A few weeks back, we wrote about the relevance of Jaguar and how two new models are going to be key to that brand’s future success in America. With luxury vehicle sales soaring in the United States, and many other markets, niche players such as Jaguar have to create new vehicles if they expect to expand, and survive.
The same analysis is true of Volvo — at least in America. Volvo Car (not to be confused with the separate Volvo Heavy Truck Corp.) has enjoyed more consistent success in other markets while languishing in the States. Last year, while automotive sales were growing almost 10 percent, Volvo sales receded. This year, with the market growing at over 10 percent, Volvo is only selling 5 percent more vehicles — and those are the brand’s crossovers. Volvo car sales are weak and sliding further behind a growing market.
Recognizing the peril of its position, Volvo has two new immediate models designed to band-aid hemorrhaging car sales. Taking a page from its playbook of the mid-to-late 1990s, Volvo is producing two more Cross Country nameplates on the S60 sedan platform and V60 wagon.
Similar to the approach used by Subaru with the original Outback, Volvo has added more height to the chassis, 2.5 inches, installed larger wheels, plus tacked on some body enhancements to make the S60 look larger, tougher, more rugged. On one hand, it has succeeded — the car does look more substantial, and larger.
But lacking the graceful and memorable character lines of competitors such as the BMW 3-series or Cadillac ATS — both sedans that are almost the exact same measurements as the S60 — the Volvo does not come across as such a styling success. BMW gets away with its larger, heavier and elevated AWD 3-series GT models because they feature a more versatile hatchback that affords more space for all functions. And so does Honda’s ungainly looking Crosstour. However, the S60 Cross Country still uses a conventional trunk opening — a small opening to a small-ish trunk. If you want more function with your AWD, you’ll need to shop for the V60 Cross Country wagon, or, the top-selling XC60 Crossover.
Powering the Cross Country is Volvo’s 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder engine. With variable valve timing and turbocharging, this ultra-low emissions engine makes 250 horsepower and 266 pound/feet of peak torque. Carrying 3,800 pounds of car, the six-speed automatic is smooth, yet the powertrain doesn’t generate the forward enthusiasm that other competitors exhibit. Acceleration is more than adequate for what will be the target audience, however the car’s weight and high-revving five-cylinder don’t seem compatible with Volvo’s stated future powertrain goals — turbo-fours, turbo-diesels, plus hybrid powertrains. One or the other of these options must be on the target list for future Cross Country powerplants.
With EPA mileage ratings barely better than the XC60 crossover, the S60 shows that the Cross Country package is a stepping-stone to measure possible success while waiting for a more well-rounded S60 with newer, more efficient powertrains. EPA ratings are 20/28/23 mpg, with a realized average of 24.5 mpg after four fill-ups and 1,300-plus miles of use.
Complaints aside, Volvo buyers have always possessed a certain stubborn streak, choosing function over fashion with previous designs, perceived safety over economy. Why else would anyone consider a 240 sedan, unless their taste resides in their left shoe?
Some of that unique (charming?) attitude exists in the S60 Cross Country. On the safety side, Platinum trim brings features such as Adaptive Cruise Control (automatically braking and accelerating the car), rear parking assist (with a rear camera and guiding lines), plus driving aids such as lane departure warning (you can turn off), BLIS-blind spot detection (you can turn it off), as well as Forward collision warning and pedestrian/cyclist detection with automatic vehicle braking (you can’t turn it off).
With all systems operating, the Volvo’s cabin is illuminated with blinking, glowing red warning lights whenever you are navigating close quarters in heavy traffic. Become aggressive darting through thick traffic, and surely the forward collision warning system will flash brightly, the audible alarm will sound, and the car will want to brake itself as you try to accelerate. Perhaps a subtle message for calmer operating protocols.
Calm is what you get in the cabin, as the Volvo embraces typical attributes long favored by the brand. Thick rim steering wheel, with convenient finger controls; check. Simple climate buttons and easy to use audio knobs; check. Comfortable seats, with heating elements (front and rear in the Cross Country), check. You also get one-touch power windows, up and down, at all four positions, plus a powerful Harmon Kardon audio system employing Sirius. The keyless ignition also provides convenient access; just touch the door handle and all doors lock and unlock as you need.
Conversely, the nav screen is small by today’s new car standards, and lacks contrast, leaving one with the impression that a dash-top Garmin might be a better buy.
Volvo has always done cold weather packages well and the Cross Country is no exception. Heated washer nozzles (Six of them!) along with powerful headlamp washers, a heated steering wheel and a windshield with built-in heater wires are all part of the climate package. There is some visual distortion from the windshield wires when the sun is low on the horizon in front of you, so keep those premium sunglasses handy.
Like many automakers today, the temptation to put controls and systems into electronic panels and menu’s seems pervasive—and disconcerting. The Volvo places snippets of the owner’s manual in the information center in the dash. Click on various topics to set MYCAR settings to your personal taste, program lighting parameters, or take 15 clicks to reset the clock. Technology should aid our use, not become an excuse to add complexity. As we see with our computers, our cameras, and our phones, technology grows old quickly; sometimes it even fails. The old axiom ‘Keep it Simple’ needs to be practiced more by all of the automakers.
The Cross Country treatment does not alter the S60’s balanced handling or drive dynamics. The higher stance improves visibility in traffic and makes ingress and egress much easier for all occupants. That virtue alone will make the Cross Country more attractive to many Volvo buyers.
S60 pricing starts at just under $35,000 with the Cross Country T5 beginning at $43,500 before options. Each Cross Country comes with a three-year free maintenance program.
Volvo has recently announced its commitment to the North American market by building an assembly plant in South Carolina that will start shipping XC60 and SC90 crossover vehicles to all markets by 2018.
With a renewed commitment to future powertrains and engine technology, including electric hybrids and efficient turbo-engines, Volvo is laying the foundation for more products and more sales in this market.
It remains to be seen if new models like this Cross Country can make enough of a difference to keep the brand relevant in this market until other products come into the pipeline.