One tends to think of Swedes, and the cars they build, as relatively conservative and straightlaced.
Until, that is, you go to their home turf and their playful Scandinavian side emerges in a spectacular, powersliding way.
I discovered this last week while attending the international ice-driving media launch of the Volvo V40 Cross Country in Ostersund, Sweden.
One thing Sweden has is ice, lots of it – especially up north in Ostersund, where the temperature plummeted to –17ºC when we visited – and the Swedes grow up driving on slippery frozen turf.
But teaching a group of South Africans to drive on a frozen lake is a bit like teaching chickens to scuba dive. It takes time.
Getting a car sideways on an ice rink is easy; keeping it under control and not ploughing into snowbanks is the tricky part.
Even with studded winter tyres fitted to the cars, things got rather hairy. On my first few laps around the icy course I zigged when I should have zagged, and generally displayed all the handling finesse of a startled cat on a tiled floor.
But with a little practice and a few hints from Volvo’s accomplished (and unconservative) instructor, we started to learn that when you’re driving on ice you tend to spend more time watching the oncoming view through the side windows than the windscreen.
It’s not only outrageous fun but also the most effective way of getting around the circuit.
We got acquainted with rally terms like Finnish Flick, which turns out to be a useful manoeuvre when you don’t wish to go through a corner backwards.
It involves flicking the car in the opposite direction to the upcoming corner, then flicking it back just at the last moment so that the car’s nose hugs the apex while you steer around the corner with the tail. Comical when you get it wrong (and it usually involves having to be towed out of a deep snowbank to much laughter from colleagues) but a big rush when you get it right.
The T5 version of the V40 Cross Country has all-wheel drive, which helped us find some vital extra grip on the ice, and the system automatically apportions drive between the front and rear axles as needed.
We opted to switch off the stability control, which is a terrific safety device in most situations but causes huge understeer on an ice rink. On ice, oversteer is your friend.
The new Volvo V40 Cross Country range, which goes on sale in South Africa next month in a 14-model range of petrols and diesels, follows the heritage that started with the V70 Cross Country back in 1997.
Although South Africans won’t be experiencing it on ice, the car’s capable of mild offroad work thanks to its extra 40mm ride height over a regular V40 hatchback. All versions are front-wheel drives except for the T5 2.5 turbo which, apart from all-wheel drive, comes with hill descent control.
To give it a more extrovert “adventurer” character the V40 Cross Country is styled with contrasting bumpers, sills and skid plates, with a honeycomb mesh grille.
In the cabin, the Raw Copper exterior launch colour is echoed in the contrasting stitching, and the leather upholstery is offered in five different versions – including two-tone – for an individual look.
Like the regular V40 the digital instrument panel can be set to different themes, and interior mood lighting allows you to choose a red-to-blue setting that adapts the light to the interior temperature or choose between another seven mood themes.
The Swedish, once the masters of styling understatement, are definitely getting more playful.
Playful, too, are the engines, which are all turbocharged so they won’t lose chunks of power at Reef altitude.
The five-cylinder petrol versions of the V40 Cross Country are the T4, which is moved along by a two-litre turbo with 132kW and 300Nm; and the T5, which wields a 187kW/360Nm 2.5-litre turbo engine and does the 0-100km/h in a very playful 6.4 seconds.
There are also two diesels: the D3 four-cylinder 2-litre turbo with 110kW/350Nm and the D4 five-cylinder 2-litre turbo with 130kW and 400Nm.
All derivatives have start-stop and brake energy regeneration as fuel-saving measures. Every version is a six-speed automatic, with the T4 also offering a six-speed manual option. -Star Motoring
T4 Manual Essential – R319 900
T4 Manual Excel – R326 600
T4 Powershift Essential – R335 700
T4 Manual Elite – R340 500
T4 Powershift Excel – R342 400
D3 Geartronic Excel – R353 700
T4 Powershift Elite – R356 300
D3 Geartronic Elite – R367 600
D4 Geartronic Excel – R368 200
D4 Geartronic Elite – R382 100
T5 Geartronic Excel – R390 200
T5 Geartronic Elite – R404 100
T5 Geartronic AWD – Excel R405 900
T5 Geartronic AWD Elite – R419 800