, a moderately more rugged-looking version of its standard all-wheel-drive wagon. Today, Volvo currently has four off road-ish offerings: The XC60 and XC90, both of which are clearly classified as crossovers, and the XC70 and V60 Cross Country, which are more readily identifiable as lifted wagons. Notably, the XC70 will ride into the sunset after the 2016 model year, leaving the V60 Cross Country to carry the torch.
The V60 Cross Country technically arrived halfway through the 2015 model year as a 2015.5, and it returns with only a handful of detail changes for 2016. Just one powertrain is on offer: A 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic and standard all-wheel-drive. The five-banger is an old unit that lacks the sophistication - and the fuel economy - of the brand's newer Drive-E turbocharged four-cylinders.
Our particular tester came loaded up with the extra-cost Platinum package, including a number of collision avoidance features, as well as rather less-than-rugged 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in tires suited more for the school run than a jog into the Rockies.
What's it up against?
Naturally, the V60 Cross Country squares off against the model that really defined this segment: Subaru's Outback. The Volvo may cost more, but the Subaru isn't really lacking anything on paper.
Pop over to the Audi dealer and they'll show you the A4-based allroad. As slick as the Audi is, it's actually rather old - its basic design debuted in the fall of 2007. A new allroad is on the horizon.
How does it look?
Sans cladding and lift, the basic V60 wagon is a shapely five-door with a low roof line and a number of distinctive cues that make its lineage obvious. Take that, jack things up, and slap on some plastic and you have the Cross Country. Most visual are the V60's characteristic tall tail lamps, which snake from the top of the tailgate down to the bumper with a unique LED pattern.
Other highlights include a honeycomb-like grille that neatly hides one of the collision avoidance sensors, CROSS COUNTRY badging stamped into the rear bumper, and dual tail pipes that scream performance rather than off road ability.
We liked the optional 19-inch alloy wheels on our tester, at least in terms of their appearance, but we thought the LED running light strips integrated into the front bumper were a little tacky. Additionally, the V60 Cross Country's pseudo cladding is definitely more for looks than protection; those silver rocker panel "guards" won't protect the body panels from much more than tall grass.
And the inside?
One thing Volvo has always done well is interiors, and the V60 Cross Country is no exception. Lacking the upscale flair of the brand's latest designs - like the XC90 - the V60 is nonetheless still a pleasant place for whittling away miles.
Its blocky dash features good ergonomics despite a plethora of buttons on the center stack. A big, high-resolution screen sits at the top for Volvo's Sensus infotainment system. Generally user-friendly, its map display offers some 3D imaging and particularly astute voice recognition - and that's a boon given that, well, navigating the navigation is a pain thanks to the lack of a touchscreen or a separate controller. Moving about the screen requires tapping particular radio preset buttons. From a tech standpoint, the V60 needs a hardware upgrade - stat.
On the other hand, we did like the configurable LED screens that compose the V60's instrument cluster. Although the choice of graphics can skew toward gimmicky, the screens do a nice job of conveying lots of information in a clear manner. And, unlike Sensus, the screens are controlled by just one twist-knob and one button.
Curiously, all V60 Cross Country models include Volvo's heavily-bolstered sports seats (wrapped in gorgeous saddle colored leather in our tester), despite the model's complete lack of zippy pretensions. Hugely comfortable over the long haul, the front seats are the place to be. Rear seat room for adults is snug, although little ones do at least have their own perches thanks to the optional built-in child booster seats.
On the materials front, the V60 Cross Country is something of a mish-mash of nicely-grained soft-touch surfaces on the dash and doors, glossy (optional) wood trim, nothing special leather, and thin plastic adorning the center console.
But does it go?
As we said earlier, the V60 Cross Country boasts Volvo's lame-duck five-cylinder motor, an engine the automaker now only mates to all-wheel-drive models of this platform. Opt for a front-wheel-drive S60 sedan or V60 (non Cross Country) wagon and you'll net the brand's new turbo fours. But you can't buy a FWD V60 Cross Country.
Despite not being the freshest thing in Volvo's lineup, the 2.5 does get up and go with authority, its automatic gearbox quietly slipping between all six gears. Mid-range punch is just a tap of the throttle away. Still, this little five-banger reveals its old roots by vibrating at idle and generally grumbling its way around with less refinement than Subaru's six-cylinder or Audi's turbocharged four, let alone Volvo's Drive-E lineup.
The V60's fat-rimmed steering wheel, like its bolstered thrones, hints at a sporting nature that isn't really delivered. Steering effort is high, but an over-boosted feel to the tiller doesn't make you want to carve corners. A variable steering setup that lets drivers choose between three steering hefts is optional, however, it wasn't fitted to our tester.
The V60's tall stance means it leans more in corners, something we don't necessarily feel to the same degree in the Outback (versus the Legacy) and the allroad (versus the A4). Moreover, our tester's stylish 19-inchers gave it a clomping ride over rough pavement, the result of lots of wheel travel combined with stiff, small sidewalls. Stick with the standard 18s, which still look good and add a much-needed degree of compliancy.
Generally, the V60 Cross Country is more at home on the highway, where it settles into a relaxed demeanor. Little wind and road noise penetrates the cabin, allowing for the Harman/Kardon audio system to truly shine.
On the fuel economy front, we measured 22 mpg in mixed driving, a hair below the 23 mpg suggested by the EPA's test. The EPA rates the V60 Cross Country at 20/28 mpg, city/highway, which is about par with the allroad and the Outback 3.6R.
Leftlane's bottom line
Definitely not lacking in Volvo-ness, the V60 Cross Country represents a comfortable and stylish way to bound across a boulder-strewn path. But at nearly $50,000 as-tested, and not really offering any statistical advantages over a loaded ($37,000) Subaru Outback or ($46,000) Audi allroad, the V60 Cross Country becomes a tough justification.
We like it, but we could like it a whole lot more.
2016 Volvo V60 Cross Country base price, $41,000. As tested, $49,775.
Platinum Package, $3,650; Climate Package, $1,550; Blind Spot Package, $925; Metallic Paint, $550; Wood Inlays, $400; 19" Wheels, $750; Destination, $940.
Photos by Andrew Ganz.