First things first - the Volvo V40 might carry the Cross Country suffix but this is no SUV. It's no crossover either. It is a hatchback (though a rather large one), meant for road use and not off it at all. The V40's 145mm ground clearance should be indication enough, but if you are still taken in by the plastic body cladding all round, just look at the car's front overhang; it's long enough for the front bumper to touch exiting a steep ramp out of a shopping mall. With that out of the way, it must be said the V40 Cross Country is a very good looking car. In fact, it's so well styled, it conveys richness and sportiness in equal measure. I won't be surprised if it draws as many glances on the road as the Mercedes A-Class; the current benchmark in terms of visual appeal among hatchbacks.
The V40 is best viewed from this angle
It's equally impressive on the inside. The build quality, fit and finish and ergonomics are top notch. Even the materials all round - plastic, leather or metal inserts - are all quality fittings. I also love the interior design; it's polished but warm; rich but homely; and it's an interior you'd want to flaunt and relish in solitude. It's loaded with features as well. Volvo has launched the V40 in just one trim with one engine and gearbox option. And this trim has everything and more you'd want. There's a panoramic sunroof, electric seats with memory and ventilation, keyless entry and start, a reversing camera and a detailed driver interface system besides all the regular goodies like a two zone climate control system, multifunctional steering wheel, cruise control and power ORVMs.
The V40's dual-tone dark brown and light beige combination gives it a smart and airy look
Where the Volvo outdoes the competition is safety. Apart from ABS and ESP, not to mention seven airbags, the V40 also gets City Safety, a laser based feature that allows the Cross Country to automatically brake to a stop if it senses an impeding collision. But, it only works at or below 50kmph. The V40 also gets bending lights, water-repelling front side windows to improve visibility in heavy rains. It isn't the easiest car to get into in its class, however. Yes, the door opening is wide but the seats are just too low. Once seated, the large, cushy and supportive seats make the effort worthwhile. I also like the seating position and the visibility upfront. View from the rear glass though is more sports car like than a hatchback; which means, it's poor.
Vertically stacked tail lamps are a Volvo signature and the V40 retains them
The only engine and gearbox option on the V40 is the five cylinder, 2-litre diesel mated to an old school, torque converter, six-speed auto. The engine is the same powering the XC60 D4, but it makes lesser power and torque on the V40. Its max power and torque outputs are rated at 150PS and 350Nm. These aren't best in class figures falling short of the BMW X1's but are nonetheless better than what the Mercedes' A and B-Class manage.
The V40 is a long car, 4370mm to be precise
The engine, like the gearbox, isn't cutting edge in line with the competition. It isn't very refined either and as revs climb, it gets loud too. It doesn't help put the Volvo at the top of the timing sheets either. With a time of 9.5s for the 0-100kmph run, it is slower than the X1. It's also slower in kickdown and can't match the BMW for top speed either. It does manage good fuel economy figures nonetheless, which came as a pleasant surprise given it has lesser ratios to play with. The gearbox itself, even though it does come with Sport mode and a manual override function, is just about alright.
There is no boot handle but a scoop under the badging opens the boot
The truly impressive bit about the V40 Cross Country is its ride and handling combo. I think I will stick my neck out here and say, it is the best riding car in its class. There's an underlying firmness to its ride, but the way it goes about absorbing bumps, potholes and road joints at slow speeds and high, makes it a wonderful car to spend time in. It's also quiet and relatively vibe free inside the cabin. Then there's the handling. We won't say it beats the competition, but it runs it very close. The steering is quick, the car's response to it is sharp, and it turns in predictably without drifting into understeer you'd typically expect from a front wheel drive car. Mid corner corrections come easy as well.
Rear kneeroom isn't the best in its segment
The V40 Cross Country as a standalone product is mighty impressive - it's good looking, well specced and enjoyable to drive. But, Volvo's dealership network is still quite limited. The company has 12 showrooms in as many locations, and if you stay in these metros or mini-metros, we'd recommend the V40. Otherwise, there's always the young A-Class.