Volvo reiterates that it’s cool, and does so well.
It’s hard to talk about any new Volvo without touching on their past, and how their cars used to be designed with the same amount of aesthetic flair as a washing machine. They were so unwavering in their commitment towards safety that they didn’t care that it had the same curb appeal as a white good, as long as it was the safest white good money could buy.
Volvo today cares just as fervently about safety as it ever has, but they’ve also employed some malleable designers & accommodating engineers that are more willing to cooperate, to draw lines in the sand that the other party can work with. The results thus far have been nothing short of fantastic, from the bold and imposing XC90 to the sleek, svelte S90. The same treatment was applied to the XC60 and S60 to great effect, which left us wondering – are we just going to see a shrinkage to fill out the 40-Series?
The thing about the premium-compact space is that it’s more than just making your typical luxury car. It has to be premium sure, but it also has to be individualistic and unique, and also good to drive. It has to appeal equally to posh kids as well as upwardly-mobile small families, and that’s no easy task.
At least, it didn’t appear easy, until the Volvo XC40 rolled around. Effortlessly balancing style and practicality, it even wraps itself up neatly in a package that’s both a statement and yet inoffensive. It felt almost as if Volvo’s been building up to this, sharpening their skills as they moved from 90-Series to 60-Series, before culminating in the excellent XC40.
We’ll warn you now, the rest of the review is a lot more gushing, but we’ll let you be the judge. Reckon the new Volvo on the block is impressive enough to take on segment stalwarts like the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and Jaguar E-Pace? Read on and find out.
“There’s a tiny little Swedish flag king out from under the bonnet of the all-new Volvo XC40. It’s a small touch, but it sends a big signal that Volvo isn’t doing things by the book.” – CarSales
It’s been told a few times now, but the XC40’s design was supposedly the result of wanting to make something that looked like a “tough little robot.” The story goes that the design of the XC40 was spotted by Volvo design boss Thomas Ingenlath on the desk of one of his designers, and it was breezed through the approval process for production not long after that. If that story is true, that would perhaps explain why the XC40 steers clear of the cookie-cutter design approach that was starting to get old from Volvo.
The XC40 screams ‘millennials’ on the top of its lungs it feels, with its upright design peppered with smart surface play and sharp design details. Things from the slightly-tweaked ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime running lights, the dual-tone alloys, and bi-tone colour schemes are meant to draw the gaze of anyone in its immediate vicinity – this is not a car for shrinking violets.
R-Design models look the most flashy of course, with their larger alloys and more aggressive aesthetic, but a bog-standard XC40 can be made to look smart with the right colour scheme. The interesting play of surfacing on the XC40 ensures that even in a modest colour, it stands out. But the best part of the XC40 is that it’s both quirky and inoffensive at the same time, showing competitors (like Audi) that you don’t need two products to appeal to two kinds of sensibilities (ahem Q2 & Q3).
Engine & Drivetrain
“For now, the XC40 comes with two powertrain options familiar to those au fait with the XC60 & XC90 – the petrol powered T5, and common-rail direct-injection diesel.” – Practical Motoring
Where we don’t mind Volvo’s one-size-fits-all approach is in terms of drivetrains, with their Drive-E mills continuing to impress despite it being on the market for some years now. The XC40 is available as a T5, which packs a 2.0-litre turbo 4-pot producing 185kW and 350Nm, as well as a D4, which offers a similarly-sized & blown diesel with 140kW and 400Nm. Power gets sent to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic as standard too, which is nice.
The T5 is a pretty decent mill, with respectable performance and refinement, though we can’t help but want for a supercharger to be bolted on (as is the case in T6 grades) to aid with low-end response. It’s not particularly pleasing to listen to when you stab at it but with the torque on offer, you don’t have to do that often.
It’s much the same case with the diesel though, instead of wanting a supercharger, we can’t help but miss the ‘PowerPulse’ anti-lag system that you get on D5 Volvos. The result of that deficit is the same too with laggy low-speed response, but once it comes on song, the D4 is pretty relentless. Both cars boast a top-speed of 230km/h which, if we’re honest, feels more believable in the D4.
“As expected, Volvo’s Scandinavian design ethos results in a comfortable, beautifully executed cabin featuring everything you need without ostentatious frippery.” – The Motor Report
If you thought the exterior was a triumph of form & function in harmony, the interior will leave you out of words. Upon first glance it looks like any Volvo interior, with a pair of screens running the company’s intuitive Sensus system, a set of thin but well-bolstered seats, and a generally-minimalist architecture that seemingly wants to let you focus on the task at hand. But the devil’s in the details and in the XC40, the number of details you have to take in are staggering.
Take the decorative trim on the dash & doors for example. In other Volvo models they’re usually a large convex piece of either metal or wood, but in the XC40, they’re a concave piece of metal trim with a pattern on it, designed to reflect the car’s ambient lighting in an ever-dramatic fashion. Then there’s the centre tunnel which now features Qi wireless charging for mobile phones, and a built-in rubbish bin that you can remove for disposal of trash. There are also things like a hidden storage tray under the driver’s seat to hide iPads and such, a flip-out bag hook in the glove compartment, and huge door bins that can hold laptops with ease, achieved by the not-so-easy task of relocating the largest speaker drivers to the top of the dash.
Then there’s things like how the carpet stretches onto the door cards which increases cost efficiency and acts as a sound dampener, and how there are two more ‘drawers’ beneath the two outer rear seats to store the sort of flotsam that can come with family life. If we’ve failed to make it clear already, we will now: This car is flipping smart.
