Road Test Review – 2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD Inscription – By Carl Malek

It’s no secret that Volvo has had a key void in its utility lineup over the past few years. While models such as the XC90 and XC60 have done a good job meeting the needs of a clientele that demands distinctive Swedish styling and luxury in an upscale wrapper. However, when it comes to addressing the needs of young urban centric buyers that want a good gateway into the brand, there was a noticeable void in its utility lineup. Volvo aims to address this flaw with the introduction of the 2019 Volvo XC40 crossover, which was designed to bring some youthful synergy to the brand. But can the XC40 truly connect with the new generation of buyers that it intends to bring into the Volvo ranks? Or is it a half baked solution to a broader problem?


Handsomely Chiseled and Infused With Elegant Vigor:

When one looks at the Volvo XC40 at a glance, they will discover that the design is actually very handsome, with a number of subtle luxury cues baked right in. Wheras, the bigger XC60 and XC90 prefer to be more conservative with their suit of clothes, the smaller XC40 prefers to let loose, and really draw observers to its presence. When we first met the XC40 last year in Wisconsin, it was in its more athletic R-Dynamic trim, and that particular package features plenty of sporty styling cues. Our tester this time around was the range topping Inscription model, and while this trim brings a more subtle appearance to the XC40, it also allowed our tester to embrace its own unique identity. The 18-inch alloy wheels that are part of the Inscription package look very sharp, and add a bit of modern flair to the XC40’s side profile. Two tone color combinations form a prominent part of the XC40’s color configurator, but our tester arrived with a slick and uniform shade of blue, which was still aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This hue also helped highlight some of the visual differences that separate it from its bigger counterparts, including a relatively small side glass area, as well as several octagonal shaped cutouts in the lower body sides.

The rear styling embodies more traditional Volvo cues, and features vertically shaped taillights, as well as a tastefully stubby rear end. This stubbiness has been emerging in more compact crossovers lately, but we think the Volvo manages to pull it off better than rivals such as the BMW X1, Audi Q3, and even the Mercedes GLA Class. If we were buying an XC40 of our own, the lone item that we would strive for is the addition of two tone paint versus the single color on our tester. Some of the roof and body combinations are very pleasing to look at, and they also work far better with the urban centric design language that Volvo designers were really going for with this vehicle. As it stands, the XC40 is roughly in the middle in the battle of aesthetics, with the XC40 having far more charisma than the GLA, X1, and Q3, but falling a bit short of the E-Pace.


A Compromise Filled Interior:

Wheras the exterior of the XC40 is all about drawing stares, the interior is all about coddling buyers with discreet and clever luxury. The visual options run rampant here too, with vividly hued carpet on the floor and lower doors if you so desire. Our tester arrived with black carpet and contrasting tan elements in its door panels. Not quite as expressive as the shouty canvas we had in our last encounter, but it still is a very modern look that adds to the elegant ambiance. The rest of the cabin is very practical and very roomy, with many controls and switches being within easy reach of the driver. The boxy upright design further enhances the feeling of airiness, and Inscription models like our tester embody a classier appearance, with features such as Driftwood inlays, and a shifter knob that is carved from Orrefors crystal. Choose the bolder R-Dynamic trim, and you are rewarded with metallic inlays, as well as more vivid treatments for the carpet and lower door panels.

The stubby rear end does create a few prominent blind spots, but Volvo engineers wanted to make sure that versatility was not sacrificed for the sake of pure styling. These include a handy divider for the cargo area, a hook that emerges from the glovebox for pesky takeout bags, and even a removable garbage bin with a hinged door that emerges from the center console. The rear cargo area itself is very accommodating, and allows the XC40 to swallow an impressive amount of stuff. Front passengers enjoy commendable amounts of head and legroom, with alot of these virtues extend into the second row. Headroom back there is a bit tight, but it is on par with others in the segment.


However, amid all of these impressive details, there are two prominent offenders that irked us during our time with the XC40. The first is the Sensus Connect infotainment system. Many of the XC40’s features are controlled from this brightly lit 9.0 inch touchscreen (a few redundant hard buttons are present for more basic functions.) While many of the key menus are intuitively arraigned, overall system usability is a mixed bag, with the submenus featuring icons that are too small to see at a glance, and notable lag between inputs. Going back to the home menu is also a chore, and requires several inputs before the system eventually bounces you there. We hope Volvo can eventually fix some of these issues, especially since the screen does a good job of meshing nicely with the center console.

