Premium Funk

2019 Volvo XC40 Review: The Best Compact SUV You Can Buy


December 14, 2017 Reviews : Behind the Wheel By Photo by NIck Caruso
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Volvo has introduced the (XC40 $39,500, base) as their first foray into the already full compact SUV segment. Its design is at once a departure from current brand styling and obviously related to other cars in the lineup; Volvo refers to the XC40 as a “cousin” to its other SUVs rather than a direct descendant. It is “designed for the city,” says Volvo, by 31-year-old designer Ian Kettle and exemplifies a “rugged personality but a modern, product-inspired aesthetic.” The XC40’s focus is on liveability and usability: there are ample, “smart storage solutions” throughout. Volvo is introducing its subscription-based ownership model, Care By Volvo, with the XC40. The XC40 will be available starting in the spring in AWD trim with a turbocharged inline-four and a somewhat less expensive ($33,200 MSRP) front-wheel-drive option with a less powerful engine arriving soon after.

Verdict:

If you love old-school Volvo funkiness and driving fun, you will love this car. The all-new XC40 compact SUV is currently the best and most impressive option in this competitive segment and should be considered as competition to wagons and many sedans as well. While there is a general expectation that small, relatively inexpensive vehicles are compromises, this is not the case with the XC40: it truly feels as premium as any other modern Volvo product. I drove the XC40 on highways and roads in and around Barcelona and towns overlooking Montserrat, and it feels just as at home in the country as it does on city streets. It’s been designed from the ground up with new styling language that works very well inside and out, and both its usability and driveability are top-notch. It’s a very good-looking, fun-to-drive, practical, premium compact SUV with all the features you need — and would want — in a vehicle.

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Specs

Engine: 2.0-L turbo 4-cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 248 horsepower
Torque: 258 lb-ft
0-60: 6.2 seconds
Weight: 3,621 lbs
Price (MSRP): $37,700

Pedestrians and other drivers notice the XC40 (I received one particularly memorable, massive and smiley thumbs up from a Ford Focus driver) since it’s quite distinctive, even in metropolitan Spain amid other decidedly Euro-styled vehicles. What strikes me most about the car is that it is wholly satisfying, from its drive experience to its styling, to its technology and back again. The allure of Volvo, in general, has always been that the company understands exactly what drivers and driving enthusiasts want and need out of a car, perhaps better than we do ourselves. Volvos usually cost less money (base price) than competitors, yet customers are rewarded with better styling, more safety features, clever, powerful engines and great driving dynamics. There is, for instance, a bounty of tech and convenience and luxury features in the XC40; I like — and used — it all, but not wanting for anything more (except ventilated seats).

The Good:

The XC40 is massively fun to drive — it isn’t exactly a sports car but is still a blast to shuffle around tight turns, which it handles with no excess drama. The 248-horsepower turbo four-cylinder engine in my test vehicle revs excitedly, and the turbo whoosh is loud in a fun, pleasant way. The paddle shifters, often disappointingly sluggish on non-sports cars, shift very quickly, providing a lot of control and fun on mountain roads, especially with the Dynamic drive mode selected. The steering wheel is small, thick and taut; where I found the larger XC60 crossover’s steering dynamics to be loose and unpleasant, the XC40’s road feel and steering dynamics are exactly what I hoped the would be. (Read: why I think a sporty car is always a better car.)

Fit and finish on the exterior is great — I wasn’t sure I’d be too keen on the styling at first, but I immediately changed my mind upon seeing the car in person. Materials inside are great: nearly every touchable surface feels quite premium. The sunroof is large, the seats are simple, yet quite comfortable, and it’s very quiet inside. The smaller details often matter most, and in the XC40 they are quite impressive. What’s especially nice is the massive, frameless rearview mirror. There’s an integrated trash can in the center armrest; there’s also a small clip on the glovebox, ostensibly to “hold your takeout bags,” per Volvo; the door storage is large enough to hold a laptop since the traditional door-mounted speaker has been moved up behind the steering wheel. The overall exterior design is fresh and funky: the roof is either black or white; body panels line up at unexpected right angles; the grille, like the many scalloped body panels, is concave; there’s even a little rubber Swedish flag sticking out of the hood.

Technology is on par with the rest of the Volvo range: the touchscreen infotainment system is intuitive. It’s clearly laid out, with super crisp graphics with no massive menus or sub menus to stumble through. Yet many vehicle functions are left to physical buttons, which is a massively good idea. (For instance, cutting-edge Tesla’s single screen control center is innovative but unsatisfying.) However, there is no Bowers & Wilkins sound system, like in the XC40’s “cousins,” but a very fine Harmon Kardon stereo delivers the jams.

Who It’s For:

The XC40 is for city-dwellers or city-adjacent folks who want an approachable, premium car that can handle most any task without being excessive: an elevated take on a very desirably-sized and outfitted vehicle. It’s priced extremely well for what’s on offer when styling, design, technology, comfort, usability and performance are considered. In fact, I found myself considering a purchase, as I think this would be the perfect car for my Brooklyn-living, car enthusiast lifestyle. I don’t get that feeling about new cars very often at all. On the same token, the car would do equally well for my midwestern-suburbia-dwelling parents.

Watch Out For:

The interior trim in my test vehicle, which looks textured, isn’t; it’s just painted that way and can be confusing or disappointing to touch. But there are other trims that don’t feature faux patterns. The “knurling” on the main volume knob is a cheap, chintzy plastic; while the backs of the shift paddles are nicely rubberized, the fronts are cheap plastic. (To my knowledge, that’s the extent of cheap plastic.) I found shifting the transmission was also annoying: to move between Drive and Reverse, you have to first pause after selecting Neutral as a middle step. Moreover, in what is otherwise a really neat interior, the actual shift knob itlsef is too stubby and small for my taste. The felty carpet that covers a large amount of interior space seems very tough; still, I worried that it may eventually (years and years down the road) become matted or threadbare. Lastly, the XC40 doesn’t feature the drive mode selector or start/stop knob on the middle console like its other “cousins” the V90, S90 or XC60; both buttons are instead on the dashboard.

Alternatives:

The XC40 is a completely new entrant in the compact SUV segment, which is populated by other vehicles like the Subaru Forester ($22,595), BMW X1 ($34,745), Lexus NX ($36,280) and the also-new Jaguar E-Pace ($39,595).

Pro Tip:

Double down on the Premium Funk (I’m coining this — your move, Volvo) aesthetic and opt for the R Design trim, which I drove (pictured here). It performs better than the case model, for one — stiffer dampers make the ride generally sporty — but styling cues throughout will please anyone who wants something that stands out. Especially of note is the “orange lava” carpet option, which I thought I’d hate but ended up absolutely loving.

Also, check out the Care By Volvo ownership subscription, a contract that lasts for 24 months at a time. “Everything but gas” is paid for at a minimum $600 per month rate: insurance, maintenance and 15,000 miles annually. Buy online and your car is ready within a week. After 12 months, you have the option to change or upgrade your vehicle; currently only available with XC40.

Other reviews:

Motor Trend: “All of this is carefully planned to steer upscale millennial buyers away from the established players and into Volvo’s open embrace.”
CNET/ : “Cars take a long time to develop, and despite the XC40 starting its life back in 2013, the design looks fresh.”
Top Gear: “Volvo has made something nicely distinctive here. It’d be impressive even if they’d been practicing for years.”

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