First drive: Volvo S60 Cross Country

We try out the new Volvo S60 Cross Country

It might be the mid-August silly season, when decent news stories are supposedly hard to find, but at Swedish car manufacturer Volvo, they don't seem to be in holiday mode. The company is busy continuing the roll-out of its high-power, low-emission Drive-E engines across the S60 range, and has just launched an interesting new S60 Cross Country model. As a four-door sports saloon crossover, it has been described, somewhat harshly in our opinion, as a niche too far. Having said that, Volvo don't seem to have particularly high hopes for their unusual creation, having set themselves a very modest UK sales target of just 100 a year.

What is it?
A beefed-up version of Volvo's S60 saloon car, designed to offer all the refinement of the regular four-door offering with a liberal dash of off-road appeal. The car features a ride height raised by 65mm, rugged design detailing, and optional all-wheel drive for enhanced all-road, all-weather capability. It looks the business – purposeful and planted – and has been designed to build on the dynamic design of the standard S60.

What's under the bonnet?
The car is available with the 188bhp D4 front-wheel-drive from Volvo's new two-litre, four-cylinder Drive-E engine range. Options are a six-speed manual (111g/km of CO2 and 67.3 mpg) and an eight-speed automatic (120g/km of CO2 and 70.6mpg). Also available is the 188bhp D4 AWD – which, confusingly, uses Volvo's proven five-cylinder 2.4-litre engine instead, coupled with a six-speed automatic gearbox. This engine produces 149g/km of CO2, and gives a fuel consumption figure of 49.6mpg.

What's the spec like?
The S60 Cross Country is only available in the top-of-the-range Cross Country Lux Nav variant, thus benefiting from a very high level of specification as standard. As well as the eye-catching Cross Country external detailing and branding, other benefits include leather-faced sport seats, a powered driver's seat, the ability to memorise seat and exterior mirror settings, an active TFT crystal driver's display, 18" alloy wheels, active bending headlights and a headlight cleaning system.

Being a Volvo, of course, there is plenty of safety equipment. There are powerful anti-lock (ABS) four-wheel disc brakes – ventilated at the front – to give excellent low-fade stopping power while City Safety, Volvo's low-speed collision avoidance system, is standard on all its cars these days. Adaptive Cruise Control will help drivers keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front, while Cross Traffic Alert will alert drivers to crossing traffic from the sides when reversing out of a parking space.

Any rivals?
As a pretty distinctive saloon-based crossover, there aren't too many direct rivals but we'd be inclined to mention the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 here. Both are available with four-wheel drive, and the Audi offers the option of a plastic-clad rugged option in the form of its Allroad estate. The 3 Series remains the driver's car of the trio, while the A4 is set to be replaced with an all-new model shortly.

Volvo S60 Cross Country

Volvo S60 Cross Country

What's it like to drive?
Volvos have long been about immersing you in a pleasant cabin rather than offering outright driving thrills, and unsurprisingly, the S60 Cross Country is no different. We were impressed with the ride and handling too. Even though it's further from the ground, there's very little body roll through the corners and the steering feels well-weighted and direct, if not as precise as its closest rivals.

The AOL Cars verdict
Despite thinking we were going to be presented with something of an ugly duckling when we arrived at Volvo's launch event, we were pleasantly surprised by the way the car looked 'in the flesh', and by the way it handled itself over the bumpy surfaces of back roads in the Cotswolds. Having said that, the black-top in Burford probably isn't bumpy as it is in Brazil, one of the countries where the car is expected to prove rather more popular than the UK. Its estate sibling, the V60 Cross Country, is available for £1,300 more – and is certain to prove a far better seller.

The Knowledge
S60 D4 Cross Country Lux Nav
Price: From £33,695
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel.
Power: 188bhp / 400Nm
Max speed: 130mph
0-60mph: 7.2secs
MPG: 67.3mpg
Emissions: 111g/km