Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 1, 2018
The family is now complete. With the XC90 at the helm of the hierarchy, and the handsome XC60 filling in the middle gap, it’s the XC40’s job to become the entry-level ticket to the kingdom of safe and luxurious Volvo SUVs. As the smallest SUV in their lineup, the XC40 carries a starting price of $39,500 and slowly creeps up the monetary scale with additional options and aesthetic packages.
The new XC40 is no doubt a stylish little Swede with quirky charm despite its subtle departure from the design language set forth by the XC90. The XC40 appears younger, funkier, and is a bit of the rebel of the group. The optional white roof looks attractive especially with that pastel shimmer of blue paint that they officially call Amazon Blue, but it’s only available on the base Momentum models. Our test car was one trim above, the R-Design ($44,100), replete with black finishes on the roof, grille, and mirror caps, aluminum interior decor, 19-inch wheels, and a sport-tuned chassis, injecting the XC40 with a sporting whiff on top of its contemporary design.
Inside is familiar Volvo territory with a simplistic and clean design. As is the theme for subcompact crossovers, everything is vertical-oriented and positioned upright. The center touchscreen display steals the show with its high definition graphics and slick layout, and is actually the same size used in the larger Volvo models. Those familiar with Volvo’s Orrefors crystal shifter in their T8 Inscription models will notice that the XC40’s is very similar, sans the crystal on every trim except the top-tier Inscription. The shifter action is odd at first: you have to tap down twice to hit D, and tap up twice from there to get to R, always having to step over N. Park remains a dedicated button to reduce confusion.
The rest of the center console is ergonomically sound, with a deep storage cubby above the shifter and a platform within for wireless phone charging, the latter of which constantly reminds me that I should get an iPhone X. And typical of Swedish design, Volvo has added a small-scale trash bin above the center armrest that will swallow a fair amount of rubbish. It’s easy to put garbage in but taking them out is not so easy due to the cumbersome lid. The bin is removable from its slot though, and the top lid can come off after pushing in the latch - definitely a neat and forward-thinking design, and it reminds me of those fold-out cupholders that Saab used to implement.
Thanks to the boxy greenhouse behind the XC40’s B-pillar, headroom for rear occupants is exceptional in this segment. I stand six-feet tall and can sit up straight without worrying about my hair brushing up against the headliner. Great seats too with supportive side bolstering, and cargo room is competitively spacious with the rear seats folded down.
I did discover the inevitable downgrade in material quality compared to the more expensive XC60, though. The XC40 does not come equipped with that punched metal scroll that adjusts the driving modes, or that dapper twist-action start-button. The textures are all different too, like the coarse carpet fabric used on the pocket linings of the door panel. The steering wheel is unique as well with nicely padded leather, but the 9- and 3-o’clock positions have these metal panels that stick out and are un-padded, poking your hand uncomfortably when you grip the spokes.
The Volvo XC40 enters the field with only one powertrain spec dubbed T5 AWD. This formula consists of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder delivers 248 hp and 258 lb-ft through an 8-speed automatic to all four wheels (AWD). Any form of electrification or twin-charging is off the books for now, but this petit powerplant does provide enough grunt to get this zippy XC40 going without much fuss.
Power is good but turbo lag is persistent. Once the boost comes on tap, you can ride the torquey wave and it is quite punchy mid-range past 3,500 rpm. Still, best to plan ahead for overtaking maneuvers. The gearbox disappointingly lugs when manually shifting and when left to its own devices, it isn’t exactly smooth sailing either, resulting in a rather choppy ride through town. This 8-speed definitely needs some fine tuning, as we experienced a much gentler ride in the XC60 T5 that uses the same transmission. It’s not Jeep Compass levels of rough, but not BMW X2 levels of polish either. It rides well though, even on this sport chassis and optional 20-inch wheels (19s are standard), quelling bumps on the road without much drama, adding to its road-trip capabilities. The 18-inch wheels aren’t available on the R-Design and frankly don’t look as appealing but they do ride much softer.
The small stature and miniature footprint of the XC40 lends a hand to driving dynamics, and it behaves nimbly when the roads get curvy. It doesn’t impress us with any sort of driving pleasure like the BMW X2 or MINI Cooper Countryman though, both of which feel more playful and spritely when tackling corners at speed. The steering in the XC40 leaves something to be desired as well - it is light, perhaps too light - and is void of any kind of feedback. It does not progressively weight up as you would expect under heavier rotation either on any of the different driver settings.
Overall, the XC40 slots in at a competitive price range, starting at the Momentum trim ($39,500) with notable standard features like heated front seats, rear view camera, and a power adjustable driver’s seat with memory function. Tack on a few option packages for the heated steering wheel and keyless entry and you’re ringing up mid-$40k, my recommended spec offering the essentials without taking a major hit in the bank. The R-Design is attractive for its aesthetic additions to the sheetmetal and interior, and the Inscription ($46,600) takes the helm with better leather, wood panels, and unique wheels and paint colours, but I personally find the Momentum the best bang for your buck.
The youthful Volvo SUV exudes with charm and style while still keeping the brand’s DNA close to heart, with a heavier emphasis on functionality and safety over performance. It may not be as dynamic or as fun to drive as its luxury subcompact rivals, mainly the BMW X2, but it does offer a good amount of comfort and refinement to justify being at the top of the shortlist. The ergonomically designed cabin, responsive infotainment unit, and spacious rear accomodations only add to the appeal.
Model: 2019 Volvo XC40 R-Design
Paint Type: Crystal White Pearl Metallic
Base Price: $44,100
Price as Tested: $52,575
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,425 / 1,863 / 1,652
Curb weight (kg): 1,682
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 248 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 9.0 / 7.5
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.1
Tires: 20-inch Pirelli