Alvin Thomas finds an SUV that offers a smorgasbord of style, safety, and comfort.
It’s hard to come up with a plausible explanation as to why one would want a Swedish car over a German or French one – but for some strange reason Volvo’s formula of blending contemporary Swedish style with world-class safety features in its vehicles – has put it on a par with other manufacturers from Europe.
We wouldn’t mind saying that Volvo is currently on a roll now – as has been the case since its takeover by Chinese giants Geely in 2010.
Take our latest tester: the XC40. Pegged by the brand as the baby crossover in the lineup, one would have expected the boffins from Sweden to have skimped on all conceivable fronts but surprisingly they haven’t.
We’re a bit baffled by how comparable it is to its larger siblings – the XC60 and the XC90. For the purposes of impartiality, let’s set aside the larger seven-seater XC90, but we’re hell-bent on this: the XC60 and the XC40 share several similar traits.
Don’t get us wrong: we’re mighty thrilled by how the little cues plucked from the XC60 – the “Thor’s Hammer” headlamps, the three-dimensional grille that sits snugly below the clamshell hood and the busy-looking bumpers with several sharp lines and air inlets – add up to the fetching exterior.
Overall, it’s even sophisticated and classy unlike some of its competitors, which opt for more inane themes when compared to the XC40. Of course, to keep in line with its rivals, Volvo has given the crossover a dual-tone colour scheme.
My tester, for instance, was a combination of solid baby blue and white – two colours that shouldn’t work but do so marvellously for some inexplicable reason.
The posterior of the Volvo is, again, like what you’d find on its larger siblings – neat and functional. But, the slender L-shaped tail lamps and the black plastic on the underside of the bumper can split the audience.
It’s evident that the crossover is designed for a younger demographic – and that’s a fact that reveals itself further when you enter the cabin. The real estate in the room, for starters, is limited when compared with the XC60, but there’s plenty of tech – which we quite liked – to upset the mature audience.
The interior is a fun place to be in; everything is controlled centrally by the large 9-inch (22cm) touchscreen that handles everything from the infotainment to the vehicle functions, and even Volvo’s signature safety features.
The only buttons in place are those under the screen – one that brings up the home screen while the others take care of the volume and track options. There’s also a ‘Drive Mode’ button that allows drivers to change the feel of the car while driving, but more on that later.
Where the XC40 wins is in passenger comfort – even more so than with the XC60 that we tested a while ago. The seats are cushy and supportive in sharp turns, which is a good thing as body roll does creep in while taking sharp corners. Moreover, the driver does get the option to control the lumbar on the seats too, an option that was missing on the passenger seat in our T6 variant. But we’re sure it’s an option you can tick when you’re spec’ing your car.
Space in the rear is admirable, given the dimensions of the car. Rear head and leg room is available and plentiful, and three adults can easily sit behind in comfort on long journeys. However, one should keep in mind that there’s a high central tunnel along the floor.
The XC40’s boot can carry 460 litres, which is comparable to its rivals from Audi and BMW, but the square-shaped opening makes it easy to load and unload goods. We could fit about seven full-size suitcases in the boot during our airport run.
Underneath that sleek clamshell hood lies a 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder turbocharged pot banger that cranks out an admirable 254hp and 350Nms of twist. Turbo lag is kept to a minimum, courtesy a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic, which shifts down smartly to bring the engine back to its power band during high-speed driving.
The all-wheel drive system is intuitive too, vectoring just the right amount of power when you’re hard on the throttle but the engine wheezes out of torque at about 4,000rpm like most turbo engines from Europe. Still, the gearbox – when set in ‘Normal’ mode – doesn’t hold the engine against such high rpms.
Those looking for more performance from the crossover can opt for the more powerful 320hp variant, which reportedly also comes with adaptive suspension. But, even in its base form, we found the XC40 to be spritely, taking corners without much of a fuss; all while maintaining a smooth ride inside.
Our only trepidation was that the XC40 confidence-inspiring chassis can interpret a bit too much eagerness at times leading you to misjudge corners. Still, the ESP system can dial down any understeer that may creep in past the limits of the (Pirelli P Zero) front tyres.
The crossover sits comfortably at speeds of up to 134kph, with noise, vibrations, and harshness kept to a minimum at most times. We were even quite surprised by how efficient the single-glazed windows were in keeping tyre and wind noise down. We’d like the Japanese manufacturers to take a leaf out of Volvo’s book on that.
In true Volvo fashion, the electric steering is overly light at low speeds, with a bit more weight creeping in as you click into higher gears. But more weight is added in the ‘Sport’ mode. Feedback – as expected – is still non-existent.
The brakes are not just strong – they’re Volvo strong, and the pedals feel progressive. At no point did we find ourselves needing more pressure from the brake pistons, or the need to use engine braking. But if you do find yourself in a sticky situation, Volvo’s Pilot Assist system will boldly step in to kick in the brakes, at which point the alarm in the car will beep to let you know of your incompetence on the road.
Volvo’s first attempt at cracking the premium sub-compact SUV market is commendable – and it’s done so well to etch its mark in a segment otherwise hogged by the Germans. But, we strongly feel that the XC40 is in a league of its own – as it lunges ahead of its competition when you begin comparing standard options and prices. So, is it worth a second look? You’d be foolish not to do so.
• Engine: 2.0-litre ‘turbocharged’ in-line four cylinder
• Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
• Power: 245hp
• Torque: 350Nms
• 460-litres capacity boot
• Cruise control
• 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system
• Pirelli P Zero tyres
• Pilot Assist system
• 19-inch alloy wheels
• Leather upholstery
• Selectable drive modes
• Parking sensors
• Lane departure warning
• Collision mitigation system
• Cross-traffic alert