What is it?
The Volvo XC40 is the Swedish brand’s first compact SUV, targeting the likes of the Range Rover Evoque and Jaguar E-Pace.
More youthful style, high technology, efficient powertrains
The Volvo XC40 arrives late to the premium compact SUV market but will make its mark within it.
Combining all the major advances of its larger XC60 and XC90 sisters with a distinctive, younger-pitched style, it also scores on the quality of its technology and the efficiency of its powertrains. It is a worthy European Car of the Year.
Volvo appears to be able to do little wrong at present – global sales jumped 22% in 2017 (though they slid 18% in the declining UK market), the 90 Series has earned rave reviews, and now the XC40 has won the brand its first ever European Car of the Year title, before even hitting UK roads.
The XC40 is Volvo’s first compact SUV and one might wonder why the brand has taken so long to get into a market where all the action is. But the car is part of a considered SUV programme that started with the XC90 and continued with the XC60.
This comes at a time when the Swedish brand has been transitioning, moving upmarket to more directly challenge the premium heavyweights. And while the Range Rover Evoque kick-started the premium SUV market a few years ago, only recently has the sector really come to life with the latest versions of the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
Interestingly, however, one of the XC40’s likely most direct rivals is only appearing at the same time as the Swedish contender. Volvo will hope to seriously dent Jaguar’s lofty ambitions for its E-Pace.
In many ways, the XC40 reflects the DNA of its successful sisters the XC90 and XC60, in a more compact package. But it also cuts a distinctive visual appearance – a much bolder design first seen on the almost identical Concept 40:1 unveiled in May 2016, and set to form the building blocks for further 40 Series cars that will follow.
It’s an attractive design pitched towards a more youthful audience, featuring plenty of sculpted panels and sharp angles, personalisation options in such areas as the contrasting paint finish on the roof, and neat touches such as the way the doors overlap the sills so you don’t transfer road grime from sill to clothes.
Buying and owning the Volvo XC40
The XC40 is the first Volvo on the new CMA (compact modular architecture) platform, which will also underpin coming 40 Series cars. The platform offers many major advances, from improving interior space to saving weight, and is specifically designed to accept a range of drivetrains including plug-in and full-electric units.
Both will form part of the future XC40 powertrain options. For now, it’s a choice of five of the brand’s downsized 2.0-litre Drive-E engines, two diesel units of 150 and 190hp, and three petrol engines of 190hp, 247hp and a brand-new three-cylinder T3 unit offering 156hp.
As is typical for the market, both front and all-wheel-drive transmissions will be available on all models except the T3 that is front-powered only. Volvo expects 60% of all XC40 sales to be of the 150hp D3 diesel, two-thirds of these front-wheel-drive. An eight-speed auto transmission will be the standard, though the D3 diesel and T3 petrol also offer a six-speed manual alternative.
Trim levels are based around the brand’s familiar Momentum, R Design and Inscription grades, though each also offers a Pro version with such extras as a powered, heated driver’s seat and headlamps that bend around corners.
Equipment levels are generous – topping the list on the entry-level Momentum model are navigation through Volvo’s superb portrait-style infotainment screen, remote control of various functions through a smartphone app, auto LED headlamps, a Drive Mode feature offering five engine/chassis settings including an off-road mode, and a 12-inch digital driver’s instrument panel.
R-Design is expected to be the most popular trim and includes both sports suspension and several styling upgrades, but for early buyers the First Edition launch model will be most appealing. It adds close to £5,000 to the cost but also many extras including a tilting glass sunroof, park assist, a premium Harman Kardon sound system and significant extra safety technology.
The XC40 is so new it has not at the time of writing been run into various solid objects as part of the Euro NCAP test programme, but with Volvo’s focus on safety innovation and outstanding results in all its other models, a top five-star result is virtually certain.
The car bristles with the latest safety tech – we are pleased to see that every version comes as standard with the City Safety pack that includes autonomous emergency braking as well as a lane-keeper and road sign and driver alert aids. Only the fact that some of the most impressive technology is on the options list prevents us giving the car a top 10-point safety score.
