Volvo XC40

Chinese-owned Swedish brand’s product-led success continues with this vivacious SUV

YOU know the zeitgeist has shifted when an SUV debuts an all-new platform, well ahead of its traditional hatch and sedan relatives. And so it proves with the Volvo XC40 – Sweden’s more compact follow-up to the COTY-winning XC60.

SPECS

34 McLAREN SENNA

38 JAGUAR E-PACE

40 RANGE ROVER SPORT SVR

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

Freshly minted in almost every area, while carrying over Volvo’s finest assets (namely powertrain and multimedia systems), this immensely likeable SUV should be making the Germans secondguess their priorities.

Stylistically differentiated from other Volvos while retaining the brand’s trademark grille shape and ‘Thor’s hammer’ headlight signature, the XC40 is chunky and fun. Measuring just 4425mm long yet riding on a leggy 2702mm wheelbase, with a body that swells by 40mm towards the rear to give it a buff stance, Volvo’s Senior Vice President of Design, Robin Page, likens the XC40 to a Prada trainer – “expensive, modern, and more playful in character [than its larger siblings]” – which, if your XC40 T5 Momentum is painted Amazon Blue with a white roof like our test car, doesn’t sound like too much airy-fairy designer talk.

Packaging the XC40 broad and tall has reaped substantial reward inside. Front seat comfort rivals larger Volvos for excellence of support, yet slender backrests help deliver baby Tardis-like rear foot- and leg-room, even for sixplus footers. The rear seat itself is decent, too, with good vision and surprising under-thigh support, despite a relatively short cushion.

The rear backrests fold dead flat (either via latches at the top or power-operated buttons in the boot) while the cargo hold measures 460 litres (if you count the underfloor storage), configurable via a floor that concertinas mid-way to prevent your shopping from up-ending, exposing three ‘takeaway’ hooks along its upper edge. A removable centre bin, fold-out takeaway hook from the glovebox, a rubberlined storage drawer under the driver’s seat, and relocating the lower front door speakers to inside the instrument panel for greater door-bin room all score a great big tick for utility.

It has taken all the talent and Scando suaveness of the XC60 and run with it

Two models grace Aussie showrooms – Momentum and R-Design, in either T5 petrol or D4 diesel guises, with value-focused Launch Editions offered for each – though only the sporty R-Design offers optional Lava Orange carpet (made from 97 percent recycled plastic). And only the Momentum offers ’60s-retro Amazon Blue paint with a white roof.

Indeed, the XC40 cuts a dash colour and trim wise. The Momentum gets amber, blonde, red, and charcoal leather choices, matched to five exterior hues with white roofs or seven plain colours.

There’s minimal choice in the drivetrain department, though both the 182kW/350Nm turbopetrol and 140kW/400Nm turbodiesel 2.0-litre fours, paired to slick eight-speed autos and allwheel drive, head the class for performance. Only petrols were at the Oz launch, the union between engine and chassis proving a delightfully sweet combination.

The XC40 T5 offers genuine grunt – 0-100km/h in 6.5sec is hot-hatch (and BMW X1 xDrive25i) territory – and yet it manages to combine that urge with silky refinement. The R-Design gets steering-wheel paddles while the Momentum relies on the pert little shift knob’s intuitive left-right pulsing for up/down manual shifts (as per old Benz autos).

Curiously, bumping the lever from Park into Drive is a twostage process – it selects neutral first, then D – though I imagine owners would get used to it. Everyone else will be frustrated.

What elevates this delightfully designed bundle of goodness to serious-contender status is its dynamics. While there’s a lack of compression damping in the XC40’s standard suspension set-up (no launch cars were fitted with ‘Four-C’ adaptive dampers), making it more familiar with its front bumps stops over larger hits than it should be, its poised confidence in corners is terrific.

Wearing 235/50R19 Pirelli P Zeros on our test Momentum Launch Edition, its keenness to change direction, its ability to involve its multi-link rear end when turning in, and the newfound feel in this Volvo’s steering place it a cut above the already-impressive XC60.

There’s a noticeable calibration improvement too, with greater finesse in the XC40’s throttle response in Dynamic mode, and its overall steering weighting. Even in Comfort, the XC40 is an amusing car to hustle, belying its 1684kg-plus kerb weight, with the 245/45R20-tyred R-Design raising the grip threshold even further. It’s also quiet, with an admirable lack of sensitivity to road-surface changes.

Pity the Belgian-built XC40 can’t match the precision of a Lexus SUV’s panel fit, though the gap between dashboard’s left-side trim insert and centre stack on our test Momentum was an isolated case. And unless the 13-speaker Harman Kardon stereo is set to driver-focus and its surround-sound effect cranked right up, you can tell the audio staging is completely dashcentric (no lower door speakers, remember, only upper tweeters).

Yet there’s value here. At $52,990, the T5 Momentum Launch Edition mightn’t be cheap, but its kit list is seriously premium (see sidebar). And as we quietly hoped, this CMAplatformed Volvo has taken all the talent and Scando suaveness of the larger XC60 and run with it.

Cool and quirky, yet also clever and capable, the XC40’s packaging is so kick-arse that it’s not merely a strong challenger to the Q2s and X1s of this world, but also a genuine alternative to a flagship Mazda CX-5. And that buys it a ticket to potential greatness.

NATHAN PONCHARD

Ace packaging; strong engines; keen handling and steering; striking style Fixed-damper ride needs finessing; front-drive three-pot models some way off

PLUS & MINUS

XC40 is the first car built on Volvo’s CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform destined to underpin the next-gen V40 hatch, as well as any spin-offs the freshly flush Swedes deem commercially viable (think C30 coupe-hatch and V50 wagon, if they get a green light)

Taking cues from the Swedish flags that appear in the cabins of other Volvos, the XC40 wears its nationalist pride outside, as a rubber tab poking out from the trailing edge of its clamshell bonnet. Other types, such as a rainbow-flag version, are surely on the cards.

R-Designs get black lids and, inside, lush leather/microfibre trim with neat white stitching, while the carpet extends the length of the centre console and right up into the doors.

In Lava Orange, it’s a striking counterpoint to the drab conservatism of all-charcoal.

Launch project

Both XC40 trim levels will be offered in Launch Edition guises. The $53K T5 Momentum ($3K more for the diesel) adds 10 grand worth of kit for just $5000 extra, including a big glass sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, adaptive cruise with (effective) Pilot Assist, Harman Kardon audio, heated front seats, power rear backrests, diamondcut 19s, 360-degree camera, keyless entry that includes the tailgate, full ambient cabin lighting, an electric front passenger seat and leather trim – placing it dead-level (or better) with top-spec Japanese medium SUVs. The R-Design Launch Edition starts at $56,740.

OR TRY THESE...

FORTUNE COOKIE 01

LIVE TO PRIDE 02

LAVA LOVER 03

BMW X1 xDrive20i

$54,600

Narrower, lower and shorter in wheelbase than the Volvo, the front-drive X1 is a great handler spoiled by its ride. To get AWD and XC40 T5-matching grunt, you’ll need to spend over $60K on a 25i.

Jaguar E-Pace

P250 $50,150

The cheery E-Pace may look like a pastiche of Jag styling cues but it handles and steers like a proper one. The 183kW P250 is slower to 100km/h than the XC40 T5 (7.0sec) and nowhere near as well-kitted.