We love to label things. “The tendency to classify and categorise objects is a deeply ingrained aspect of human nature,” Dr Scott Barry Kaufman once wrote in Psychology Today.
Maybe you were the kind of person who took pleasure in arranging your CD collection in alphabetical order, or perhaps labelling people is the sort of thing you’re into. But let’s not venture too far down that path; the point is that for years, labelling has been a favourite past-time for the car industry and the media, too, who have conspired together to put their products in neat categories.
On the one hand, this is a good thing: if we speak of a hot hatch, we know exactly what to expect. A saloon car, estate car, luxury car, city car, supermini – you name it, it conjures up an image in your head. On the flip-side, it becomes tricky when carmakers blur the lines. The result is the so-called ‘crossover’: a car that presents the best of two segments, or a compromised version of each, depending on your point of view.
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Then there’s this: the Volvo V40 Cross Country T5. If you’re the type of person who has ever picked up a copy of the Observer’s Book of Automobiles, you’ll know that the V40 is a family hatchback. So far, so good. But in Cross Country guise, the V40 attempts to break free of its shackles, aided by some body cladding and a suspension jacked-up some 40mm.
A kind of Rover Streetwise for a new generation, then? Not so fast, because the T5 is the only model in the range to offer all-wheel drive. Try crowbarring this wedge-shaped Volvo into a round hole.
It’s at this point that you might be salivating over the prospect of a five-cylinder hatchback, as thoughts turn to T5 models of old. Sadly, these are different times at Volvo, and the company is in the midst of a revolution, pinning its hopes on a future of four-cylinder engines.
Gone is the warbling 2.5-litre engine of old, replaced by a disappointingly muted 2.0-litre unit. But don’t be too despondent. With 245hp on tap, the V40 T5 will accelerate to 62mph in 6.4 seconds – the same time as the older, less efficient 2.5-litre version. That’s progress for you.
Not that the V40 Cross Country T5 ever feels that quick. You’re so well insulated from the outside world – not to mention so far removed from terra firma – that any sense of speed is expunged from the driving experience. There’s also a comically large steering wheel to contend with. Seriously, the wheel could rival the size of a dinner plate Alan Partridge might take to an all-you-can-eat restaurant.
A thinking man’s Subaru WRX STI this is not, then. Indeed, the thinking man might be encouraged to spend his hard-earned cash on that bewinged tearaway, as prices start from £28,995 – around £5,000 less than the Volvo V40 Cross Country T5.
Our test car – suitably loaded with toys and gadgets – weighed in just shy of £40,000. You could get a very tasty Audi S3 for that price.
But to dismiss this Swedish oddity as a mere folly would be to miss the point, and indeed the raison d’être of this car. As a car to tackle the worst of the British weather, the all-wheel-drive V40 Cross Country is almost without peer, certainly at the smaller end of the market.
You might argue – with some justification – that the Subaru Impreza 1.6i RC offers the assurance of all-wheel drive for a fraction of the cost. But the Impreza simply cannot touch the Volvo in terms of build quality, interior comfort, specification and a general ‘big car’ feel. The heated leather seats would be the perfect luxury to accompany the long drive home for Christmas.
If you spent upwards of £34,000 on a Volvo V40, your friends might raise an eyebrow. We, on the other hand, would raise a glass of brännvin in your honour. This is a car for individuals, highlighted by the fact that a mere 51 people ordered a V40 Cross Country T5 in 2016.
Go your own way. Battling against categorisation might say more about you than a label ever could.