Volvo's new Cross Country is an active lifestyle vehicle with less granola

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

It's not always the case, but Volvo's naming convention has always made sense to me. For example, the S prefix indicated a sedan, C was for coupes, the V models are variants (another way of saying wagons), and the XC cars are "cross country" SUVs and crossovers. I'd look at the S60, the V60, and XC60 and know exactly what I was getting.

So you can tell a lot about the 2015 Volvo V60 Cross Country just by its name. The car starts with the sport wagon profile and design of a variant and adds the the ground clearance of the crossover. The V60 Cross Country sits about 2.6 inches taller than the standard V60, now boasting about 7.9 inches of ground clearance. That's not enough to go rock crawling, but it could make a difference on rutted dirt road. Helping to visually lift the Cross Country and to add a bit of protection from the elements is contrasting plastic body cladding - an element borrowed from Volvo's XC70.

Speaking of the XC70, the V60 Cross Country feels like it's crowding the older Volvo's space in the market. The automaker maintains that it will continue to offer both cars side-by-side hoping that small difference is interior space, perceived ruggedness, and aesthetic will allow them to coexist. We'll come back to this in a bit.

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Like the rest of the 60 series, the V60 Cross Country is available with a few different engine and powertrain configurations globally. Our example was a T5 AWD model, which features the automaker's 2.5-liter turbocharged, in-line five-cylinder engine. An output of 250 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque is sent through a single-option six-speed automatic transmission. Under ideal conditions, a Haldex center differential sends the full available torque to the front wheels for more efficient cruising. When the system detects slip, when cornering hard, or under heavy acceleration, the center diff can engage almost instantly, sending up to 50 percent of available torque to the rear wheels.

The Cross Country's on-road handling was pretty good despite the taller ride height. The tall wagon tackled curves in a manner that made me forget that I was sitting over 7.9 inches off of the ground, handling the weight transfer of fast mountain roads with grace. Later, I was given an opportunity to test the Volvo's agility with a 55-mph obstacle avoidance test and on a slalom. These tests didn't convince me that Cross Country was particularly sporty, but put my mind at ease that the extra height doesn't prevent the crossover from juking around any surprises the road may throw at me.

Most drivers aren't going to slalom their V60 Cross Country (or throw it though epic, high-speed J-turn maneuvers like Volvo's driving instructors did). Agility aside, the obvious emphasis here is one of comfort. The Cross Country's ride is quiet while soaking up bumps in cracked pavement with poise. Most drivers may never take full advantage of the almost 8 inches of ground clearance, but the extra suspension travel will definitely make freeway cruises and city driving more tolerable.

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Volvo is a brand that's built its reputation on safety, so it's no surprise that the V60 Cross Country is available with many of the automaker's latest safety technologies. I was able to demonstrate the CitySafe auto braking system, which monitors the road ahead for obstructions, stopped vehicles, pedestrians and bikes, and will automatically engage the brakes if the driver is distracted. At speeds below 6 mph, the Volvo can bring itself to a full stop; at higher speeds, it can dramatically reduce speed and the severity of a fender bender.

Our example was also equipped with a camera-based lane departure warning system (but without any steering intervention) and a system that monitored driver attentiveness. If I simulated drowsy driving by constantly crossing the lane lines, the system would beep and suggest that we take a break. I also had full-speed adaptive cruise control, which could automatically maintain a safe following distance with a lead car all the way down to full-stop, BLIS blind-spot monitoring, and a rear camera system with cross-traffic alerts.

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Finally, we had Volvo's Distance Alert feature, which illuminates a subtle red light at the base of the windshield if you're following the lead vehicle too closely. The closer you get, the brighter the light and, if the system detects that you're closing to quickly and there's danger of collision, it will brightly flash the warning lights and sound an audible alert. When I tested the Volvo XC60 recently, I found this system to be a bit too intrusive for aggressive San Francisco driving, but on more laid back mountain roads and at highway speeds I didn't even notice it. Distance Alert, like most of the Volvo's driver aid features, can be quickly disabled or enabled with a button on the dashboard.

Having already presented full reviews of the rest of Volvo's 60 series of vehicles, I was already familiar with what to expect from the 2015.5 V60 Cross Country's dashboard. The automaker's infotainment system features standard navigation with voice controls that aren't a pain to use and a full suite of digital media sources. I particularly like how the automaker integrates the voice, dashboard, and steering-wheel controls. For example, you can browse the entire infotainment system without removing a hand from the steering wheel, just by using the scrolling wheel and buttons under your right thumb.

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The Cross Country also features Volvo's built-in 3G data connectivity (six months of service are included free) which gives the car access to a suite of apps, a dashboard Web browser (when parked), and Wi-Fi connectivity for passengers (but with only a 3G connection to share, we're not super-excited about that last bit). After the six-month trial, Volvo drivers can subscribe for continued use or tether the system to their Web-connected smartphone for free use on the data plan they're already paying for.

I found Volvo's list of supported apps to be extensive. There's Pandora, Rdio and other media streaming services, apps that help the driver find fuel prices, pay for parking, share their location and more. If I have one complaint about these apps it's that they could be very slow to load, sometimes leaving the driver staring at a spinning icon for well over a minute. I'm not sure if slow 3G connectivity or the software itself is at fault, but the lagginess of the dashboard apps stood out alongside the rest of the snappy interface.

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The Volvo V60 Cross Country is a part wagon and part crossover mashup that takes careful aim at the Subaru Outback, but may also include Volvo's own XC70 in the blast radius. The automaker wants to aim this car at urban professionals who lead an active lifestyle -- weekend warriors, if you will -- who want assurance of ground clearance and all-wheel drive, but don't want to look like the crunchy granola type on their commute. These drivers would probably consider Volvo's XC70, which offers more interior space and a bit more ruggedness, but in more squared off, less sexy package.