► Volvo’s first small SUV driven
► Our first Volvo XC40 review
► This or a Q3, Evoque or X1?
Like a Premiership side that’s seeing the benefits of a big investment of foreign cash, Volvo is on great form right now. The range is more attractive and modern than ever before, and nobody feels any need to explain or apologise for being a fan.
But with their new small SUV, the Volvo XC40, the Swedes are going into direct competition with the big boys. This is Volvo’s Champions League moment. It’s going up against cars as good as the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace and Range Rover Evoque. This isn’t a niche where you can get away with appealing to bearded geographers and vegan architects.
This is a fast-growing mainstream global market, where success will be very rewarding but any weakness will result in customers swerving off to the many excellent alternatives. No ifs, no buts, nowhere to hide.
Whatever. What’s the hardware underpinning the new Volvo XC40?
This is the first Volvo on a newly developed platform that’s also going to appear on other Volvos including the next-generation V40 and other products from the family of companies owned by Chinese giant Geely, probably starting with an SUV from Lynk & Co.
The underpinnings are relatively conventional, aside from the fact that they’ve been designed with Volvo’s commitment to an entirely electrified range in mind. There’s no hybrid XC40 just yet, but there will be, and eventually there will be a fully electric version.
It’s a steel monocoque, with the engine mounted transversely in the front, MacPherson strut front suspension, multilink rear, five doors and five seats.
There will be a big choice of engines soon, but initially in the UK we get a 187bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine badged D4 and a 244bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine badged T5. They’re both all-wheel drive with eight-speed automatic transmissions. As other engines arrive, various combinations of manual or automatic and front- or all-wheel drive will be possible.
There will be less powerful fours (T3 is a 154bhp petrol, T4 is a 187bhp petrol; D3 is a 148bhp diesel, D4 is a 187bhp diesel) plus a three-cylinder petrol. The T3 is front-drive only, while the D3 is front- or all-wheel-drive and manual or auto. T4, T5 and D4 are AWD and automatic.
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Volvo XC40 prices, specs: what do you get for your money?
The entry-level XC40 will be a T3 front-drive manual in Momentum trim, priced at £27,905; the line-up extends to about £40,000.
Momentum trim – with horizontal grille slats – gets you a non-leather interior and the option of a white roof and door mirrors. Standard wheels are 18in alloys (with up to 21in available as options), and there’s a good level of comfort and infotainment: three USBs, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, the instruments and portrait touchscreen now familiar from the new XC60 and the 90 family, automatic emergency braking that can detect pedestrians you’ve failed to spot, and Oncoming Lane Mitigation, which warns and if necessary assists you if you seem to be heading for oncoming traffic.
R-Design trim – with vertical slats in the grille – adds sports suspension, 18in diamond-cut alloys, plusher seats, a more leathery interior, twin tailpipes, a black roof and various black external details.
Inscription comes with a powered tailgate, front parking sensors, powered driver’s seat, chrome exterior detailing and driftwood interior inserts.
Each trim level has a Pro sub-level that brings a package of extras. And, to complicate matters further, the first UK cars will be the T5 First Edition and D4 First Edition, which means R-Design Pro spec but with a bit more equipment, including a panoramic sunroof, Pilot Assist (super-smart cruise control), a powered tailgate with hands-free operation, heated rear seats, wireless charging and Harman Kardon audio.
How clever is the new 2018 XC40?
Ish. Where the XC60 and the S/V/XC90 come with nigh-on everything, it’s all scaled back a little for the new XC40. But you still get sat-nav, voice activation and LED headlights as standard, and Volvo On Call, which lets you control various functions from your phone, and can alert the authorities if you prang it into a dyke again.
But (if you don’t snap up a First Edition) you have to turn to the options list to get smartphone integration, wireless phone charging and Pilot Assist semi-autonomous ability (it helps keep you in your lane at up to 80mph, and accelerates and brakes to keep you at the right speed or distance from other traffic).
At times it feels too clever for its own good. The focus on screens at the expense of physical knobs and switches can mean you need to take your eyes off the road to perform what should be simple operations such as adjusting the temperature.
What’s the new Volvo XC40 like to drive?
Where there’s a reasonable expectation of top-notch driving dynamics in the class above this – that’s the XC60, Audi Q5, BMW X3 etc – that doesn’t quite apply to the XC40’s competitors. They’re good but not great.
And in that context, the XC40 works well as an urban-orientated all-rounder with light, easy-to-use steering, compliant suspension and decent body control in the bends.
We’ve driven two versions so far, a D4 Momentum and a T5 R-Design. In both cases, it’s a premium product with an excellent interior that combines fresh style with well-thought-through practicality, and it’s at its best jinking through the traffic or cruising on the open road. It’s not so hot being driven hard on rural roads, where the wobbliness typical of SUVs has you hankering after a decent hatchback, and where the lack of grunt from the engines isn’t helpful.
The rear screen is shallow and the C-pillars massive, and yet the rear view is fine, helped by big and well placed mirrors.
Read our detailed news story about the new Volvo XC40
The ride is comfortable but a bit wallowy, and the steering is trusty and easy but offers little feedback. The T5 is much better than the D4. That’s partly down to the more willing engine, but also down to the R-Design coming with slightly sportier suspension. The less powerful petrol engines don’t seem like a good idea, unless you never go out of town.
What about this fancy Care By Volvo subscription model? Is it a new way of not-buying a Volvo?
The XC40 is the first car available with Volvo’s new Care By Volvo scheme. Watch out for the ifs and buts: it’s only available in some places, on some models. But the idea is an interesting one. You don’t buy the car and nor do you lease it in the familiar sense; instead, you subscribe.
There’s no deposit. You pay £629 a month and get an up-spec XC40, with the tax, insurance and servicing costs all taken care of, which if all goes well will just leave you paying for screenwash, fuel and air in the tyres. And then after 24 months they swap it for a new XC40. The scheme also includes up to 14 days a year in a different Volvo – for instance giving you the chance to go on holiday in a V90.
Care By Volvo could also be extended (at some point in the future, and at extra cost) to get your fuelling, service pick-up and drop-off and even cleaning dealt with by someone on the end of an app.
It’s also possible (but not in the UK yet) to grant selective access to your car to friends and family members, who wouldn’t need a key to use it, just the right code on their phone.
How does it stand up to the competition? The interior is very good, with neat details everywhere, from hooks in the boot to huge door bins up front. There’s decent room for four adults, or two adults and three kids. Dynamically, it doesn’t shine, but that’s par for the class. The exterior is striking but not radical; especially with a contrasting roof, it’s a neat piece of 2017 design work. It feels good to be in, and it will look after you.
How does it fit into the Volvo line-up? It feels appreciably different from the XC60, which is that bit roomier and plusher (and there’s a healthy price difference too). It also makes the V40 feel due for replacement, which it is.
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