- Published 5 December 2019
- 7 minute read
- By Richard Aucock
The XC40 is the smallest SUV sold by Volvo, a Swedish brand famous for its focus on safety. But today, Volvo isn’t just loved by crash test dummies, and for me the XC40 is the perfect example of its transformation. This is now a modern, cool brand that captures the millennial zeitgeist, and the XC40 is its best-selling SUV, pitched at those who want more than a plain family hatchback.
It is a very likeable car, one that wins favour by looking like the baby version of bigger Volvo SUVs. Its features are exaggerated and it has a chunky, eager appearance. For many, the icing on the cake is the tiny rubber Swedish flag poking from the front passenger-side panel – it’s like a clothing label, and a sign of the character Volvo has injected into the XC40.
In terms of size, although it’s the smallest Volvo, it’s still a bit bigger than something like a Volkswagen Golf. Prices reflect this, too: monthly costs start from around £50 more. But you are getting a lot more car for your money. Small families seeking a stylish car to grow with them will find plenty to like.
Then there’s the fact it offers many of the high-tech features and luxuries found on larger and more expensive Volvos. It feels a cut above to drive, and delivers premium car levels of refinement, along with the impeccable safety credentials of the Volvo brand. The XC40’s appeal is considerable.
Looks, tech and design
Volvo has gone all-out to infuse the XC40 with a youthful feel. The colour choices are bright and distinctive, with options such as Bursting Blue and Fusion Red. A contrasting Ice White roof colour is available, as are six different designs of alloy wheel. Inside, you can even choose ultra-striking Lava Orange carpets on R-Design models. I'm not sure I would, but it's a guaranteed talking point.
Ingeniously, Volvo has designed minimalist door panels, and the orange carpet extends up into them, giving a very contemporary look. The speakers are located high up on the doors, too, so the stowage area at the bottom is enormous.
The XC40 is a roomy car for passengers, with an airy feel in the front and ample space in the rear. The only gripe I could find was a raised section of plastic on the bottom of the front seats: it caught my shins as I relaxed in the rear. The boot is tall, wide and very well-shaped – just made for pushchairs and more.
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Volvo wants owners to tailor bespoke colours, trims and options for their XC40, and packages numerous features together so you can add a bit of personality for a few pounds a month more. Look out for the ‘Pro’ packs, which build upon the standard Momentum, R Design and Inscription model variants with an enormous array of additional equipment. Choosing Pro gives a big saving over buying the options individually.
Mind you, even the regular XC40 has an eye-opening array of standard tech. All models feature a full-colour 12.3-inch driver display, supported by a 9.0-inch centre touchscreen with built-in sat nav. The latter is mounted portrait-style, like in a Tesla. Voice activation is standard, as is Bluetooth phone connectivity and DAB radio, plus each XC40 has Volvo On Call, which communicates with an app on your phone. You can even remotely start your engine, to warm the interior up on cold days. In an emergency, it will automatically call for help.
The one glaring omission from the standard kit list is smartphone pairing via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Volvo believes its systems are good enough, so doesn’t need to give an additional form of connectivity for free. It costs a few pounds a month more if you disagree. The Volvo infotainment system is feature-packed and takes some getting used to, but does arguably give a more well-rounded experience once you’re used to it.
As well as being famous for safety, Volvo is known for its powerful in-car audio systems. Even the basic set-up has eight speakers and puts out 250 watts. The premium Harman Kardon setup is even better, with 13 speakers, a subwoofer, and a 600-watt output. The XC40 is so refined, it is a great place to enjoy outstanding sound quality. I don’t think you’d regret choosing the upgrade.
As for safety, where do I start? The XC40 has standard city braking that will automatically slam on the anchors to avoid pedestrians, cyclists and even large animals, as well as other cars. It can read the white lines on the side of the road and stop you veering off the highway. It has standard LED headlights with auto high beam, and even reads road signs so you always know what speed you should be driving.
Volvo will let you add on Pilot Assist, too. This is its low-level autonomous driving system, and is just a few steps away from fully self-driving cars. Oh, and Intellisafe Surround, with its blind-spot monitoring and auto-brake function if you start reversing out into the path of oncoming traffic, really is like having eyes in the back of your head.
Driving a Volvo XC40 is reassuring because it feels so safe and confident. Front-seat passengers sit up high, on firm and supportive seats (Volvo seats are among the very best in the business, particularly the R-Design items), and the view over the flat, square-edged bonnet is extremely commanding. Your vision forward is almost panoramic, and the large side mirrors are super-useful.
Those jaunty lines in the rear doors of the XC40 do cut off over-shoulder visibility a bit, but all versions get rear parking cameras and there are two reversing camera options, including a clever 360-degree surround-view monitor.
Most XC40s come with an automatic gearbox as standard, which makes driving easier. An electronic parking brake button replaces the handbrake lever, an auto-hold function is also standard: you can release the brake pedal in traffic and the Volvo won’t creep forward until you press the accelerator.
The XC40 is an easy car to handle, thanks to its excellent visibility, but also because the steering feels accurate and fuss-free. I found even the most affordable T3 petrol engine, with the lowest power output, served up more than ample pull and felt effortless at speed. The only thing I did notice was the big alloy wheels and sports suspension of R-Design models could be caught out by city bumps. You’ll have to trade those racy looks if you want a smoother in-town ride.
Want an XC40 that puts out fewer CO2 emissions than regular petrol and diesel models? Try the T5 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid, or wait for the all-electric version, on sale soon.
Cost and economy
Prices for the Volvo XC40 look high on paper, but because it holds its value well, monthly payments aren’t much more expensive than a regular family hatchback – and you’re certainly getting a lot of car for your money.
However, because it’s a bigger and heavier car, it will consume more fuel. Emissions are around 15-20 percent higher than an equally powerful hatchback, and you’ll see a similar reduction in fuel economy. I love SUVs, but there’s no getting away from the fact they’re not as economical as hatchbacks. You’ll pay more in road tax because of those higher CO2 emissions, too.
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A standard T3 with a manual gearbox will return around 37 to 41 miles per gallon (mpg). Choose the automatic and economy drops a fraction, but many will think the extra convenience is worth it. A T4 auto is a little less economical still, while the speedy T5 will only average between 31 and 34mpg.
If you cover a higher mileage, spending more to get a diesel might be worthwhile. A D3 manual could return as much as 51mpg, while the D3 auto and D4 auto generally average around 44 to 47mpg
The economy star is the T5 Twin Engine hybrid: it will travel on electric power, without using a drop of fuel, for up to 28 miles. However, while on-paper it promises more than 100mpg, you’ll only get this if you regularly plug it in and charge the batteries to make the most of that electric drive capability.
The XC40 is proving to be a bit of a smash-hit for Volvo. Its most popular car in Britain right now, insiders have told me the only thing that’s been stopping them from selling more is shortage of supply – customers love it.
It’s easy to see why. The XC40 is a lovely looking SUV, very modern and fresh, and its roomy interior is packed with gadgets. It has the quality appearance of larger and more expensive Volvos, and the way it drives mimics bigger SUVs as well.
Because it’s so popular, demand remains high, which helps keep second-hand values strong. So you might be surprised at how affordable per month this able and talented Volvo can be. My advice is to follow the crowd and take a closer look at this compact SUV. It really is one of the most well-rounded family cars you can buy.
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