Volvo is on a roll.
For a while, the Swedish brand (owned by Chinese company Geely), was more of a bit player in the premium European segment, trading on a well-earned rep of safety and Swedish sensibility – but not really setting any hearts afire.
Well, all of that has changed. The big spark came from the gorgeous XC90, one of the most handsome big SUV’s, with a to-die-for interior and loads of well-engineered tech. In the always-hungry SUV market it became a huge hit, and it put the brand on the shopping list of loads of BMW, Mercedes and Audi buyers, as well as everything from Honda to Lexus to Cadillac.
A follow up hit to the 90 was the XC60, and much like many manufacturers it was the “Momma Bear” to the XC90’s “Papa Bear”. So now we have the XC40 – aimed at the hottest of the SUV/crossover targets, the premium compact segment.
So, is the new XC40 the “Baby Bear” buyers are expecting?
Well, yes and no. But in a good way. While you wouldn’t blame Volvo for throwing either of the XC’s in hot water and shrinking the results to fit the needs of buyers, they were much more thoughtful and bolder, creating something special – and unique.
Not the Mama
The first look from the front tells you this is definitely a Volvo XC – the prominent grille and “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlights could be no other. But the XC40 trades some of the sleek lines for ones that are more athletic – Volvo has made it clear it wants to attract a more youthful (but still well-heeled) audience. With an available choice of 17 body and color-contrasting roofs across the XC40 line, you’ll be sure to find something that meets your taste from mild to wild.
The R-Design trim would be our choice, with large optional 20” alloy wheels framed beautifully over 8-inches of ride height. Adding to that ruggedness, the R-design also features blacked-out trim, a black roof (on all colors) and black wheel arches and side trim and dual exhaust tips. Our tester looked cool and competent in its Crystal White Metallic.
A small thing, but we loved the optional Swedish flag poking out from the side of the hood. Fun detail!
Inside, is more of the same – there are clear keys this is a Volvo, but also some bold new steps. It still has that clean, minimalist design we love. In front of the driver – behind the fat and sporty R-design wheel – is a 12.3” display, including large renditions of speedo and tach and a central info display. On the center console, a 9” tablet with an intuitive swipe-to-change screen lets you pull up information quickly and easily. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all models.
Our tester had the sweet-sounding, optional 13-speaker, Harmon Kardon Premium sound system. A notable note to impress your friends, the system uses an air-ventilated subwoofer mounted behind the dashboard to free up interior space. Very cool.
Another neat feature, Volvo gives you the ability to share the car with trusted friends and family via a mobile phone app. Super cool.
Along with all the hi-tech, Volvo still is thoughtful enough to put a large volume knob at the bottom of the console. Many thanks…
Swedish furniture is known for its comfort, and the front sport buckets covered in Fine Nappa leather with Nubuck upholstery are as good as any on the market. Those sitting in back find plenty of room – two 6-footers will fit comfortably. Unfortunately, our tester had no massage feature like we’ve found on other Volvo’s but, we didn’t really miss it.
What you might miss is the glossy high-end wood and leather trim we’ve found on other models. Volvo aims the XC40 at a younger, hipper, more active audience. Our R-design was an eye-catcher, with the optional Lava interior carpeting and door trim. Some found it very cool – very mid-century – while others found the color a little searing on the retinas.
Whether or not you choose to dip your toes in lava, you will be impressed with the utility Volvo has put in their smallest SUV. Large door pockets can handle a laptop, an integrated bag hook on the glove box makes for easy quick storage, there’s a handy little trash cubby in the center console, and in back, a customizable cargo area – much like Nissan’s Divide ‘n’ Hide – that gives loads of choices to keep items from rolling around.
So, does the XC40 offer epic performance? Actually, yes – especially in R-design trim. Under the hood of our T5 All-Wheel Drive model is a gutsy 2.0-liter turbo, pumping out an impressive 248 hp. Hooked up to the 8-speed automatic, it’s one of the quickest in its class –especially if you go into Dynamic Mode, which gives quick throttle response and firms things up. If you opt for the T4 with front wheel drive, you get a 184-hp version of the same engine. Even with the AWD and more powerful engine, we got a combined 29 mpg. Very impressive.
This is an all-new chassis, and it feels modern – superbly strong and solid. The handling is excellent, the steering has a light touch, which makes it feel ultra-maneuverable around town. The R-design suspension is firmed up over other models, and it’s fun to toss around on a twisty road – but it’s no rat racer – it is very comfortable, even on bumpy roads. Brake feel and performance is superb.
This is a Volvo, so we should mention all the safety gizmos. Standard City Safety includes pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle and large animal (look out for that moose!) detection with emergency autobrake, as well as available Pilot Assist, Run-off Road protection and mitigation, Cross Traffic alert with brake support, and a 360º Camera that helps maneuver into tight parking spots.
Well, this is a premium product, so don’t expect it to be a competitor to the Hyundai Kona class. That said, the XC starts at a reasonable $33,200 for the 187 hp, Momentum front-drive model.
The R-design starts at $35,700. Going for the more powerful T5 engine and AWD bumps the price to $37,700 – well worth it. Our tester was very nicely equipped, with Premium Package ($900), Vision Package ($1,100), Advanced Package ($995), Heated Seats and Steering Wheel ($750), Metallic Paint ($595), Panoramic Moonroof ($1,200), 20” wheels ($800), 13-speaker Harmon Kardon audio ($800), Lava carpeting ($100) and Destination ($995) for a grand total of $45,925.
And Volvo is also investigating new ways of ownership with “Care by Volvo” an all-inclusive, negotiation-free option that has a national, flat rate monthly fee, combined with the opportunity to upgrade to a new car as early as 12 months. It even includes maintenance and insurance. Very cool.
Competitors include the BMW X2 – $50,705 comparably equipped and the Mercedes GLA at $44,600. So, we say the Volvo is very competitively priced.
In a growing crowd of premium compact SUV’s, the XC40 stands out with its great styling, a comfortable, tasteful, and practical interior, and excellent fun-to-drive road manners. And it’s more than just a shrunken XC60 – it is its own vehicle, and a great one at that.
Papa Bear, Mama Bear, or Baby Bear – we found the superb Volvo XC40 is just right.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.