The crossover vehicle segment is one which is growing at an exponential rate. Vehicle manufacturers realise that while SUV’s have their place, traditional cars also have their own set of perks. The crossover was born from the need for a unique combination of car-like dynamics and SUV all-terrain ability. Look at BMW’s X6 for example; this vehicle was made with the sole purpose of satisfying a niche that didn’t necessarily exist. From what I can make out there are two kinds of crossover vehicle buyers, the first are those that want the vehicle for its image (such as an X6 buyer) and the second are those who actually use the raised ride height and added all-terrain ability of these vehicles. This brings me to the two vehicles that I have squared off against one another, the Subaru XV and Volvo’s V40 Cross Country.
While each prospective manufacturer may not view these vehicles as direct competition for one another I noticed a striking number of similarities between the vehicles, on paper at least. For starters both have unconventional 2-litre power plants, the Subaru makes use of a low-slung boxer petrol engine and the Volvo a turbocharged 5-cylinder diesel, they even make the same power at 110 kW although the Volvo’s torque figure is superior at 350 Nm versus the 196 Nm you get in the Subaru. They both have automatic transmissions too, the XV featuring a Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) and the Cross Country a Geartronic manumatic transmission. The similarities don’t stop there either; both vehicles are raised, off-road versions of outgoing models, the Volvo sharing its mechanicals with the V40 hatchback and the XV sharing its platform with the Imprezza 5-door hatchback
While both of these vehicles are made with some kind of off-road driving in mind, the reality is that they will spend the majority of their lives on the road. This is where the Volvo stood out for me. I have sampled the V40 in T4 manual guise and I can happily report that its Cross Country sibling has not lost its dynamic verve in gaining the extra ground clearance. The Cross Country has a great breadth of dynamic abilities that allow it to feel planted when tackling some twisties. The tyres on the Cross Country are road-biased at 225/50 R17 and that helps in the handling department too. There is a bit more understeer than in the regular V40 but I suspect that this has more to do with the heavy 5-cylinder lump under the bonnet and not with the added ride height. The Subaru tackles the business of road driving in an unflustered manner, where the Volvo feels the more precise machine when pushing on the Subaru wofts along without much fuss. The off-road Geolander tyres and exceptional ground clearance means that cornering is not the XV’s forte but that being said I did not feel as if I had to corner hard in the XV, it’s more of a cruising machine. A lot can be said about each vehicles gearboxes and how they affect their on-road manners. The XV’s Lineartronic CVT gearbox is something that as a driver you have to learn how to operate, simply burying your foot leads to a high pitched drone and not much progress, once you learn that progressive throttle inputs are the order of the day then the CVT proves very smooth and effortless. The Powershift unit in the Volvo mated with the punchy diesel motor is much the same, foot flat and the torquey delivery sends the car chasing to the redline aimlessly yet progressive inputs make for surprisingly rapid progress and a lovely 5-cylinder soundtrack. Both transmissions have a manual mode, the XV’s with flappy paddles attached to the steering wheel while the Volvos manual shifts must be dealt with on the gear lever which looks like a Power Rangers leg. It must be said that both cars feel better when their respective gearboxes are left to do the business on their own. With the Subaru, leaving it in Drive (D) makes the car feel more comfortable, the paddles are more for off-road driving. The Volvo in Sports (S) mode when in auto mode makes the most of the performance available. Leave the cars to their own devices and the Subaru will accelerate from 0-100 km/h in a claimed 10, 3 seconds while the Cross Country is claimed at 9, 3 seconds. The engines fitted to each car couldn’t be more different in the way they go about their business. The Subaru, being naturally aspirated has fantastic throttle response but suffers from a lack of shove, especially up here at the reef. When stepping in to the Volvo afterwards, the massive torque deficit makes it feel markedly more rapid than the Subaru. There is a bit of turbo lag and all the power seems to come in one big thump but overall I was very impressed with the Volvos powerplant. Overall I have to say that the Volvo was the more rewarding product on the road, it felt superior and while the Subaru was an effortless affair, the Volvo just seemed better in terms of overall feel and driver satisfaction.
Interior, safety and economy.
