In 1998, a dealer in Massachusetts thought “If the Outback wagon worked so well for the Legacy, why couldn’t we ring the cash register with the sedan, too?” It started building these cars on its own with some limited success, to the point that Subaru ran with the idea and created the Legacy SUS in 1999.
It never caught on, and no manufacturer ever gave it a shot again until last January when Volvo showed the S60 Cross Country in Detroit. The car went on sale in September, and after a week behind the wheel, we were surprised to find how well it worked.
There was a lot missing from Subaru’s offering. Despite the hood scoop, the four-cylinder engine was naturally aspirated and it really was just a trim package that made the ordinary sedan look like an Outback. The Volvo S60 Cross Country is a premium car, though. It’s only available in one trim — the S60 Cross Country T5 AWD Platinum — it combines the most sophisticated, luxurious features of the S60 with the improved ground clearance of the Cross Country wagons so familiar in the Northeast.
It’s not intended to replace your Jeep Wrangler. But if you’ve spent any time where it snows, you know you can arrive home after work during a snowstorm to find that the town has helpfully filled the end of your driveway with 18 inches of heavy snow. A low-slung sports sedan won’t make it through that, whether you have all-wheel drive, snow tires, or chains mounted. The S60 Cross Country might, thanks to 7.9 inches of ground clearance.
See Rob Haneisen’s video review below:
The rest of the year when there isn’t a snow berm clogging the end of the driveway, the S60 Cross Country drives just as capably as a non-Cross Country S60, exhibiting crisp handling, a sporty, but not-too-harsh ride, and excellent acceleration from the 2.5-liter inline five cylinder engine. Thanks to turbocharging, it’s got 250hp, and more importantly, 266-lb.ft. of torque for efficient highway merging. The Geartronic automatic transmission has six driver-adaptive speeds, along with a Sport mode for improved shift performance.
The all-wheel drive system is electronically controlled with a feature Volvo calls “Instant Traction.” The system offers “the best possible grip in all situations”, by channeling power to the wheels that have the most available grip. Frankly, ALL all-wheel drive systems claim this now, but in practice, it’s the speed at which that happens that’s the difference between getting home and waiting for a guy in a 1977 Chevy pickup to tow you out with a nylon strap.
Volvo’s “Instant Traction” system is the fifth generation system from Haldex, which sends about 95 percent of available power to the front wheels under normal conditions. In slippery conditions, it can divert 100 percent of power to the rear if those wheels have better grip. The challenge is making that happen quickly. In earlier versions, the system used a hydraulic accumulator, a solenoid-operated valve and a filter, but the Gen V system reduces the complexity with a new electro-hydraulic clutch actuator with a centrifugal overflow valve design and an integrated electronic control module that aims to get power distributed as quickly as possible, before the wheels really have a chance to slip. You can see how it works in the video:
In a nod to some serious off-road equipment, the S60 Cross Country also features Hill Descent Control that uses brakes and engine braking to help drivers crawl down icy declines with confidence.
As you’d expect from a car company that wants to completely eliminate crash fatalities in its cars by 2020, the S60 Cross Country is jammed with safety equipment, and with one exception, all of it comes at the standard level. Along with the requisite seat belts and airbags, the S60 Cross Country includes:
- City Safety: At speeds lower than 31 mph, City Safety uses a closing velocity sensor either pre-charge the brakes or automatically brake the S60 Cross Country to either avoid a rear-end collision completely or lessen its impact.
- Corner Traction Control: This system helps improve handling by redistributing torque to the outer wheel to “steer” the car around a turn. The feature works on both front and rear wheels, helping to eliminate understeer, or the tendency of a vehicle to push toward the outside of a corner.
- Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake: Radars and cameras mounted in the S60 Cross Country detect pedestrians in front of the car, and warn drivers if a human-sized and -shaped object is in its path. The system then automatically activates full braking power if the driver doesn’t respond.
- Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Distance Alert, Driver Alert Control, Lane Departure Warning, Road Sign Information and Active High Beam.
All of this equipment earns that the S60 Cross Country a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. What’s interesting is that all S60s, regardless of trim level or options selected, earn this rating, rather that buyers having to make the decision between a $1,500 safety package option at a higher trim level or a sunroof.
For example, the Lexus ES350 is priced at $38,000 at the base level, but in order to gain the full benefit of the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, you have to purchase the $500 Lexus Safety System, and you still don’t experience the added benefit of all-wheel drive and better ground clearance. The S60 Cross Country starts at $43,700, but pretty much stays there, with the exception of the $925 standalone option including the Blind Spot Information System and Cross Traffic Alert.
Inside, the Volvo S60 Cross Country is beautiful, but it hasn’t caught up to the Scandinavian perfection displayed in the Volvo XC90. There’s still a bewildering array of buttons on the dash, held over from previous years. That’s about the only complaint inside, because the seats are simply the best you’ll find in any automobile, anywhere. The S60 Cross Country is a road warrior, turning four hour trips into a quick jaunt around town, thanks to the seats not biting into your backside. One long ride, and you immediately feel the difference between these and seats in other premium brands.
The other item that bears mentioning is the size of the trunk. It’s not only small at 12 cubic feet, it’s narrow, and it will force you to make decisions about how much stuff you can put back there. To put that into perspective, 12 cubic feet is a full cubic foot smaller than the BMW 3 Series, and a 1.5 cubic feet smaller than the tiny, subcompact 2016 Scion iA.
With those two complaints aside, though, the Volvo S60 Cross Country is a near-perfect companion for anyone who lives in the 75 percent of this country that experiences at least five inches of snow every winter.
2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country T5 AWD Platinum
Base Price: $43,700
Price as Tested: $46,175 (including Blind Spot Information Package, Climate Package)
Better ground clearance
Perfect combination of handling and ride quality
Seats crafted by the deity of your choice
Subcompact trunk volume
Dizzying array of buttons on the center stack