The third SUV in Volvo’s line-up completes the Volvo SUV range and it sits bang-on where you’d expect it to: it’s a 4.4-metre-long, high-twenties to 40-grand car that’ll go up against the Audi Q3, the BMW X1 and, now, the Jaguar E-Pace.
Volvo XC40 brings its own style
The XC40 looks like it wants to do things slightly differently to those. Not in its mechanical make-up, necessarily, which is pretty straightforward (more on which in a moment), but at least in its design and ethos.
Not only is it smaller, then, it’s a bit chunkier on the outside, and a bit funkier on the inside, than the more elegant but understated 60 and 90 models, which is a theme you might expect to continue when smaller saloons and estates come on this platform too.
The platform, or architecture, is new. CMA, or compact modular architecture, they call it, and it’s one of two that’ll underpin all Volvos (the 60 and 90 models are on a different one).
Here it is, for the most part, pretty conventional. It’s a steel monocoque, with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, electrically assisted steering, and transverse, front-mounted engines driving front or four wheels.
Initially, all XC40s coming to the UK are four-wheel drive and have automatic gearboxes. You’ll have a choice of a 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine (D4) or a 247bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol (T5). Here, we’ve driven both, you lucky devils.
As for trim levels, UK cars will be available in seven trims ranging from Momentum through to Inscription Pro and First Edition models.
Entry-level Momentum trimmed cars get LED headlights, automatic wipers and lights, rear parking sensors, 18in alloy wheels, cruise control plus a wealth of Volvo’s safety technology fitted as standard. Inside, you will find dual-zone climate control, keyless ignition, electric windows, and Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system complete with a 9.0in portrait touchscreen display, DAB radio, sat nav, and Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
Upgrade to R-Design and the XC40 gains a leather upholstery, LED front fog lights, gloss black exterior trim, a sporty bodykit, sports suspension and electric folding door mirrors, while the range-topping Inscription model gets driftwood interior touches, chrome highlights, ambient interior lighting, a powered tailgate, thick pile floor mats and front parking sensors.
For those craving a touch more luxury can choose the Pro versions of the three previous trims, which adds heated front seats, active bending headlight technology, electrically adjustable driver’s seat and a heated windscreen to a rather comprehensive package.
Those wanting more exclusivity can opt for the First Edition model which comes with heated rear seats and steering wheel, keyless entry, a Harman Kardon stereo system, smartphone integration, wireless phone charger and a host of equipment packs found on the options list.
Getting to grips with the Volvo XC40
Outside? Wilfully different to a) the norm and b) other Volvos, both of which is cool by me. In making it look like a “tough little robot” (apparently) it’s most like, I guess, a Skoda Yeti: happy to be a bit blocky and earnest.
There are neat touches, still; it’s about 25mm wider at the back than the front and there’s a diddy rubber Swedish flag hanging off the side of the bonnet, which is cute.
Likewise inside, there are Volvo themes – the big, horizontal dash line, but here intercepted with bolder details, like novel air vents.
Obviously, perceived material quality is lower than in more expensive XCs, but they’ve done what they can to alleviate that. One is make things a bit funkier to look at but, similarly, cut down the number of mouldings to reduce tooling costs, so the cost spend on each individual switch can be a bit higher. Look at the door card, for example: instead of a multitude of moulds, there’s one and a lot of carpet, or felt. In being unable to afford premium materials everywhere, they’ve been a bit creative, and it has worked.
There’s still fine practicality, mind. The driving position’s good, the Sensus touchscreen remains (for better or worse, mostly better), there’s strong rear seat space and a decent boot, whose floor has built-in bag hooks, revealed if you flip it half-upright. All pleasing stuff.
Getting the XC40 out on the road
To drive, the XC40 continues Volvo’s recent themes more authentically. There’s no great addition of verve or sparkle because this is the smallest Volvo, it remains safe, predictable, but far from unpleasant.
The D4 we tried rode on 19in wheels with 235/50 R19 tyres and Volvo’s standard ‘dynamic’ suspension, while the T5 petrol wore the ‘sport’ dynamic set-up, which has firmer dampers, and it came on 245/45 R20 tyres. There are no individual weights specified but the range is 1684-1733kg, in which you can assume both of these are towards the top end.
The petrol’s a touch lighter, though, and despite its bigger wheels and more dynamic springs, it’s no worse-riding.
In both, there’s a little brittleness around town – nothing you’d complain about – and some lateral shimmy over harsh surface imperfections, but it smoothens out as speed rises.
Motorway comfort is good – though the diesel remains more audible than I think you’d find in its German rivals – and the gearbox shifts cleanly while, on a back road, body lean and roll-rate is tolerable.
Volvo hasn’t tried to contain things too strongly, but neither has it let roll run free. It’s a pretty good compromise in a car that’s meant to be predicable and safe, pleasing but not sporting. And I think it gets the mix about right.
Is the XC40 worth the outlay?
This class isn’t blessed with super-competitive vehicles, which has given Volvo an advantage from the off.
But while some rivals try to retain all of the sporting or dynamic DNA of their saloon or estate sister models, Volvo has been a bit more chilled about how keen the XC40 would like to be.
In being quite practical inside, quite funky both inside and out, and relaxed in its own skin with space allowed for its suspension to breathe, it has retained plenty of the U in SUV. And I rather like it for that.