Overall rating: 3.5/5
A bizarre proposition in other markets, here in saloon-loving Ireland the new Volvo S60 Cross Country would make a tiny bit more sense. It is alone in a class of one but its blend of ride quality and distinctive looks should make it a hit... if it ever comes to our shores.
In the metal 4/5
Based as it is on the handsome and rakish Volvo S60, the Cross Country model wears some of the traditional styling accoutrements of the jacked-up estate fraternity (there is a V60 Cross Country too) and it wears them well. So it has black plastic trim around the wheel arches, there are 'skid plates' underslung at the centre of both the front and rear bumpers, the body-coloured side-skirts are re-sculpted, it benefits from a honeycomb grille and gloss black detailing (around the windows and on the door mirrors), the words 'Cross Country' are emblazoned into its rear bumper and it gets bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels. Oh, and twin exhausts. And it rides higher.
You can't have missed this last fact - the Cross Country is a full 65mm taller than a regular S60, which really does make a difference in terms of the seating position on board; it's almost like being in a Volvo XC60, so lofty does it feel from behind the wheel. If the spec of our test car is carried over for the Irish market, the S60 CC gets sports seats in the front, which are excellent, but other than that and some coloured stitching there is nothing visually to differentiate the cabin from that of a regular S60. So it's nice, reasonably spacious and blessed with awesomely comfy chairs, but you wouldn't know you were in the Cross Country if it weren't for that towering ride height.
Driving it 4/5
That 65mm hike has another benefit and it's a biggie: ride comfort. Not that your normal or garden S60 is particularly crunchy, but the Cross Country has soft composure that elevates it (if you'll forgive the pun) above its siblings. On its off-road rubber and long, soft springs, it soaks up the worst that any road can throw at it with consummate ease and proves to be an easy long-distance companion.
There's a pay-off for this, of course, and that's body control during cornering. It's not bad on the straights - so luckily it doesn't feel boat-like, bobbing up and down on its springs - but when it comes to tipping the S60 CC into a corner, there's noticeably more lean heaped into proceedings. It possesses tonnes of grip, though, so if you can re-attune to the angle of attack and press on, the S60 CC will cling on gamely.
It's helped by well-weighted and reasonably feelsome steering, plus strong, progressive brakes. Yet the real star of the show here is the drivetrain. OK, so a front-wheel drive off-roader might seem paradoxical, but it's the only way you'll get the superb Drive-E 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine in this car; thus far, these new Volvo engines cannot be paired with all-wheel drive unless you're on the SPA chassis (and the only car that is so far is the sublime XC90 SUV). There is a D4 AWD S60 Cross Country, equipped with the old 2.4-litre five-cylinder engine (rated at 190hp) and a six-speed Geartronic auto. Charismatic though that five-banger is, in every other respect it is made to look archaic by the Drive-E engine, which is quieter, better on fuel and delivers the same power and almost the same torque, through a better selection of transmissions.
At no point do you feel the S60 Cross Country D4 requires more go. The Drive-E engine just calmly delivers its smooth spread of grunt and shifts the car along with little drama, while the standard six-speed manual gearbox is a peach of a unit. Don't like changing gear yourself? An eight-speed Geartronic auto, vastly improved on the six-speed auto, is an option.
What you get for your money 3/5
Very hard to say as the S60 Cross Country has not been confirmed for Ireland as yet, although they're getting it across the water in the UK - so right-hand drive is not an issue. In fact, we have a more saloon-focused market than the estate-loving Brits so the S60 CC would make more sense here than over there.
The S60 CC has a more limited trim and engine line-up than the V60 Cross Country. Where the V60 comes in SE and Lux trims (both can be equipped with satnav, sort of making four specifications), and also offers a 'D3' 150hp/350Nm version of the Drive-E engine, the S60 CC can only be had with the two 190hp engines and in Lux-spec only. That does mean leather, cruise control and plenty of other toys as standard, although its starting price in other markets puts it at the top of the S60 line-up and therefore in the ballpark of decent-spec German machines with all-wheel drive - albeit none of those have the styling themes or increased ride height of the S60 CC.
Audi A4 2.0 TDI quattro: due to be phased out for a new model, it's worth holding on for the fresh A4. Thus, the Volvo would be our preferred choice for now.
BMW 320d xDrive: grumbly four-cylinder diesel engine, but the dynamics are a little more entertaining than the Volvo's.
Mercedes-Benz C 250d 4Matic: lovely ride, lovely looks, lovely interior, but not that exciting to drive. A lot like the Volvo, therefore.
Irrespective of market - and still awaiting confirmation of the S60 Cross Country's presence here in Ireland - an off-roading, front-wheel drive saloon car represents a big risk for Volvo. There's nothing wrong with the execution, especially as the S60 CC D4 is equipped with the fabulous Drive-E diesel engine, but it'll be plenty of money and there are a lot of four-wheel drive rivals of all shapes and sizes at this sort of financial level that are more practical. However, if what you've always wanted is a Volvo S60 that can handle all conditions with ease, then this is the car for you.