This is all of course before even taking a cursory glance at the usual things – there’s plenty of room for people too, not just their odds and ends. Front-seat space is as expected while the rear boasts generous headroom on account of the very typically right-angled design. The boot space on the other hand is only about average for the class while passengers might not be so happy about the windowline, which admittedly leaves the rear quarters perhaps a bit darker than its competition. We’re just glad that a 360º camera is available as an option because some drivers might not be able to work around the chunky C-pillars as easily as we did.
Behind The Wheel
“This is the most fun I've had driving a Volvo, probably ever - and yes, I've driven the Polestar versions of the S60 and V60...” — CarsGuide
The Volvo XC40 doesn’t look like your typical Volvo SUV, and it doesn’t drive like one either. Where the larger XC60 & XC90 try and coax you out of driving spiritedly, the XC40 relishes it, with an agile chassis paired to a willing powertrain. Only the 8-speed automatic gearbox dampens the proceedings as it tries to save you fuel but not to worry, there are paddle shifters to despatch those concerns.
The steering wheel is dead in terms of feel, but nearly all electrically-assisted types are. It does however weight up in a natural kind of way and it’s amazingly accurate too. Placing the XC40 on the road isn’t a hard ask and it provides endless confidence when touring. Despite the larger alloy wheels on the R-Design it didn’t feel in any way uncomfortable, with the little Swede able to soak up lumps and bumps that would normally leave competitors in tatters (we’re looking at you, GLA).
Safety & Technology
“The XC-40 was one of the first car to be rated under the tougher Australasian new Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) testing regime. It passed with the top 5-Star safety rating based on data provided by ANCAP’s continental partner, EuroNCAP.” – WhichCar
It’s a Volvo. Is this even a question?
The XC40 comes as standard with seven airbags, which includes curtain airbags to protect the heads of passengers in the event of a side-on collision. There are also active safety aids available across the range, like city-speed AEB, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert, which are systems that Volvo pioneered.
There are also Front & Rear Collision Mitigation systems: The front works to swerve you out of the way of a collision with an oncoming vehicle at speeds between 60km/h-140km/h, should you cross a lane marker or cross into a road without checking properly, for example. Rear mitigation works by sensing if a rear vehicle is approaching too quickly when you are stationary. Should that be the case, the car will flash the indicators to try and alert the approaching vehicle and, if a collision is unavoidable, it will pre-tension your seatbelts and lock the brakes to reduce potential for injury.
Tech-wise the XC40 packs the same kit as all other modern Volvos, in the form of a 9-inch portrait-oriented Sensus infotainment screen, as well as a 12.3-inch unit acting as the instrument cluster. There’s also a heads-up display available as an option, though that’s more a flight of fancy than anything else.
The Volvo XC40 cannot be summarised the same way we would with any other Volvo, because the little tyke is distinctly different from any other Volvo before it. It’s stylish but inoffensive, comfortable yet engaging, and thoroughly new-school while offering up very old-school luxury features like tactile materials throughout the cabin, and so on. By taking a unique approach to the XC40 and avoiding the usual schtick of watering down stuff from the bigger cars, the little Volvo is able to offer a properly-premium experience on board, one that doesn’t once leave you thinking you cheaped out.
‘Satisfactory’ is the word that comes to mind with the XC40, and we mean that in the very best sense. It’s the sort of car that leaves you grinning not because of any one factor, but because of all the different facets put together. It’s good to look at, good to sit in, good to drive, and good for hauling friends and all their luggage. It’s great when you’re alone, and it’s great when you’re 4-up and headed out on the road. And it’s especially great when you’re peeking out the window to look at the drive, because you can’t believe your new car has orange carpeting inside.
And the best part is that all that style comes with no practicality compromises, or at least not ones major enough to demand a rethink. The small touches like the hidden cubbies, the built-in boot divider, the bag hook in the glove box… these are things that inform you that this is a smart car, and that’s even before you start interacting with the intelligent Sensus system. We’re truly struggling to think of something bad to say here – the XC40 is just that good.
WhichCar — 4.5/5.0 — “Volvo’s first small SUV is an exceptionally stylish premium small SUV, with an innovatively-designed interior and a choice of turbocharged petrol powertrains. It’s great fun to drive around town and on the open road, with all-wheel drive adding traction on slippery surfaces.”
CarSales — 8.1/10 — “Volvo’s first compact SUV brings fresh, quirky appeal to the segment. With a unique take on design, storage & technology, this new Volvo is daring yet sensible at the same time, and a tantalising taste of things to come.”
CarAdvice — 8.6/10 — “Volvo is looking to the XC40 to pour a lot of volume into its future sales. And, as first impressions go for this all-new offering, it’s in with a very good chance.”
Practical Motoring — 4.5/5.0 — “Cloaked in an intriguingly-styled bodyshell, the XC40’s clever packaging and refined road manners, as well as its safety features, should put it high on shopping lists for compact SUV buyers. Clever use of interior space delivers a spacious cabin within a compact package.”
The Motor Report — 4.0/5.0 — “Volvo says there is more demand than availability for the Belgium-built XC40, which is proving a surprise hit in the UK and other key markets. That comes as no surprise – this machine represents a commendable mix of aesthetic and practical design in combination with world-class driver aids shared with $100,000-plus models, and an impressively refined driving experience.”
CarsGuide — 8.1/10 — “My socks haven't literally been blown off, but there is no denying this is a very competent entry into the small SUV segment. The Momentum in particular offers a promising, but pleasantly packed, small SUV for the money - though most will likely opt for the sportier R-Design model. But unlike some rivals, it actually feels like you’re getting your money’s worth in the Volvo XC40.”