Test Drive: 2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country

Back in the early 1980s, my dad, who was shopping for a new car at the time, took me to the local AMC and Jeep dealership.  It was there I first saw the Eagle, a bold machine that dared to be each a fashionable sedan (or coupe, or wagon) and an off-road truck sort of thing.

At the time, nobody else made four-wheel-drive vehicles that offered full-time traction in a car body.  Subaru’s 4WD still only worked part time back then.  This was revolutionary stuff here, folks.  It was an early pioneer to so many crossovers that clog our motoring arteries today.  And despite its vinyl wood paneling, I thought it was pretty cool.

Of course, at that time I also thought the zippered red velour shirt my mom dressed me in was pretty cool too.

Of course, at that time I also thought the zippered red velour shirt my mom dressed me in was pretty cool too.

Mercifully, as life goes on our tastes change.  We have experiences from which we hopefully learn and improve ourselves and, with luck, we develop more sophisticated sensibilities for design and aesthetics.

The purchase of AMC by Chrysler led to the demise of the Eagle and nobody decided to tackle the peculiarity of a jacked-up, four-wheel-drive sedan until Subaru – looking to squeeze even more cash out of consumers feverishly snatching up Outback wagons – thought an Outback Sedan was a good idea in the late 1990s.

In reality, it’s a rather silly idea.  Take a perfectly good and stylish sedan with an already capable all-wheel drive system that serves nearly every buyer’s needs, raise it up, throw on some body cladding and aggressive, sport-utility vehicle tires.  AMC proclaimed the Eagle was for sophisticated folks that needed to get places, no matter the weather; people like doctors and emergency service workers.

That was before every manufacturer from Kia to Bentley was offering a crossover sport utility vehicle of some sort.  There’s no longer the stigma of needing to drive some gauche truck-based vehicle to get all-weather traction, so why Volvo thought it imperative to offer a Cross Country version of their lovely S60 sedan is beyond me, but that’s just what they’ve done for 2016.

If you ask Volvo, they’ll suggest the S60 Cross Country will appeal to the sort of folks who don’t necessarily need the space of a wagon (and prefer the styling of a luxury sedan), but want to be able to get from their condo downtown to the chalet by the slopes.  That extra 65 mm of ground clearance will presumably enable access even before the snow ploughs come by. And of course, the slight lift in elevation would also allow for easier entry and exit for folks whose backs ache and might find the drop into a normal sedan too hard.

Not convinced this is justification for a sedan in boots?  Me neither. 

The front, and front three-quarter view of the S60 Cross Country looks pretty good.  The black plastic body panels over the wheel arches are subtle and the side skirts and deeper chin spoiler help add visual interest to the otherwise fairly plain S60 face.  It’s around back that things start to fall apart where the tippy-toe stance seems odd and awkward beneath the sedan body.

Inside, it’s the same old S60 interior, and that’s mostly a good thing.  The seats – like in all Volvos we’ve ever experienced – are excellent.  They’re supremely comfortable and supportive, and finished in a high quality leather.  There’s even some pretty hefty side bolstering to hold a driver in place during spirited cornering – action seriously inappropriate for this version of the S60.

The leather wrapped steering wheel is thick and feels good with a now-typical myriad of buttons to control everything from audio functions to cruise control following distance.  Most textures around the cabin feel rich, but the hard plastic in front of the middle armrest was uncomfortable when my right elbow came in contact a few times.

The gauge pod is configurable depending on mood and driving style.  There are soft hues for sensible, eco-friendly motoring or red-accents in Sport mode (which is how it was left during our test).  The floating centre control stack is still a slick design even after several years of familiarity now, but the infotainment system with its Commodore 64-grade graphics and tiny screen operated by a single rotating knob is well past its expiry date.  The exquisite and modern system seen in the new XC 90 shows that we can expect big things from the next generation S60’s infotainment system, whenever it gets here.

Rear seat space is adequate, though the sloped roofline forces caution when climbing in; once inside legroom and headroom are okay.

The trunk has a strange, sloped floor to accommodate the space saver spare beneath it, and force two square recesses on either side that are sure to collect all sorts of interesting items that fall out of grocery bags.  If there is any part of the S60 Cross Country that really makes its raison d'être elusive, it’s this somewhat stingy cargo hold.

Driving the S60 Cross Country does not help justify its existence either.  For the most part, it performs like a normal S60 T5, its ride stiff enough to suggest sport sedan handling, but with the hard edges softened off the big bumps.  But it doesn’t handle like an S60 should (and normally does), rolling more in the corners due to the body’s higher elevation, and the Pirelli Scorpion sport-ute all-season tires howl in protest at even moderate cornering speeds.  Somehow this is all more acceptable in a proper utility vehicle like the XC60 that can haul the whole family and their luggage for a family trip, than it is in a sedan.

The all-wheel-drive S60s (including this one) make do with older drive trains than the Drive-E systems found on the FWD cars, and the Cross Country comes only with the 2.5L turbocharged five-cylinder that presents 250 hp.   It’s sure to be enough motivation to keep most buyers satisfied, even if it does lack the verve of the 300+ horsepower T6 Volvos, and the six-speed automatic does a decent job exchanging gears smoothly.

It wouldn’t be a Volvo if it didn’t offer a comprehensive list of safety features and this one’s no different.  Our test car was also fitted with the optional Technology Package that includes Volvo’s excellent adaptive cruise control, the hypersensitive collision alert warning and the gimmicky speed limit sign-reading feature.

Volvo’s S60 line has aged more gracefully than most, though feels more dated than any of its competitors these days.  The Cross Country treatment is clearly just another way the brand feels it can affordably try to carve out a few more niche customers before a new, overdue S60 arrives.  The trouble is, the S60 Cross Country compromises on too many fronts without doing a better job at anything than any other more dedicated member of the Volvo family.

Buyers looking for a comfortable, safe and premium do-everything Volvo would be better off not compromising cargo capacity (and arguably styling) and simply spring for the V60 Cross Country wagon instead.

Competitors:
Audi A4 Allroad
BMW 328i xDrive
BMW X4
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Mercedes-Benz GLA 250
A perfectly restored AMC Eagle sedan

2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country T5 AWD
articles_PricingType 2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country T5 AWD
Base Price $49,450
Optional Equipment Climate Pkg (Heated rear seats, heated windshield, heated steering wheel), $1,350; Technology Pkg (Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, active high beam, road sign information, driver alert control), $1,600; Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) Pkg (Blind spot information, cross traffic alert, front and rear park assist), $1,000; Metallic Paint, $800; Active Dual Xenon Headlights w/Headlight washers, $1,100
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,195
Price as Tested $56,595
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.8
5 Exterior Styling
6 Performance
7 Interior
7 Comfort
9 Fuel Economy