First drive: Volvo's XC40 is a breath of fresh air
Volvo’s new XC40 is upon us, but can it stand out in a crowded SUV market? Tom Wiltshire headed to Barcelona to find out.
What is it?
The XC40 is Volvo’s new compact SUV – and note that the company calls it an SUV, and not a crossover. With high ground clearance, four-wheel drive available across the range and “the proportions of an SUV”, this is less of a jacked-up hatchback and more of a scaled-down XC60.
The new baby of the Volvo range is also the brand’s first entrant into this massively popular market sector, and with its fashion-led design it aims straight at the heart of the territory the Range Rover Evoque has occupied so well.
It’s not just the Evoque that the XC40 has to compete against, though – the new Jaguar E-Pace is a strong contender, as are established models like the Audi Q2, BMW X1 and Lexus NX.
The XC40 sits upon a brand-new platform that will go on to underpin several future models of the Swedish firm’s range. Called CMA (Compact Modular Architecture), it will allow Volvo to offer the XC40 with not just traditional petrol and diesel engines, but hybrid and even pure electric powertrains. At launch, though, there are only combustion engines on offer.
Occupying a market sector the firm hasn’t entered before, the XC40 is by definition all-new, though items have been borrowed from across Volvo’s range of 60 and 90 series cars.
Volvo’s also using the XC40 to launch a new way of owning your car. Named Care by Volvo, it’s more akin to a phone contract than a standard PCP or contract hire – owners pay Volvo a monthly fee which covers ownership of the vehicle and almost every other expense – tax, maintenance, and insurance. It also allows users to ‘borrow’ a larger car for up to 14 days a year – handy if your holiday baggage overflows the boot of your XC40. Currently only available within the M25, care by Volvo will roll out across the country if demand is strong enough.
What’s under the bonnet?
We had the opportunity to sample both T5 petrol and D4 diesel models, both mated to eight-speed automatic gearboxes. The 2.0-litre petrol, though smooth and powerful, is noisy when pressed, and with high fuel consumption it’s unlikely to be a big seller.
Instead, Volvo expects the bulk of sales to come from diesel models. Though grumbly at low speeds, the diesel engine soon quiets down at a cruise, and with 187bhp on tap it has more than enough shove for cutthroat city driving or long motorway journeys.
Initially, these will be the only two engines available, though later in 2018 Volvo will launch lower-powered engines – in the form of a 148bhp D3 diesel and 154bhp and 187bhp T3 and T3 petrols. All but T3 and D3 engines are offered with standard all-wheel drive and eight-speed autos – lower powered engines get front-wheel drive and six-speed manual gearboxes.
What’s it like to drive?
Volvo isn’t known for being the last word in driver involvement, and the same is true of the XC40. Instead, the driving dynamics have been tuned to match the relaxed nature of the Volvo’s interior. Ride comfort is excellent, even on the optional 19-inch wheels of our test car.
Those large alloys do spoil the ride around town though, crashing over potholes or speed bumps – whether they’re worth the upgrade will depend on how you value looks.
Handling is a mixed bag, with the XC40 remaining composed in corners. Despite the cushioned ride, body roll is well controlled, especially with the tighter sports chassis of R-Design trim cars. However, even in this guise the XC40 is no sports car. Curiously long pedal travel and a complete lack of feedback from the steering stymie any real involvement, and even adjustable driving modes add very little to the experience.
How does it look?
No compact SUV could reasonably be called a design triumph, but the XC40 is arguably one of the best of the bunch. Neat proportions give it a pleasingly rugged stance, and it’s chock-full of neat detailing inside and out, like the tiny Swedish flag adornment on the corner of the bonnet.
Volvo’s bold corporate grille dominates the front, flanked by eye-catching ‘Thors Hammer’ LED daytime running lights. Standard LED headlights ensure even base-spec Momentum cars look premium.
In keeping with the fashion-conscious buyers Volvo is hoping to attract, the XC40 is available with a wide array of paint colours including dual-tone combinations. Stylish alloy wheel designs stand out from the crowd too – but if you’d prefer to blend in, it’s possible to spec a solid colour and standard wheels. The car looks good either way.
What’s it like inside?
Step into an XC40 from a Range Rover Evoque and you’ll be floored. The Volvo’s interior is a genuinely lovely place to be, with great-quality materials and superbly comfortable seats even on base-spec cars.
The centre console is arranged around Volvo’s nine-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen infotainment system. It’s slick and works well, though the huge number of settings on offer can be baffling at first.
The company’s main goal for the XC40’s interior was to carve out storage spaces wherever possible – and it’s achieved it. Moving the starter button and drive mode selector from the centre console has allowed space for a deeper central cubby and even a removable waste bin, while relocating the door speakers to the dashboard has made way for truly massive door pockets. There’s even a superbly engineered ‘curry hook’, which folds down from the glovebox to keep your Tikka Masala safely hung up rather than slopping around on the floor.
The clever touches continue in the boot, with a multifunctional false floor that can hide the parcel shelf, hang up bags and keep shopping from rolling around all at the same time. The boot itself is decently large at 460 litres, while six-footers will be able to sit comfortably in the rear.
What’s the spec like?
Equipment levels are impressive. All cars come with LED headlights, navigation and a 12.3-inch digital dial display.
Three trim levels will be on offer in the UK – base-spec Momentum, sporty R-Design and flagship Inscription. Each also gains a ‘Pro’ variant, aimed at fleet buyers who may want choice equipment without delving into the options list.
R-Design adds leather and Nubuck upholstery, a sports chassis and racy alloy wheels, while Inscription switches aluminium dashboard inserts for wood, adds chrome around the window trim and adds a crystal to the gearknob. However, we think it’s stingy to only offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as part of a £300 option pack.
Safety kit is also generous, with autonomous braking capable of detecting vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and even large animals. Spec the optional Intellisafe Assist pack and you’ll benefit from adaptive cruise control with Volvo’s brilliant Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system, which takes the sting out of motorway stints.
The XC40 is a breath of fresh air in a market sector that’s quickly becoming bloated. It’s neat exterior and wonderful interior are sure to earn it admiring glances, and it’s every bit as impressive on the road as its main rivals. Generous standard equipment and a predicted class-leading residual value is great too.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Volvo XC40 D4
Price as tested: £35,705
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Power (bhp): 188
Torque (Nm): 400
Max speed (mph): 130
0-60mph: 7.7 seconds
MPG (combined): 56.5
Emissions (g/km): 131g/km
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