2018 Volvo XC40 Review
Paul Horrell’s 2018 Volvo XC40 Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL: Volvo enters the small posh SUV market. As usual, it provides a nice cabin, good safety and a relaxed drive
2018 Volvo XC40 AWD (European spec)
PRICE $NA + orc WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km ENGINE turbocharged 2.0l petrol or turbocharged 2.0l diesel POWER petrol 182kW; diesel 140kW TORQUE petrol 350Nm; diesel 400Nm TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto DRIVE all-wheel drive BODY 4425mm (l); 1863mm (w exc mirrors); 2064mm (w inc mirrors); 1652mm (h) TURNING CIRCLE 11.4m WADING DEPTH 450mm GROUND CLEARANCE 211mm TOWING WEIGHT 2100kg (braked), NA (unbraked) KERB WEIGHT petrol 1684kg; diesel 1733kg SEATS 5 FUEL TANK 54 litres SPARE Yes THIRST Petrol 7.1 l/100km; diesel 5.0 7.1 l/100km combined cycle FUEL Petrol; diesel
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THE POSH COMPACT crossover market is gong a bit crazy at the moment. Volvo pitched in with the XC40 at the same time as Jaguar with the E-Pace. And it’s not like there’s a shortage of existing rivals: the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA, Audi Q3 (though that’s getting old), Mazda CX-5, VW Tiguan, Lexus NX… you get the picture.
The XC40 is in some ways a baby brother to the XC60 – it runs engines and transmissions from the company’s existing range, and the same advanced infotainment and safety systems.
The exterior design isn’t just a scaled-down version of the other Volvos. The side window profile and the tail have a character of their own: less conservative, more chunky but not aggressive.
Very soon after launch there will be less powerful versions of these two-litre engines. Volvo has also said the XC40 will later be sold with a three-cylinder engine with mild hybrid boost, as well as a pure-electric version in some countries.
It’s all bolted to a new platform – that means the body structure and suspension. This has been developed in Sweden, but it was paid for jointly by Chinese carmaker Lynk & Co (daft name, yeah) which will use it for its own cars. Lynk & Co is, like Volvo, owned by the conglomerate Geely. This sharing helps keep costs under control.
And by using a new platform, things like the front overhang and suspension could be more compact and lighter and cheaper than if they’d just chopped a chunk out of the middle of the XC60. For instance, the front suspension is MacPherson struts not the double-wishbone of the bigger cars, and the rear has four links per side not five.
What’s the interior like?
In terms of interior space the XC40 doesn’t lose out much to the XC60. It’ll still accommodate a growing family, and their stuff. And do it in style and comfort.
Some of the colour and trim options set a different tone from the subdued Scandinavian matte woods and saddle leathers of the bigger Volvos, or the endless blacks of the Germans. For example, there are options to run the contrast carpet colour up into the doors. One of those colours is a blood-red.
The front seats are superbly supportive, and the driving position puts you comfortably in charge. The steering wheel is relatively small, more so than in the big Volvos, which doesn’t only free up knee room but also helps the vehicle feel more agile under way.
Back seat space is OK for grownups, who can stretch their legs underneath the front seats provided those are raised up a little. Rear benchers get cupholders and vents and lights.
The XC40 uses Volvo’s usual clever rear head restraint setup. When out of use they don’t slide vertically down, but rather fold forward. This means whenever anyone gets into the back, they will always by reflex push the restraints up into the safe position. But when there’s no-one there the driver can hit a touchscreen button and they hinge forward, opening up better vision in the mirror.
The boot’s got a hard parcel shelf, which fits under the floor when you’ve got bigger stuff to carry. The floor itself folds niftily: its centreline lifts upward and locks into place, dividing the boot into two sections, front and rear. That bulkhead’s position, and the fact it has bag hooks built in, helps stop bags of shopping from toppling over and making an impromptu salad all over the carpet.
There are more canny storage ideas. There are no stereo woofers in the doors – they’ve been moved to the under-dash. So the door bins are big enough to take a laptop and a big bottle at once. The console has decent-sized lidded bin specially for litter. That doesn’t only keep things tidy as you go. It lifts out so you can tip the rubbish away when there’s a chance (and we know you’ll do it responsibly).
