Volvo V60 Cross Country: The definitive Country estate
The Volvo V60 Cross Country is one of the very best new cars on sale today, says William Scholes
THE other Saturday we went on a bit of a space odyssey to the Ulster Transport Museum at Cultra, writes William Scholes.
The star attraction was a genuine spacecraft - the capsule in which British astronaut, schoolboy hero and all-round nice guy Tim Peake, as well as two other crewmates, returned to Earth from the International Space Station in 2016.
It is a remarkable contraption. Called the Soyuz TMA-19M, it is about the size of a large sitting room and looks more like a large cathedral bell with a porthole than a high-tech craft designed to safely convey human beings from space, into the Earth's atmosphere and back to terra firma. The thought of it absolutely terrifies me.
No doubt many powerful computers are contained within its scorched metal skin, but I was struck by the straightforward no-nonsense levers which were also part of the Soyuz's controls.
They looked like they would have been equally at home on one of the locomotives exhibited next to the 'descent module'. It was somehow reassuring that steam age-tech still has a place in the space age.
Driving home afterwards was a reminder that while our journeys might not be anything like as extreme or as stressful as Tim Peake's descent to Earth, our cars can also serve as escape capsules of sorts.
No-one is building better escape capsules these days than Volvo, which has worked out how to soothe and calm drivers and passengers like no-one else.
The latest Volvo to weave its spell on me was the V60 in Cross Country and R-Design specifications.
The V60, of course, is the company's mid-size estate car. We have tried it before, and it is a lovely, lovely thing.
Engineering alchemy means it shares a platform with a bunch of other best-in-class Volvo models, including the XC60, which could be thought of as the SUV version of the V60; an S60 saloon will be along very soon as well.
The V60 is the best looking of the trio, though. In fact, it's the best looking medium executive car, full stop; compare the V60 to BMW's dull and timid new 3 Series for further evidence of how Volvo is leading the field.
It's fabulous inside, too, with a minimalist cabin design that oozes quality.
There is dignity and class - a quiet impression of low-key confidence - to the Volvo's aesthetics which eludes the German competition.
In sporty R-Design trim, the V60 looks particularly appealing. Lowered suspension, tasty 18-inch alloy wheels, sports seats and strategic application of high-gloss black trim set it apart from the rest of the range.
No-one is building better escape capsules these days than Volvo, which has worked out how to soothe and calm drivers and passengers like no-one else
For now, you can have the V60 R-Design with D3 and D4 diesel engines - with 148bhp and 187bhp respectively - and either six-speed manual or eight-speed gearboxes. At the moment there is one petrol engine - the pokey 247bhp T5 - which is automatic-only.
R-Design prices start at just over £35,000, and while it is a tempting package - Volvo expects it to account for around 40 per cent of V60 sales - it isn't my ideal Volvo estate.
That's because I would hold out for a V60 Cross Country. This comes only with the D4 engine and automatic gearbox combination - arguably the V60's best pairing - and gains all-wheel-drive over the regular front-wheel-drive set-up.
It is also the best-looking V60. It may even be the most striking car Volvo builds, which is quite an accolade.
Part of the magic here is the work that has gone in to giving the Cross Country 60mm extra ground clearance and the application of rough, tough charcoal-coloured trim extensions to the wheel arches, grille, bumper and sills.
If the R-Design is the V60 wearing a pair of trainers, then the Cross Country is a Volvo in a hiking boot and Gore-Tex. It looks great - purposeful, functional and somehow unstoppable.
When roads and showrooms - including Volvo's own - are awash with SUVs, the idea of an off-road capable estate car might seem a bit niche, but far from being a half-way house, the Cross Country could be looked upon as being the perfect compromise.
It is at least as capable off-road as an SUV - Volvo laid on the grounds of an estate in Suffolk for us to try and get the Cross Country stuck, which we couldn't manage - yet on-road it is as comfortable and relaxing as any well-sorted estate car.
Volvo has been building Cross County estates for more than 25 years, and you can feel the depth of that know-how when you leave the tarmac and take to muddy trails and fields.
All V60s have an all-encompassing sense of calm and wellbeing, but the Cross Country elevates the package to an even higher level
Technology such as hill descent control helps, as does an off-road mode - select this, and the car's electronics work out how to juggle engine speed, where the all-wheel-drive system should send its torque and the transmission. It can pull a 2.4 tonne trailer, too.
On the road, as a consequence of the raised suspension, the Cross Country lopes along even more serenely and smoothly than other V60s. This is a properly lovely car to drive.
The rest of the Cross Country is pretty much as you will find in other V60 models. There's a big boot - 529 litres with the seats up, 1,441 litres in volume if you fold them - with flat sides, no loading lip and lots of lashing points.
There's also that same great interior and super-comfortable seats.
All V60s have an all-encompassing sense of calm and wellbeing, but the Cross Country elevates the package to an even higher level.
The V60 Cross Country, then, is my favourite Volvo of all and one of the very best new cars on sale today.
It's a four-wheeled escape capsule from the trials and tribulations of the world around us; I don't know what car Tim Peake drives, but he would surely appreciate the Volvo V60.
AT A GLANCE
Volvo V60 Cross Country
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, all-wheel-drive; 187bhp, 295lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 130mph, 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 42.8-47.9mpg (WLTP combined), 135-143g/km
Car tax: £530 in first year, then £145 annually (£455 for cars over £40,000)
Benefit in kind: 32-33 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (96/84/74/76), 2018