The other annoyance was the shifter itself. While its aesthetic beauty is something we will give it plenty of praise for, the basic operation here is very terrible, with the shifter forcing drivers to move it two times in the corresponding direction to engage Drive or Reverse. It functions like a double tap, and if you miss the second tap, the transmission will stay in neutral. Moving the XC40 from an angled driveway adds turning off the electronic parking brake to the list of steps needed to get moving, and its certainly more of a chore than some of the other shifters used by a few of its rivals. You eventually get used to it (as a group of passionate XC40 owners mentioned when bombarding my Youtube channel with comments on a video I did on the subject,) but for a brand that likes to tout itself as being focused on safety, we hope that Volvo engineers will eventually revise this clunky operating procedure to help remove some of the frustration.


Sensible Four Cylinder Performance:

Under the hood of every XC40 is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder that is good for either 184 horsepower or a healthier 248 horsepower depending on the tune. Dubbed T4 and T5 respectively, our T5 equipped example features standard all-wheel drive, and this allowed our tester to make the sprint to 60 mph in a brisk 6.3 seconds. An eight speed automatic transmission is the sole choice available, and our misgivings about the shifter aside, the unit does a good job delivering smooth gear changes, with very minimal delay and gear hunting. Our lone complaint about the setup is how coarse the engine sounded when we placed under full throttle, but when allowed to cruise at freeway speeds, the engine is very quiet, and is more refined than some of the powerplants wielded by its rivals. Typically, good towing capacity is something that many subcompact luxury crossovers are not known for, but the Volvo’s 3,500 lb limit is certainly a very welcoming anomaly in the segment, and that should please buyers that might tow a kayak or even a light trailer when out on vacation.


Handling in our tester is about the middle of the road when it comes to driving excitement. While the BMW and the Mercedes will undoubtedly be the more engaging duo to take down a twisty road, the XC40 manages to still make a very respectable case for itself. Our tester felt very eager and playful thanks to light steering that still felt sharp and responsive even when engaging in very tight turns. Ride quality was also very supple thanks in part to the smaller 18-inch wheels that adorned our tester. Opt for the bigger 20-inch wheels, and you will lose some ride comfort to balance out the higher levels of style that they provide. Even some of the more pockmarked roads on our driving route did little to upset the spunky Volvo, especially when a blast of snowy weather blew through the state during our trip to Lansing.


Value Quotient:

Pricing for the 2019 Volvo XC40 is highly reflective of the young buying public that the XC40 is eager to please, with the base Momentum model starting at $33,700. This of course is with the base 184 horsepower turbo four and front wheel drive, with the more powerful engine tune and all-wheel drive forcing buyers to shell out $35,700. Meanwhile, sport focused R-Design T5s feature a base price of $38,200 for all-wheel drive grade examples, with front wheel drive versions coming in at a slightly lighter $36,200. This pricing puts it in line with some of its luxury compact CUV rivals including the Mercedes GLA and the BMW X1. The Infiniti QX50 has a lower base price of $30,150, but that model is also related to the GLA, and as such, makes some of the same compromises as its Germanic counterpart.

However for those that crave more opulence in their distinctively Swedish purchase, the range topping Inscription variant is for you. Pricing here reflects the higher levels of luxury and equipment that you get, with the Inscription package representing a $4,550 premium on a standard XC40. Our Inscription AWD tester arrived loaded to the gills with options, and when the dust settled, our car had a final MSRP of $46,290. This is not cheap, with some of the notable contributors on the options sheet including the $1,000 Four-C Active Chassis system, the $1,100 Vision Package, as well as the $995 destination fee.

If we were purchasing an XC40 for our garage, we would actually skip the Inscription model, and instead opt for the mid-level R-Design trim, which boasts a slightly lower base MSRP, and is better in tune with the youthful vibes that it tries to incapsulate in its flanks. The R-Design also flows more in line with the pricing that defines some of its rivals, and while the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3 may offer more driving sizzle for your buying dollar, there is no denying that the cheeky XC40 in this guise wins points for its distinctive character, Swedish inspired simplicity, as well as its turbocharged punch.

But what if your the type that holds your nose in the air at a traditional buying experience, and wants something a bit more focused on matching your on the go lifestyle. Volvo has you covered, and is one of the first in the industry to launch a vehicle subscription service. Dubbed “Care by Volvo,” the service bundles a lot of the necessities that buyers want into one cohesive package, with insurance, maintenance, and even a basic warranty all included. Volvo also lets you upgrade to a new Volvo every 12 months. The key catch here is that Inscription models are not part of the deal, with Momentum and R-Design subscription packages starting at $700 and $800 a month respectively.


When summed up for what it is, the 2019 Volvo XC40 may not seem like a standout entry, but it’s a youthful offering that brings a number of new touches to Volvo consumers, and look for the novel subscription service to force many of its rivals to follow suit to try and match the Volvo’s varied bag of tricks.