Here in The Irish Times Motors garage we often wile away the hours between oil changes, discussing the finer points of the SUV/crossover v estate debate. Suffice to say we generally come down on the side of the big-booted load lugger over its faux rugged sibling.
Yet we know we’ve as much chance of winning this debate as woke eco-warriors at a Trump rally.
The issue arose in recent weeks after we got to spend time in two Volvos: one an award-winning crossover, the other a seminal estate from the Swedish brand.
If there was ever a chance for estate cars to shake off their association with sales reps and delivery vans, it was under the auspices of the Volvo 200 Series.
In estate guise it became the symbol of suburbia for the middle classes. Margot and Gerry had one in The Good Life. It became typecast in every episode of Midsomer Murder, Lovejoy, or any TV drama set in the leafy countryside. The wardrobe department provided the wax jackets and the green wellies, the prop department came up with the Volvo 240 Estate and the cocker spaniel.
Off-screen you didn’t have to own the country house with the gravel driveway: all you needed was to dress in Barbour and drive the Volvo estate. No one needed to know you actually lived in a two-bed bungalow, built without planning permission.
Yet for well-heeled Irish motorists, that quaint country image couldn’t match the allure of flashier German premium rivals. All that talk of safety was old hat when you wanted to cruise down your street in a mobile bank statement.
Volvo’s response in 2002 was the seven-seater XC90, its first SUV. It quickly became the middle-class school bus. From then on, the future of the estate as the symbolic Swedish car was in doubt. Now was the age of the SUV.
There has, however, been a revival of sorts in the estate’s fortunes, courtesy of the fashion trend for Scandi chic. Meanwhile, on the continent, many motorists still appreciate that the estate is so much better than the equivalently priced crossover. But logic plays no part in the majority of car purchases. Volvo is watching the same sales statistics we are, and can see that if you want to inject any life into your estates, then they need to get a little touch of crossover love.
Enter the V60 Cross Country, a regular Volvo estate, complete with big boot and leather seats, but dressed up with plastic protective cladding on the wheel arches to create the faux image of the rugged off-roader. It’s also hoisted up by 60mm over the regular estate version and comes with all-wheel drive.
This is the latest iteration of the cross country format, taking its styling touches from the gorgeous S60 saloon. With that base to work from, it's not surprising that the V60 is the best looking of the mid-priced premium estates on the market, getting in ahead of rivals like the Audi A4 Avant or BMW 3-Series Touring.
The good looks also continue in the cabin. There's a real sense that the Scandinavian talent for interior design has played its part in the car maker's design department. The materials are modern and there's a proper sense of premium apparel about the car. This is combined with remarkably comfortable seats. You can comfortably cruise from Cork to Carrick-on-Shannon in this and not need to call a chiropractor at the end of the trip.
It’s also incredibly spacious, with room for three adults across the back row and a boot with 529 litres on offer (expanding to 1,432 litres with the rear seats down), compared to 504 litres for the Audi A4 Avant, or 495 litres for the 3-Series Touring. Just on the rear seat legroom: while you might like the height of SUVs, estates simply have more to offer rear passengers given their extra length and this V60 boasts better rear seat legroom than rivals bar the Skoda Superb.
Downsides inside are some cost-saving plastic clips and cladding that let the car down when compared to its German rivals, while the Swedish brand’s now trademark big screen centre console control system can be slow to respond to instructions, as if the processing speed could do with a boost. It’s enough to make you long for a few physical buttons and knobs.
The cabin is well cocooned from outside elements, in keeping with that sense of sophistication and premium quality, but even the best efforts of its engineers can’t block out all the noise intrusion from the four-cylinder diesel engine up front.
The 2-litre powertrain puts out 190bhp, which is capable enough to push this big estate on, but it’s no performance car. And after weeks of driving petrol-hybrids, all-electric, or even basic petrol cars, going back to diesel reminded us of how gruff and rough these engines can be. The eight-speed automatic is relatively smooth, but again it’s tuned for sedate and smooth driving rather than anything more lively. Overall, a return to diesel power proved a timely reminder of why I’ve become so fond of the electric surge these days.
And it’s at this point that it’s worth talking about price. The V60 Cross Country starts at €54,550 for the diesel version. That’s a lot of cash, even for a well-heeled premium car buyer. Throw some optional kit on the car and the price rapidly rises: our test car came just €20 shy of €62,000. A regular V60, without all the cladding or all-wheel drive (and 60mm closer to the ground) starts at €48,393.
Do you really do enough off-roading to warrant the extra spend?
Volvo’s has undergone an image transformation over the last decade, from a stolid Swede to something far more stylish, while all the time playing up its image for safety. The new V60 Cross Country fits that bill, but at a hefty price.
And as with the growing fleet of crossovers on the market, it leaves you wondering if all that extra engineering – and cladding – is actually worth the money for the sort of everyday motoring most of us need. How often do you really leave the road and take to a muddy field? And if you ever did, would you really risk it in a €60,000 estate car, laden with electronics and leather seats?
If it’s really all about image, and you still want to portray yourself as the rugged country type, save your cash. Opt for the practical better-priced V60 estate and simply dress in a well-worn wax jacket and a pair of muddy green wellies when you’re out of the car.
Lowdown: Volvo V60 Cross Country D4 AWD
Power 2-litre 190bhp D4 diesel engine with automatic transmission and all-wheel drive Emissions (motor tax): 157g/km (€280)
L/100km 6.0 (47 mpg)
Price €61,981 (From €54,550)
Our rating 3/5
Verdict Spacious Swedish chic with off-road cladding