Why isn’t the XC40 just yet another compact SUV? Here’s our full independent road-test review (of the D4 R-Design AWD)
5 June 2018
It’s easy to become bored pretty quickly when watching shows like Britain’s Got Talent and the X Factor. Until, that is, an act comes on stage and immediately blows away the previous drudgery either through being jaw-dropping awful or uncannily brilliant. Volvo’s baby SUV debut is the latter.
For starters, the Swedes haven’t been lazy and taken the Russian doll route in designing the XC40. While the Thor’s Hammer daytime lights and bold grille at the front plus beautifully detailed L-shape wraparound taillights instantly identify it as a Volvo, the rest of the car’s design helps it stand out from siblings and the crowd alike.
From two-tone paint jobs, sharply-raked rear windows, rugged arch mouldings and the trim name etched into the C-pillar, to its boxy silhouette, squat stance, evocative skid plate, stylised exhaust surrounds and even a Swedish flag delightfully incorporated via a rubber tag on the front wing, Volvo’s studio has done wonders in giving the XC40 a youthful image. We think that its utilitarian but ultra-cool shape even has a whiff of G-Wagen about it. Enough said.
The Volvo family’s best interior features are thankfully present in the XC40’s upmarket cabin, the most obvious being the 12.3-inch tablet-like touchscreen and the minimalist chrome air vents that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bentley. Our R-Design test car was specified with LED-backlit concave Cutting Edge aluminium trim that looks simply fantastic, plus orange ‘Lava’ carpets and door upholstery. Before anyone balks at the notion and reaches for a sick bag or sunglasses, it works really well and ensures that the car is as youthful and edgy inside as it is externally. Building on the work of its larger contemporary forebears, the XC40 banishes every last drop of Volvo’s fuddy-duddy image of yesteryear.
Thoroughly modern, sophisticated, ‘connected’ and rammed full of safety systems plus semi-autonomous technology, it’s got and does everything, although we’re still not sure about having to use the touchscreen to adjust the temperature. The stubby automatic gear selector, chunky steering wheel and various other surfaces are covered in soft leather, the part-nubuck seats are superbly comfortable as expected from the Swedes, and plenty of care has been taken in providing practical features like drawers under the front seats, a removable rubbish bin in the main cubby, a bag hook, a card holder and deceptively sizeable door bins. This thing gives Skoda a run for its money.
Any gripes? Space in the front and rear is very generous indeed but the angle of the rear window somewhat impedes the view out. Proper pockets instead of nets on the seat-backs would be better, the glovebox is too compact and the under-seat electrics are inelegantly visible. The boot’s 460-litre capacity may seem disappointing compared to some rivals but the Tiguan’s headline figures, for example, are misleading because its maximum quoted volume is dependent on the rear seats being slid fully forwards. While the XC40’s rear bench doesn’t slide, there’s no loading lip to hurdle and the boot’s dimensions plus faux floor mean it’s very practical in real life. Aside from the handful of aforementioned minor grumbles, Volvo’s baby SUV is near-perfect on the inside and the seating position is akin to a proper 4x4 rather than a jacked-up hatchback.
Although the forthcoming hybrid and electric variants will whip up plenty of attention and demand, we spent a week with the four-cylinder D4 diesel engine, mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox and underpinned by all-wheel drive. Producing 190PS and 400Nm, it can keep up with comparable rivals in the acceleration and top speed stakes and averages around 40.2mpg after a few hundred miles’ mixed driving, which neatly aligns with Volvo’s anticipated WLTP figures for this XC40 variant and matches EQUA/Emissions Analytics results. Its CO2 output of 133g/km is also acceptable considering the test car wore tasty 21” rims. Volvo’s D4 unit isn’t the smoothest diesel engine around and its distant gruff note is always audible until motorway speeds are reached when it’s replaced by noise from the tyres and reassuringly large wing mirrors. It’s a strangely comforting engine sound, though, and combines with the XC40’s superbly damped suspension and ride dynamics to bestow the car with a lovingly capable feel as a pint-size luxury off-roader albeit with modest AWD ability. Eco mode comes with noticeable throttle lag, while Dynamic sharpens things up but not enough to dazzle. Left in Comfort mode, though, the XC40 is uncannily addictive to drive. Granted, steering feel is unsurprisingly bland but it conquers Britain’s poor roads with ease and corners with confidence.
As the Swedes’ first ever baby SUV, the XC40 leaves no stone unturned and although the other powertrains on offer may be more suitable for many drivers than the D4 AWD tested, Inscription models in particular looking just as stylish outside and in, all benefit from the car’s blend of poise, comfort, practicality and cutting-edge safety and other tech’. Bravo, Volvo.