Almost exactly one decade ago, Volvo made a big announcement about its future. Not only would all of its new products be based on a Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), but all its models would also share a new modular engine family consisting solely of four-cylinder engines, called Volvo Environmental Architecture (VEA). Advantages to VEA were cited as a 60% reduction in parts, improved manufacturing efficiency, enhanced fuel economy by up to 35% and a weight-saving of up to 90kg versus older, bigger engines.
It’s hard to deny its success, with Volvo breaking its own sales records in recent months and years, but can a one-engine strategy work in the real world? After a few months behind the wheel of the V60 Cross Country, I’d say the answer is: just. With 194bhp and 310lb ft of
torque, this diesel engine certainly doesn’t appear lacking on paper, but perhaps the more crucial figure is the Cross Country’s 1,854kg minimum kerb weight. With a driver, a passenger, some cargo, and a full tank of fuel, this is easily a two-tonne car, and on recent trips to the Peak District, the eight-speed automatic gearbox would drop multiple gears and revs flare as the engine worked hard on the steep gradients that head towards Buxton.
With a 0-62mph of 8.2 seconds, it’s not that the V60 is a slow car, and on flatter ground it can be encouraged to get along at a pretty good lick. However, there just isn’t that sense of effortless power you hope for, making it tempting to wish there was a 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine under the bonnet instead of a four-pot – or perhaps the assistance of an electric motor, rather than the mild hybridisation that the engine features. The chassis could certainly take more power, feeling resolutely unflustered by almost anything the road or mother nature can throw at it. As I mentioned in my first report, the Cross Country couldn’t have arrived at a better time, as the roads are currently covered in a slick combination of fallen leaves and mud, that makes you grateful for four-wheel drive and instantly regret the time spent washing it.
With raised suspension and benign handling balance, the big Volvo isn’t the car you’d take out for a Sunday blast, but there’s a certain satisfaction to be had from ‘making progress’. The key to it all is smooth steering, especially on the way into a bend, giving the estate car time to settle on its outside springs before the corner tightens. As this is the time of year where it’s typically dark during all my trips, it’s also reassuring to know that should there be an unexpected puddle, pothole or fallen branch around the corner, the Volvo has the agility, ground clearance and – as a last resort – stopping power to deal with just about any situation.
Because no matter how you feel about the driving experience, Volvo has nailed the sense of ‘reassurance’ you get while behind the wheel. Aside from the bank vault doors and sense you are driving something big and solid, you only have to swipe the central touchscreen to see the lengthy menu of safety features that can be turned on and off to know this is a machine looking out for number one.