These options are combined into an ‘Intellisafe Pro’ pack, costing £1,400 and including the Pilot Assist system that autonomously steers the car, BLIS blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control and a cross-traffic alert with auto braking. This pack does come as standard on the First Edition launch model.
Inside the Volvo XC40
Remember when Volvo interiors were plain irritating, especially the centre console with its full alphabet’s worth of buttons? Those times seem a very long ago. The XC40 is very well screwed together with a layout that is minimalist, stylish – just cool, basically.
Particularly good is the driver’s environment. Every car gets a digital instrument display on a 12-inch screen and the latest incarnation of Volvo’s oh-so-good portrait-style nine-inch infotainment touchscreen.
The screen takes a little getting used to, but once you do it’s so user-friendly, and offers full connectivity through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, as well as voice activation and the on-call convenience and emergency assistance service.
Our one gripe concerns the graphics of the satnav system. They are simply not as crisp as those offered particularly by VW Group products, while panning out the screen loses the detail of side roads rather earlier than on rivals.
However, if your XC40 is lucky enough to be fitted with the around-view parking monitor (standard on the First Edition, otherwise part of the £1,600 Xenium pack that also includes the sunroof and automatic parking), this is pure witchcraft. On screen appears a crisp view of the car, but seemingly filmed from 20 feet above it, making inch-perfect parking a doddle.
Interior space is competitive with the opposition. The XC40 is longer and wider than several of its rivals and this translates to good space within for four adults, five at a push.
A range of clever touches adds to the appeal – for example, if you want to go beyond the standard 480-litre boot space by removing the parcel shelf, there’s a space to stow it under the floor. Moving the speakers from the doors has freed up cavernous storage pockets, while even the glovebox includes a curry hook – a small point, but useful nonetheless.
Driving the Volvo XC40
Big news in the powertrain department is the new T3 petrol engine but, unfortunately, supplies of cars with this unit are a little behind the rest, so on the launch event we had to content ourselves with the T4 and T5 petrols and the D4 diesel.
All three engines impress with their flexibility and eagerness, though all three can add a slightly intrusive engine note if pushed hard. However, you don’t really have to push them that hard, because they accelerate briskly and especially with the eight-speed auto transmission, seamlessly up the range.
We remain particularly impressed by the D4 diesel. It is an extremely flexible unit, refined too, and not at the expense of efficiency – plus 55mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of under 140g/km, on an all-wheel-drive model with an auto gearbox, shines above many of the XC40’s rivals.
The XC40 is a supremely comfortable vehicle to travel in – the ride seems angled towards relaxing, smothering bumps and ruts in very effective fashion.
Remarkably, however, such comfort does not evolve into a wallowy performance if one tries to push on through a series of challenging bends. The XC40 remains composed, upright and confidence-inducing, even if the Drive Mode system is set to favour the default comfort setting over a more sporty mode.
To sum up, progress in an XC40 is highly enjoyable, for the driver and their passengers.
The Volvo XC40 starts at £27,905, which buys a front-wheel-drive T3 petrol powered machine in Momentum trim with a manual gearbox. Diesels start at £28,965, all-wheel-drive at £30,405 with the D3. Cheapest First Edition variant is the D4 in AWD form, costing from £39,305.
A major debut with the XC40 is ‘Care by Volvo’ – initially available to customers inside the M25 motorway, the brand calls it a subscription service and it is much more than a contract hire programme.
Inspired by mobile phone contracts, a fixed monthly fee covers rental of the car, servicing, roadside assistance and remarkably, insurance for up to three people aged between 25 and 79 – this last Volvo expects will be particularly attractive to younger drivers.
The car is replaced every 24 months while subscribers also get access to a different Volvo for 14 days a year – perhaps a large estate for the family holiday for example. And Volvo intends to add a range of connected services to the programme.
All of which could be an attractive means to get in what is a highly attractive vehicle. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find aspects of modern Volvos to criticise – each is a step forward in comfort, practicality, style, economy, performance and particularly safety.
The XC40 may be arriving a little late to the premium compact SUV market – but it is going to carve itself a large slice of it.