I have said this in my writing before and I’ll say it again, Subaru have really improved their efforts when it comes to interior quality, vehicle safety and fuel economy. The XV’s interior is both capacious and feature-laden, the ergonomics are beautifully simple and proved very easy to use. On the features front you will find a full infotainment system with USB, AUX and iPod functionality along with a satellite navigation system and Bluetooth, although no Bluetooth audio. There is also cruise control and a computer system that will pull up fuel economy graphs and even tell you where the power is being distributed in the Symmetrical all-wheel drive system. In terms of overall quality, the Subaru strikes a good balance between feeling well made with great materials used throughout and still maintaining that rugged hard-wearing feel that you want in an off-road vehicle. My test unit also had leather seats with orange stitching to match the equally characterful exterior colour. On the safety front the XV has a 5-star ANCAP and Euro NCAP safety rating thanks to self-leveling HID headlamps, a reverse camera, Vehicle Dynamics Control system (VDC), driver and passenger airbags, driver knee airbag and curtain airbags. On the fuel economy front I was able to achieve below the 7, 9 l/100km claimed consumption figure for the first few days, although once I ventured off-road and completed the daily commute for a week the average combined consumption figure sat at 9, 6 l/100km.
When it comes to the Volvos interior there is only one word that comes to mind, sumptuous. While the Subaru’s simplicity was fantastically functional the Volvo exudes elegance, every tangible material is beautiful and well thought out. Like the Subaru, my test unit had leather seats with stitching that matched its Raw Copper exterior hue. Where the Subaru’s cabin was airy and spacious the Volvos cocoons the driver, it feels sportier while the interior space itself is equally accommodating. The rear visibility in the Cross Country is a problem, it could do with the optional rear-view camera although the Park Distance Control (PDC) system will alert the driver well in advance of any object that may be in the way. The infotainment system is not touch-screen like the XV’s and was not as simple to operate however, the software on the Volvo system was slightly faster and looked more upmarket. The Cross Country has features such as Bluetooth with audio, USB, AUX and a truly astonishing audio system. The digital speedometer can be customised to three dial designs namely Performance, Eco and Elegance. In terms of safety Volvos are famed for their extensive crash testing and often pioneering technology when it comes to keeping you and your passenger’s safe, the Cross Country is no exception in this regard. While there are fantastic safety features available in the Cross Country, the latest features are optional extras, like the pedestrian airbag, the pedestrian detection system, adaptive cruise control and City Safety which will stop the car for you in case of an emergency at speeds of up to 50 km/h. Being a diesel, the Volvo shines brightest in the economy stakes, with a combined consumption figure of 6, 3 l/100km (claimed 4, 3 l/100km) which included a bit of hooning and off-roading.
Off-road, design and value
In terms of sheer off-road ability there are very noticeable differences between the two cars. While the Volvo wears the Cross Country name plate it proved less capable than the Subaru which is a full on off-road vehicle, make no mistake about it. With 220mm of ground clearance and permanent four-wheel drive, the Subaru tackled a very tricky off-road course and climbed up an impressive distance in what was very fine sand. I found it most capable when the VDC was turned off, the tyre pressure down and the vehicle gearbox in manual mode. The tyres that made the Subaru less adept to road driving make it a brilliant off-road proposition and a true lifestyle vehicle. In terms of styling I think Subaru have done well with the XV, it certainly looks as capable as it is with those 17-inch two-tone alloy wheels, roof rails and side claddings all contributing to a muscular-looking urban crossover vehicle. The list price of the XV is around R345 000 for the top-of-the-range model that I received which is very close to what you might pay for a lower spec Forester. Having driven most of the Forester range, the capability and spec of the XV makes me think that I would chose the latter within the Subaru range.
The Volvo on the other hand was quite harsh off the beaten track, it does have 40mm more ground clearance than the standard V40 but I think the combination of the road-going tyres and the front wheel drive system limit its ability to tackle serious off-road situations, gravel roads and mild off-roading are not a problem but anything more than the finds it out of its depth. Styling wise the Cross Country looks the part, particularly with the anthracite grey alloys, black mirrors, roof rails and skid plates fitted to my test unit. While the Subaru is a very butch, angular design, the Volvo is curvy, with a prominent rump and a swooping front-end that adds up to what I believe to be one of the Swede companies best designs to date. In terms of value I believe that the D3 Elite spec model that I had represents good value at R367 600, however, should you require all-wheel drive you will have to opt for the T5 petrol as this is the only model with that as an option. The T5, which comes in at over R400 000 may be more expensive at the pumps but will prove a more entertaining driving proposition.
After the head-to-head comparison I have surmised that there is no clear winner, so I will revert to what I said earlier. There are two types of crossover buyers, those who want the car for the image and those who need it for its sheer ability over a standard model. For those who want the image the Volvo is the clear winner, it’s classy, elegant, frugal and frantic when you want it to be, yet it lacks off-road dynamics in front-wheel drive guise. For those who want a capable off-road crossover the Subaru is the one to have, while not as dynamic on the road it shines off of it and comes in slightly cheaper than the Volvo with a generous specification list.