Elegant but practical but Volvo XC40 battles rivals in compact SUV market
Tom Wiltshire reports
Volvo's XC40 has been around for two years, but now there's a hybrid - and an electric version is on its way.
What is it?
The XC40 is Volvo's compact SUV - and note the company calls it an SUV, not a crossover. With high ground clearance, four-wheel drive available across the range and 'the proportions of an SUV', this is less of a jacked-up hatchback and more of a scaled-down XC60.
The baby of the Volvo SUV range is also the brand's first entrant into this massively popular market sector and with its fashion-led design, aims straight at the heart of the territory the Range Rover Evoque has occupied so well.
It's not just the Evoque that the XC40 has to compete against, though - the Jaguar E-Pace is a strong contender, as are established models like the Audi Q2, BMW X1 and Lexus NX.
The XC40 itself is reasonably new, unveiled at the end of 2017, with sales fully hitting their stride in 2018 with a variety of petrol and diesel engines.
For 2019 a new version was added, the XC40 T5 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid. And next year an all-electric version will land: the XC40 Recharge.
The XC40 sits upon a brand-new platform that underpins several future models of the Swedish firm's range.
Called CMA (Compact Modular Architecture), it allows Volvo, as we've seen, to offer the XC40 with not just traditional petrol and diesel engines, but hybrid and pure electric powertrains.
Occupying a market sector the firm hasn't entered before, the XC40 was by definition all-new, though items have been borrowed from across Volvo's range of 60 and 90 series cars.
Volvo's also using the XC40 to launch a new way of owning your car.
Named Care by Volvo, it's more akin to a phone contract than a standard PCP or contract hire - owners pay Volvo a monthly fee which covers ownership of the vehicle and almost every other expense - tax, maintenance, and insurance.
It also allows users to 'borrow' a larger car for up to 14 days a year - handy if your holiday baggage overflows the boot of your XC40.
What's under the bonnet?
We had the opportunity to sample both T5 petrol and D4 diesel models, both mated to eight-speed automatic gearboxes.
The 2.0-litre petrol, though smooth and powerful, is noisy when pressed, and with high fuel consumption it's unlikely to be a big seller.
Instead, Volvo expected the bulk of sales to come from diesel models, at least until the hybrid and electric get into their stride.
Though grumbly at low speeds, the diesel engine soon quiets down at a cruise, and with 187bhp on tap it has more than enough shove for cutthroat city driving or long motorway journeys.
There are now lower-powered engines - in the form of a 148bhp D3 diesel and 154bhp and 187bhp T3 petrols.
All but T3 and D3 engines are offered with standard all-wheel drive and eight-speed autos - lower powered engines get front-wheel drive and six-speed manual gearboxes.
The hybrid is newly-launched just last month, and features a 180hp 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine together with an 82hp electric motor.
It's available in higher-spec versions of the XC40: R-Design, R-Design Pro, Inscription and Inscription Pro. On-the-road prices are from £40,905 for the R-Design.
What's it like to drive?
The driving dynamics have been tuned to match the relaxed nature of the Volvo's interior. Ride comfort is excellent, even on the optional 19-inch wheels of our test car.
Those large alloys do impede the ride around town though, noticeable over potholes or speed bumps - whether they're worth the upgrade will depend on how you value looks.
The XC40 is composed in corners and despite the cushioned ride, body roll is well controlled, especially with the tighter sports chassis of R-Design trim cars. However, even in this guise the XC40 is no sports car.
How does it look?
No compact SUV could reasonably be called a design triumph, but the XC40 is arguably one of the best of the bunch. Neat proportions give it a pleasingly rugged stance, and it's chock-full of neat detailing inside and out, like the tiny Swedish flag adornment on the corner of the bonnet.
Volvo's bold corporate grille dominates the front, flanked by eye-catching 'Thor's Hammer' LED daytime running lights. Standard LED headlights ensure even base-spec Momentum cars look premium.
In keeping with the fashion-conscious buyers Volvo is hoping to attract, the XC40 is available with a wide array of paint colours including dual-tone combinations. Stylish alloy wheel designs stand out from the crowd too - but if you'd prefer to blend in, it's possible to spec a solid colour and standard wheels. The car looks good either way.
What's it like inside?
Step into an XC40 from a Range Rover Evoque and you'll be floored. The Volvo's interior is a genuinely lovely place to be, with great-quality materials and superbly comfortable seats even on base-spec cars.
The centre console is arranged around Volvo's nine-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen infotainment system. It's slick and works well, though the huge number of settings on offer can be baffling at first.
The company's main goal for the XC40's interior was to carve out storage spaces wherever possible - and it's achieved it. Moving the starter button and drive mode selector from the centre console has allowed space for a deeper central cubby and even a removable waste bin, while relocating the door speakers to the dashboard has made way for truly massive door pockets.
There's even a superbly engineered 'curry hook', which folds down from the glovebox to keep your Tikka Masala safely hung up rather than slopping around on the floor.
The clever touches continue in the boot, with a multifunctional false floor that can hide the parcel shelf, hang up bags and keep shopping from rolling around all at the same time.
The boot itself is decently large at 460 litres, while six-footers will be able to sit comfortably in the rear.
What's the spec like?
Equipment levels are impressive. All cars come with LED headlights, navigation and a 12.3-inch digital dial display.
Three trim levels will be on offer in the UK - base-spec Momentum, sporty R-Design and flagship Inscription. Each also gains a 'Pro' variant, aimed at fleet buyers who may want choice equipment without delving into the options list.
R-Design adds leather and Nubuck upholstery, a sports chassis and racy alloy wheels, while Inscription switches aluminium dashboard inserts for wood, adds chrome around the window trim and adds a crystal to the gear knob.
Safety kit is also generous, with autonomous braking capable of detecting vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and even large animals.
Spec the optional Intellisafe Assist pack and you'll benefit from adaptive cruise control with Volvo's brilliant Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system, which takes the sting out of motorway stints.
The XC40 is a breath of fresh air in a market sector that's quickly becoming bloated. It's neat exterior and wonderful interior are sure to earn it admiring glances, and it's every bit as impressive on the road as its main rivals.
Generous standard equipment and a predicted class-leading residual value is great too.