What is it?
A new and significant engine for the chirpy, universally well-received Volvo XC40 compact SUV.
The entry-level petrol version (T3) is one of three new motors just added to the XC40 range, alongside the 148bhp diesel (D3) and 187bhp petrol (T4). It’s the first three-cylinder Volvo engine offered in the company’s near-century of manufacturing history.
The 1.5-litre, directly injected turbo petrol engine is Volvo’s three-pot extension of its Drive-E modular engine family. Producing 154bhp and 195lb ft of torque, it puts the entry-level XC40 in a fairly strong position on paper, in terms of peak power and torque outputs, compared with its nearest rivals.
But apart from one version of the D3, the T3 is also the only XC40 currently available for a list price of less than £30,000; and that’s partly because, alongside the new engines, Volvo has also fleshed out the range to include the lower-end Momentum and Inscription trim levels.
For now, the T3 is only available in combination with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, although an eight-speed automatic transmission will be offered later. On-demand four-wheel drive is available as an option on D3 and comes as standard on the D4, T4 and T5.
What's it like?
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.