All XC40s have Volvo’s two-screen layout. One is for the driver’s instruments, with a navigation pictogram between the speedo and rev-counter. That’s useful as there’s no option of a head-up display.
The other, a 9-inch central touchscreen tablet, handles all other functions. Even the climate controls. It’s responsive and the graphics look good, and well-organised in its menus. It’s infra-red sensitive rather than capacitive, which means you can use it wearing gloves (cue: giggle). The system plays nicely with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Its trouble – a big one I think – is that it can take several steps of screen jabbing to get to the function you want, since the menus are very hierarchical. Altering the audio tone is four levels deep into the menus. And always when inputting via a touchscreen your eyes are off the road. If there’s some sort of actual hardware controller and a few buttons your fingers can feel, as with most rivals’ systems, you can do quite a lot by touch alone once you’ve acquired a basic familiarity.
What’s it like on the road?
The world is full of so-called sports crossovers. Some might be fast and grippy, but they’re still mostly failures. For a start, they’re too heavy and tall to be properly sporty. But even more significant than the physics is the philosophy: crossovers are for carrying families and cargo. Drive ‘sportily’ and the kids will be sick and the baggage will fly around.
So the fact that Volvo isn’t capable of making a sensation-rich, agile, sporty car doesn’t matter a bit. Volvo is good at making cars that are relaxing and cosseting, and that’s exactly right for the XC40.
It has a supple suspension that works well in cities and rougher urban roads. On a highway, it settles down and stays stable and solid. If you want a bit more agility, there is an optional sports suspension that buttons down the body movements without spoiling the fundamental ride.
The steering doesn’t have any feedback – nor do many SUVs, even the so-called sporty ones – but it’s accurate and progressive. So it’s easy to swing the XC40 into curves, and make good progress. Don’t assume that because it’s not sporty, it’s untidy. It isn’t. It corners with good grace – and it’s more agile than the bigger XC60 – but it doesn’t egg you on.
It’s just as well the chassis isn’t turning you into a quasi-racer because the engines don’t sound great when you squeeze out the performance. The petrol T5 emits a drab drone rather than an enthusiastic snort for the red-line, and the diesel is a little rattly. In both cases it’s best to rely on the torque in the middle rpm ranges. Things aren’t helped by occasional indecision and jerkiness from eight-speed auto transmission.
I’m comparing it with the best of the rivals’ drivetrains here. Mostly, the BMW X1’s. To be honest, the general standard in this class isn’t very high, so we can forgive the XC40.
Away from surfaced roads, the XC40 should do better than many soft-roaders. It has an off-road mode for the electronics, 211mm ground clearance and decent approach and departure angles.
What about safety features?
There’s no independent crash-test data yet. Also, the XC40 has is an all-new platform, so we can’t even go and look for data on cars with a related body structure, because there aren’t any. However, Volvo’s record on crash safety is industry leading so we can take quite a lot on trust.
The active safety suite is pretty much unique in scope. The car’s camera and radar systems don’t only look out for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians crossing into your path, but large animals too. The car can warn you, and if you don’t get to the brakes the car will eventually do it for you. The same happens if you turn across the path of another vehicle at a junction.
If you drift out of lane into the path of an oncoming vehicle, the XC40 will nudge the steering to drag you back into lane. By the same token, the systems also keep watch that you aren’t running off the road onto the verge or ditch, and again steer you back if this looks like happening.
Of course these systems depend on the car being able to get a good picture of what’s going on around it and so they aren’t infallible, but the background reassurance is good to have.
All these are standard. There’s a further option well worth speccing if you drive a lot of multi-lane highways or ever have to reverse out out onto a road with limited visibility. It includes radar sensors in the rear corners of the car. This warns if you’re changing lane and there’s someone in your blind spot, of if you’re about to reverse into crossing traffic. This system is common across the industry now, but Volvo was one of the first to fit it.
The other big option is Volvo’s ‘pilot assist’ system. This will hold the car in lane, and follow around highway curves, while keeping to your set speed, or the speed or the vehicle in front if that’s slower. Sensibly, Volvo is keen to label this driver support for reducing fatigue, not as semi-autonomous driving. Don’t allow yourself to zone out.
So, what do we think?
The XC40 is an SUV that’ll satisfy in daily use. It doesn’t compromise comfort for superfluous sportiness. It’s a desirable and nicely made object, but it’s practical too.