It takes a dip of your toe and a rev of that three-cylinder motor to audibly discern its cylinder count; this speaks highly of the job that Volvo has done to smooth out its vibrations at idle. The engine is quiet and smooth at cruising crank speeds, too, coming up with a likeable and enigmatic three-cylinder thrum under load and above 3500rpm.
This is an engine you’ll be working fairly hard fairly regularly, however, since it doesn’t create the sort of torque that effortlessly hauls the XC40 along in the higher gears. The car’s performance feels more than adequate around town and until you hit fifth gear.
It’s no chore to work it hard it, since the engine makes what torque it produces available across a broad range of revs; it stays keen even at high crank speeds, while the shift quality of the car’s six-speed manual 'box is weighty and well-defined. But making brisk progress on the motorway, and overtaking on an A-road, certainly requires more effort and forward planning than in other XC40s.
The need to work an engine this hard brings an inevitable and familiar compromise on real-world fuel economy — and a mildly concerning one, considering that this will be the powerplant adapted to work in Volvo’s smaller forthcoming ‘twin engine’ plug-in hybrid models. Be gentle with the accelerator and moderate with your cruising speed and you’ll see fuel economy of 37-38mpg from this car; if you’re hurrying and using the rev range to its fullest, it can quite easily dip under 30mpg. Which is more like the sort of efficiency we expect from a modern, medium-level hot hatchback than a compact SUV.
A pity that the XC40’s ride and handling are less comparable on the same terms. So far, all of our testing of the model has involved R Design and First Edition trims on sport suspension, which impressed with their creditable balance of compliance, body control and handling poise. Buy a Momentum or Inscription XC40, however, and you get regular springs and passive dampers as standard, with Four-C adaptive dampers available as an option — but not fitted to our test car.
On standard suspension, the XC40 doesn’t quite hit the same sweet dynamic compromise as some of its range mates. Body control, although adequate at town speeds, comes up notably short on the motorway and out of town, where it allows the car to roll to angles bordering on the uncomfortable during faster cornering. More disappointingly, the dampers-controlled suspension rebounds quite poorly, allowing the XC40 to pogo a little over rougher surfaces and also suffer from more head toss than in other derivatives.