Since its spectacular reorganization, Volvo has been hitting them out of the park, one after another. An early success was the large XC90, named best in its category by several different automotive publications and seducer of many consumers here and elsewhere. Followed the XC60, which largely borrowed the same design and technical elements as its larger sibling. It too won over journalists and car buyers alike.
Neither of these models, however, competes in a market segment that has been in constant growth in the past five years: luxury compact SUVs. Virtually non-existent as a category just a decade ago, it has been steadily gobbling up market share.
For Volvo, this segment is a no-brainer, like a lazy fastball right into its wheelhouse. The company first unveiled the 2019 XC40 last fall. Logic may have dictated that it follow in the footsteps of its Volvo linemates, but that would have been a mistake. This new model is, according to the automaker, an essentially urban vehicle also well-suited to weekend outings in the mountains or to the cottage. At the same time, it possesses all the qualities of an off-road-ready SUV, notably due to the presence of Volvo’s proven all-wheel drive system and the highest ground clearance of any model in its class.
None of that makes it a model radically different than rival small luxury SUVs. Instead, where it truly blazes its own way is in terms of design.
A unique silhouette
From the first glance, this is immediately identifiable as a Volvo, due mainly to that distinctive front grille, the Thor’s Hammer-style headlights and the unique taillights. The XC40 also sports sculpted lines on its lower flanks, a rear hatch featuring an imposing deflector and side windows that rises upwards in the direction of the rear pillar. Even in the densest traffic this car is impossible to miss!
That said, the interior is where things get spectacular. The uniquely-designed instrument panel respects the reference points found in all Volvo models, but with an undeniable touch of originality. Volvo engineers kept the 9-inch vertical data screen, while the indicator dials are arrayed on a 12.3-inch horizontal screen directly in front of the driver. The steering wheel is pleasant to grip and integrates several commands.
The finishing inside the XC40 is excellent, the quality of the materials beyond reproach, and the styling surpasses what you get in most competing models. As well, storage spaces abound. For example, the audio system’s woofers have been removed from the front doors and integrated into the firewall above the instrument panel, thus allowing for larger storage spaces. The top of the armrest lifts up to reveal an impressively big storage compartment, with room even for a small waste bin. Another detail I liked was the retractable mobile hook in the glove compartment, which can be deployed in one single move to hang a handbag or grocery bag, for example. As for the trunk, it’s one of the largest in the segment, and it features a flexible floor that allows for storing objects in a separate, closed-off compartment.
Also worth noting is the quality and comfort of the front seats, as well as the rear-row roominess that means even taller adults can settle in there in comfort.
Tried and true mechanics
In the past several models it has produced, Volvo has gone exclusively with 4-cylinder engines. Their output varies depending on the use or not of a turbocharger, displacement compressor or combination of the two. The 2019 Volvo XC40 comes with a 187-hp T4, which can be replaced with a 248-hp T5. Each is wedded to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The XC40 is based on the CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform, which is actually a smaller version of the SPA platform underpinning the 60 and 90 models. This similarity allows for using the same drivetrain and several other mechanical components. In the XC40, the front suspension is a McPherson type, while in the rear, Volvo’s engineers opted for a multi-link, trailing-arm system. Take note that a plug-in hybrid version is scheduled as well.
Unsurprisingly, given that we’re talking about a Volvo, safety elements are many and state-of-the-art.
A precision tool
A common complaint with these compact versions of luxury SUV models is that they don’t always deliver convincing road handling or perform in homogenous fashion. Some suffer from mediocre driving dynamics, while others skimp on their interior. Not only is the Volvo XC40 blessed with refined exterior styling, its interior is luxurious and impeccably finished; what’s more, the ergonomics have a thing or two to teach rival models.
During the media launch of the XC40, we were able to try the T5 models only, as the T4s are not scheduled to be ready until later in 2018. The first thing that impressed me was the exceptional comfort of the suspension in relation to the road grip the car delivered, which proves that it doesn’t take rock-hard shocks to be able to corner at speed. As well, the driver can choose between four drive modes: Comfort (default mode), Eco, Dynamic and Individual.
Whichever mode you choose, the vehicle behaves sanely on the road, while the engine acquits itself well, even if some may find its 2.0L cylinder capacity kind of modest. According to Volvo, 0-100 km/h acceleration takes just under seven seconds in the XC40 (the T4 version, we’re told, takes just one second longer to hit the century mark).
Despite a relatively high ground clearance and a suspension that is at least partially configured for driving on rough terrain, the XC40 is quite nimble and stable in corners, while its electric power assisted steering doesn’t feel too, well, assisted.
The Volvo XC40, in short
This is a small vehicle with lots to offer, and it should find its niche and then some on the market in Canada. Part of the reason for that may well be its aggressive price point: its $39,500 starting price is one of the most competitive in its class. What’s more, Volvo is proposing a new model for acquiring the XC40 in addition to leasing or buying. Consumers can choose a monthly membership-type package that covers all costs, including insurance, for a period of up to two years.
Everything appears to be in place to enable this newcomer to find its way to the top of its category in terms of sales.