Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 29, 2020
There’s a lot to like with the Volvo XC40, the smallest vehicle in the Swedish automaker’s lineup. 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 Swedish kingdom of safe and luxurious SUVs. There’s a fully electric variant hitting our shores soon as well, but we’re here to take a look at the more conventional XC40 T5 Inscription instead.
The XC40 takes Volvo’s current design language - set forth by the XC90 - in a more youthful and chic direction, but without appearing like just a shrunken down toy. They have birthed new shoulders and rooflines in an effort to give it a more utilitarian look than the rivaling BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Range Rover Evoque, and Lexus UX. The top-end Inscription trim also adds some exterior goodies like a unique front grill with chrome vertical slats, 18-inch wheels (optional 19s and 20s), a crystal gear shift knob made by Orrefors (think of it like a Swedish Swarovski), and wood panel inlays.
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 XC60. The rest of the cabin is slightly different from its siblings, though. The start button and drive mode scroll aren’t positioned in the center console anymore, and have been relocated to more conventional locations on the center stack. There’s even a deep storage cubby above the shifter and a platform within for wireless phone charging. And typical of Swedish design - perhaps they predicted the pandemic - Volvo has added a small trash bin above the center armrest that will swallow a fair amount of rubbish, handy for temporarily stowing away used masks, gloves, and wipes. The bin is removable from its slot and easily washed too, definitely a neat and forward-thinking design. It’s an innovation that reminds me of those fold-out cup holders that Saab used to implement.
Those familiar with Volvo’s Orrefors crystal shifter in their T8 Inscription models will notice that the XC40’s is very similar. Made of crystal, it brings an upscale vibe to this entry-level premium SUV, and while not substantially sized, it lights up gracefully at night and makes for a welcome cabin centerpiece. Of note, the shifter’s 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 driver confusion.
The XC40 lies on a different platform than its bigger siblings, so its boxier cabin and roomier silhouette feels unique. There’s a great deal of headroom for both front and rear occupants, even for my six-foot self to sit behind my own driving position. That’s rare in this segment - I’m constantly hitting my knees in the GLA and Evoque. The seats are great too, with supportive side bolstering and a very high-up position to take advantage of its expansive front windshield and impressive outward visibility.
The material quality is a step down from the XC60, even on this Inscription trim, but that’s expected. Plastic is more abundant than leather, and the XC40 does not come equipped with the punched metal scroll that adjusts the driving modes, or the dapper twist-action start-button. The textures are different too, like the soft carpet fabric used liberally on the door pocket walls. The steering wheel is nicely padded with leather (and gets piping hot by the way when the heated function is turned on - luckily there are three levels of adjustment), but the airbag cover has an annoying crease running down the middle. It’s not specific to my test vehicle either, as many other owners have reported this issue.
The XC40 only comes in T5 AWD spec, meaning it utilizes a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder to push out 248 hp and 258 lb-ft through an 8-speed automatic to all four wheels. This competitive output provides more than 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 though, you can ride the torque wave and savour its punchy mid-range.
The Polestar Engineered Optimization addition gives the XC40 a zestier attitude, bumping up the horsepower and torque figures by a slight amount. Selecting Polestar Engineered via the drive mode menu spikes up the power delivery, pushes more torque to the rear wheels for better cornering, and holds gears as long as possible to squeeze out every piece of pulp from that turbo-four. This optional add-on also shaves the 0-100 km/h time down from 6.4 to 6.3 seconds. While helpful for certain situations that call for aggressive driving, we suspect most owners won’t find much usable or meaningful benefit out of it.
The XC40 behaves well on the road with the optional 19-inch wheels, wafting about gently and in a composed manner. I’d even say it’s one of the most comfortable (and quietest) in its class. The XC40’s small stature also lends a hand to driving dynamics, and it behaves nimbly when the roads turn sinuous. It’s not a corner carver like the BMW X2 or MINI Countryman by any means, but there is a playful and spritely side to it.
That said, the overly light steering leaves something to be desired. Void of any kind of feedback, it doesn’t progressively weigh up as you would expect under heavier rotation, no matter the drive mode, but we don’t suspect that XC40 owners would mind. Or else they’d be in a Golf GTI. The brakes could also use some work. They’re overly sensitive, springy, and overboosted, making it difficult to modulate a smooth stop. It’s almost hybrid-like in its application, and takes away from the otherwise smooth driving experience.
The Volvo XC40 is beaming with youthful energy while still keeping the brand’s DNA close to heart. There’s a heavier emphasis on chic appeal and interior functionality over performance, but that should appease its intended audience. The XC40 may not be as dynamic or as fun to drive as some of its rivals but it does offer a compelling list of strengths, from its supple ride to ergonomically sound cabin. The friendly infotainment system and spacious rear accommodations only add to its overall appeal.
Model: 2021 Volvo XC40 T5 Inscription
Paint Type: Denim Blue
Base Price: $48,200
Price as Tested: $53,825
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: 10.0 / 7.7 / 9.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.3