Extract from Country Life
By Stephen Smith
The fabulous food at Hartford House and the sleek racehorses at Summerhill Stud are reason enough to head for Mooi River. Especially when you’re in a Volvo V40 Cross Country D3 Excel.
Hartford House is known for its food, created with only the finest ingredients by one of the country's, and perhaps the world's, great culinary geniuses, Jackie Cameron. The food, in short, is enough of a reason to take the short drive from Durban to Mooi River and just beyond, to a place of rare beauty.
But the real business of the estate is Summerhill Stud - world-class and a showcase of equine excellence. We were told that there are around 200 broodmares at Summerhill at any one time. Each mare has a foal, a yearling and a two-year-old. That’s 800 thoroughbred horses on the farm, excluding the stallions. Race horses from Summerhill race, and win, across the globe and feature in many leading racing stables. So Hartford is a nice fit for the new Volvo V40 Cross Country, a thoroughbred in its own right and one of my favourite cars of 2013 so far.
An athletic blend of body shapes, more hatchback than station wagon (although the marketers have no doubt come up with a nifty name all of its own), the standard V40 is a stunning car inside and out. The V40 Cross Country uses these good looks as a base, and then adds a few little extras for a more countrified air - bigger wheels (up to 19 inches), an integrated skid plate in the rear bumper, honeycomb mesh grille, roof rails and a few other subtle touches. The vehicle is also 40mm higher off the ground than the standard V40, to negotiate dodgy roads, while the two most expensive models are available with all-wheel drive.
The roads from Durban to Hartford are a mix of beautiful highway and B-roads with potholes and bumps. A car with a firmer suspension would have felt every one of those bumps, but the Cross Country has been fitted with a suspension setup well balanced between sportiness and comfort. In fact, one of the most impressive things about the V40CC is the lack of body roll around corners, when one remembers that higher ride height. Despite the raised ground clearance and the all-wheel-drive option, the V40CC doesn't pretend to be an SUV (in the Volvo range that is taken care of by the XC models), and that is the essence of its charm. It is a hatchback, and it is good at being a hatchback - it merely has the added benefits of not jarring your spine every time you hit a pothole, and it isn't severely compromised when you leave the city.
Volvo has given the V40CC an extensive range of models, starting with the 132kW/270Nm T4, powered by a 1.6-litre direct injection turbo-petrol engine. At the other end of the scale is the T5, powered by a 187kW and 400Nm 2,5-litre petrol engine, complete with turbo. It's a familiar engine in Volvo's line-up, and in the Cross Country it gives acceleration from 0-100km/h in just 6.5 seconds. In between these two petrol engines is a pair of turbo-diesels, either a 110kW/350Nm 2-litre D3 or a 130kW/400Nm 2-litre D4. Ours was the more modest of the two, but it was more than powerful enough for the job, and yet returned fuel consumption figures of just 5,9l/100km over our journey. Six-speed automatic gearboxes are standard across the range, except for the T4 which is also available with a six-speed manual transmission.
People slipping behind the wheel of a Volvo for the first time will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the finish and the feeling of elegance. Back in the day, Volvos were known for little other than their safety and dependability, but these days a Volvo interior is right up there with the best of the premium German, British and Japanese brands. Standard features obviously vary across the range, and although our D3 Excel model is in the bottom half of the range, it is still very adequately equipped.
Once we had reached Hartford we didn't leave, preferring instead to wander across the estates, trying optimistically but ultimately in vain, to walk off five-course dinners and three-course breakfasts. Yes, pudding at breakfast! But what a place to stroll; horses galloping through the morning light, mist lifting off the dam, enveloping a flyfisherman and then releasing him from its grasp, guinea fowl cackling in the distance. When we did leave it was to get back to Durban, frootling along the Midlands Meander and enjoying the car for what it was designed to do - add a bit of adventure to your life.
So where does the Cross Country go wrong? The only thing I could come up with is the model configuration - if you want all-wheel drive you have to have a 2,5-litre petrol engine. That doesn't make sense to me at all. A turbo-diesel AWD model would make far more sense, and would suit the Cross Country moniker that much better.
Volvo describes the V40CC as a car that will put a little adventure into people's everyday lives, and that's a nice way to sum it up. No, it’s not a 4x4 that can actually go cross-country, but it is a car that elevates itself, and its driver, above the humdrum monotony of everyday life. Buy one of the all-wheel-drive models and you'll be able to go to places far more remote than Hartford House - although after staying there I doubt you would want to.
Fact file :
Name: Volvo V40 Cross Country D3 Excel
Body type: Hatchback
Engine capacity: 2,0-litre turbo-diesel
Power output: 110kW
Price: From R319 900 (T4 Manual Essential) to R419 800 (T5 Geartronic AWD Elite). D3 Geartronic Excel as tested costs R353 700.