Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

This is a tricky one.

Thanks in no small part to a multitude of great winter driving characteristics, long-haul comfort, and the sort of understated luxury and performance your writer appreciates the Volvo S60 is a luxury sedan I’d drop my own cash on. One day I will.

There are several kinds of Volvo S60, and the latest generation of the so-called Naughty Volvo and I go way back...

There are several kinds of Volvo S60, and the latest generation of the so-called Naughty Volvo and I go way back. For the reasons above, I fell in love with it on its launch, in 2010. Then, I drove numerous variants of the four-door, all-weather, under-the-radar luxury sedan, in numerous situations.

There was the new S60 DriveE, with a turbocharged, supercharged four-cylinder that goes like it’s twice its size. And the S60 R-Design, with ride height down and power up for Swedish driving thrills. And the inaugural, jack-of-all-trades S60, with 3.0L straight-six turbo engine which in my opinion, was the most compelling overall package.

This year, Volvo’s launched a weird new variant of the current-generation S60, called the S60 Cross Country. That’s Cross Country as in, lifted slightly, fitted with fender flares, and done up to be a bit more capable, rugged and outdoorsy than the standard-kit S60. It’s like an off-road sedan. A tougher, backwoodsier luxury cruiser. A sports utility vehicle with the body of a car.

Think Volvo S60 wearing a set of Merell hikers, and you’re in the ballpark. However you define it, the S60 Cross Country is simple: it’s an S60 sedan, with 2.5 inches of suspension lift, some skid plates, and some fender flares tacked on. The end.

Other than that, it’s pure S60.

Same fantastic seats. Same unique and gorgeously-styled cabin that’s getting a bit old in some areas but largely hits the mark as a laid-back, casually luxurious place to relax on the road. Same network of nicely-tuned hazard-detection and safety systems. Same unique waterfall centre console with storage tucked in behind.

Even the handling is largely unchanged. The S60 Cross Country is stiffened and tightened in terms of its springy bits, so drivers get pleasing handling responses and an overall feel that’s athletic more than laid-back, with the extra ride height only coming into play when drivers really push in corners. Cruising well-maintained highways, it’s the same deal: just a bit taller, which the average driver, most of the time, would be hard-pressed to notice.

There are pros and cons to this sort of unique packaging.

On the plus side, the S60 Cross Country will be marginally easier to enter and exit for some folks, though your writer could barely feel the 2.5 inch difference. That seemingly small amount of extra ground clearance does make a notable difference on trails, including the difference between giving your S60 a nose job, or clearing light to moderate obstacles.

Your writer took the S60 Cross Country down the same trails he recently tackled in a Mazda CX-3 and Honda Pilot, with similar levels of confidence, and no scraping. None of these machines is a hardcore off-roader, though more clearance also means less likelihood of bottoming out on a highway slush boulder, a tall curb during parking, or that snowplow hump at the end of your driveway in February.

Downsides? The big one is cargo capacity, which has been slashed like a teenage horror-movie character who ran up the stairs and hid in a closet. The S60 Cross Country uses a spare tire, not an inflation kit, so much of the trunk space found in the standard S60 is filled with spare tire provisions, and a flat load panel to conceal it. You get a wide and long cargo hold, and a proper spare tire means your trip won’t end if you blow out a sidewall, but the trunk is considerably shallower and less useful overall.

Further, ride quality degrades compared to the standard-kit S60, thanks to the uniquely-calibrated suspension. On smooth roads and highways it’s peaceful and relaxed, almost soothing, even. Thing is, rougher surfaces more easily upset the suspension and coax more noise and more harshness from beneath.

A few other notables.

Volvo’s straight-five turbo is the only available engine, and proves is a pleasingly versatile all-around powerplant. With 250 hp and even more torque, around-town performance, as well as highway passing performance, should prove generous for the average driver. However driven, the T5 engine feels eager and un-bothered. Full throttle sees a unique howl from under the hood, and driven gently, you barely hear a peep.

Further, as smart and fast-acting as the S60’s AWD system is on slippery roads, it’s good at finding traction on light off-road trails too. Icy and hilly off-road trails proved no trouble for the system, which was assisted by a fantastic set of Michelin Xice winter tires. The AWD system reacts fast and with nearly-seamless precision when a loss of traction is detected. And, as Volvo S60’s tend to, the brakes perform with confidence, for sure-footed stops in a straight line, almost no matter what’s beneath.

A full suite of hazard detection systems is on board, further boosting confidence. This S60 cross country can alert you if you’re drowsy, apply its own brakes to prevent certain types of accidents, and alerts you of a multitude of possible hazards in the world around you. And, in typical Volvo fashion, you get a great safety feature up front: powerful xenon headlamps with steerable projectors and a powerful washer system.

But why not just opt for the XC70? It’s very similar in intention and execution, but has a proper cargo hold and doesn’t look all funny.

The answer? Uniqueness.

First, a caveat: as a car reviewer, I like quantifiable things. Price. Horsepower. Cargo capacity. Headroom. Things I can feel and experience and relay to my readers. Uniqueness is less tangible. You can’t measure it. It’s a little harder to understand and explain. But, to certain shoppers, and in certain vehicles, it’s a very important thing.

And the S60 Cross Country has it in masses. We haven’t seen anything like it since the Subaru Outback was available as a sedan years and years ago. Maybe there’s a reason we don’t see more products like this. Maybe a car-crossover mashup makes a not-so-great car, and a not-so-great crossover. But as it stands in today’s market, S60 Cross Country is a one-of-a-kind machine that, one way or another, will put the brand onto the mental radar of more and more shoppers, as Volvo prepares to roll out new models in the coming months and years.

There’s also the element of making a statement. Not all cars have to be sales superstars. Not all cars are produced for the approval of the masses. Some, like this S60 Cross Country, are perhaps more about leaving a little mark on the luxury vehicle map with something different. You may well not like this car, and you may find it to be an unattractive, awkward and bloated take on the S60’s handsome and discreet looks, and Volvo doesn’t care.

The S60 Cross Country starts at $49,450 and comes only fully-loaded in Platinum trim. For what it's worth, an XC70, with the same driveline and an actual cargo hold, starts some $6,700 less than that.

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Model Tested 2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country
Base Price $49,450
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,815
Price as Tested $56,415
Optional Equipment
Tech Package ($1,600), Climate Package ($1,350), BLIS Package ($1,000), xenon lights with washers ($1,100)