We also don’t mind being up early on a morning near Lake Tahoe in January when there’s only a hint of light in the east and vapor wisps out of tailpipes, because a huge sheet of glare ice is waiting for us to play on. Fact is, we all used to play with cars on skating rinks as kids back in Wisconsin.
Of course, there’s more than thrills on ice at stake here, because Volvo wants to show us its latest high-tech all-wheel-drive system.
Getting a grip on ice
Skating the 2015 Volvo V60 Cross Country on ice might seem a bit unrealistic as far as everyday driving goes, but the exercise dramatizes the point that it’s quick and easy for the Volvo’s power to be routed rearward when the front tires scrabble for traction. We’re on studded winter tires and when you turn hard, the fronts grab a bit but then give up and slide. With your foot in the throttle, the power is quickly routed to the rear, and then the back tires grip and you’re back in control. This would, of course, be much more subtle in the real world of non-glare ice. Here the whole experience is like driving a sprint car at very low speed.
Credit for that quick grip transfer goes to the Gen V Haldex differential. Invented by a Swede with a name fit for the Muppets’ Swedish chef — Sigvard “Sigge” Johansson — the Haldex unit is basically a fast-acting, electronically controlled differential that senses front wheel slip and diverts power to the rear wheels. Humming straight down a dry road, you’re at a torque split of 95 percent front/5 percent rear. Let the fronts spin at their worst and that ratio could go 0/100 as the Haldex intervenes. All AWD systems try to accomplish this, of course, but Haldex has been giving its hardware quicker and quicker reactions over the years, and now the Gen V version is so quick Volvo calls it “Instant Traction.” And naturally the system has torque vectoring, so traction can be varied side to side as well as front to rear.
One reason we are on a small field of ice is that weather patterns have been unkind to the Lake Tahoe area, and instead of being snowy the region and roads are about as dry as the Mojave Desert. So our lap of Lake Tahoe on public roads with the 2015 V60 Cross Country is uneventful.
If it isn’t about safety, it isn’t a Volvo
Now once again a part of the Volvo lineup in the U.S., the Cross Country wagon is set up for all-weather, all-terrain mobility. Only now it has even more agility thanks to technology such as Hill Descent Control. The V60 Cross Country’s ride is a bit firm but never uncomfortable, which is about what you’d expect from a wagon with an increased ride height and tires meant for rugged terrain.
There’s just one engine to power the V60 Cross Country, the transverse, turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five, which makes 250 hp at 5,400 rpm and 266 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 4,200 rpm. (To think there was a time when Ferrari claimed 100-hp-per-liter only for its racing cars and some critics thought it was lying. Ain’t progress wonderful?) The Cross Country’s 0-60 time is said to be 7.0 seconds, a half-second down from the main competition, the Audi Allroad. Fuel mileage comes in at 20 city mpg/28 mpg highway on regular unleaded.
Volvo being Volvo, there is City Safety as part of the Cross Country’s equipment list, a semi-autonomous braking technology meant to thwart or minimize low-speed accidents with automobiles. As a whole the V60 Cross Country’s optional technology package also puts the safety halo around cyclists and pedestrians. Remember, Volvo is aiming at zero deaths or serious injuries in its new vehicles by 2020, chaos theory be damned.
The Cross Country and its fraternal twin
The 2015 Volvo V60 Cross Country is really just a variation on the Volvo V60 Sportswagon, so both cars have the same wheelbase, width, and length. Take out a tape measure, and you’ll find the Cross Country jacked up to 60.8 inches versus the Sportswagon’s 58.4, a measure to improve ground clearance for snowy two-tracks or the dirt road down to the cabin next to the lake.
Also note the Cross Country’s other all-purpose details, such as plastic cladding for the wheel arches, unique wheels, doorsill scuff plates, and a blacked-out greenhouse aft of the B-pillar. Changes from the Sportswagon up front include a honeycomb grille and, if you lean down and look, a skidplate, which is matched by another at the back.
Inside the cabin, the Cross Country is really just like the Sportswagon. The front sport seats prove comfortable, and Volvo’s 40/20/40-split fold-flat second seat is very handy for everything from toting skis to separating scrapping siblings. When you maximize cargo capacity, 43.8 cubic feet of stuff will fit. The electronics will do everything from navigate you to where you want to go to let you play in the Cloud.
Polar vortex? We don’t care
For those of us who grew up in Wisconsin back when only trucks had all-wheel drive, we’re happy that this Volvo is a station wagon, not a crossover. Of course this is a sentiment that would prompt some marketing types to open a vein in despair. Long live wagons, we say, vehicles that are far steadier to drive than a crossover when the road is slippery or snowy and far more fun to drive the rest of the time, too.
All this makes us remember that wagon back in Wisconsin when we tried to spin across the skating rink only to find a fire hydrant under the snow on the far side. Where was that Haldex diff when we needed it?
2015 Volvo V60 Cross Country T5 AWD Specifications
|Engine:||2.5L turbocharged DOHC 20-valve I-5/250 hp @ 5,400 rpm, 266 lb-ft @ 1,800-4,200|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD station wagon|
|L x W x H:||182.6 x 73.4 x 60.8 in|
|EPA Mileage:||20/28 city/highway|
|0-60 mph:||7.0 sec|