Gareth Butterfield finds out whether Volvo’s XC40 can live up to the high standards of its stablemates
WHEN Volvo launched the latest version of its range-topping XC90 SUV I fell for it hook, line and sinker. As an overall package, it’s sublimely comfortable and effortless to drive, yet incredibly practical and attractive.
Then they launched the XC60 and it suddenly made the XC90 feel a bit too big because it was, for all intents and purposes, a shortened reinterpretation of the very same design.
So when I caught a whisper there was an XC40 on the way I wondered if we’d simply be seeing another facsimilie of a car which is immensely likeable, but predictably styled.
Well, that wasn’t the case. Although there are plenty of similarities between Volvo’s latest car and its bigger siblings the XC40 has taken on a completely new look.
It’s clearly been aimed at the younger, more adventurous set because, not only do you get some daring angles in the body styling, you’re offered plenty of colour options thanks to a two-tone pallete.
This makes it far more interesting than I thought it would be and, although on the face of it we now have yet another premium compact SUV to choose from, we now have one with many of the bells and whistles of the glorious XC90.
In terms of size, the XC40 is similar to an Evoque, but perhaps bigger than a Mercedes GLA. It has a rugged, boxy charm rather than the curves and swoops of many of its competitors, but it’s still a fine-looking thing.
But it’s in the cabin where you’ll find familiarity, if you’re used to the current Volvo crop. The interior oozes Volvo’s exquisite quality and scandinavian charm. It’s not minimalist, but neither is it fussy.
True to form with Volvo, everything you’d like to push, prod or turn is in the right place and it’s exceptionally comfortable, light and airy.
The prominent feature is the iPad-like central display, which controls just about everything if you can find time to swipe and tap away for long enough and it comes loaded with all the gadgets you’d find the bigger versions.
There’s plenty of engines to choose from, too. Diesel versions come in two states of tune, and there’s three petrol versions including a 250bhp lump which is as thirsty as it is exciting.
The entry level diesel D3 will doubtless be the more popular choice but, despite this, Volvo has recently announced it will stop fitting its cars with diesel engines over the next couple of years, so grab one while you can.
Having said that, the diesel engines can sound quite harsh when pushed and while the turbocharged petrol engines might suggest a more sporty offering, they’re not the most sonorous lumps either.
The other slight fly in the ointment is the standard automatic gearbox. Used manually, through the paddles, it’s absolutely fine and changes quickly, but left to its own devices it can be clumsy and seems to stumble through its eight gears a little.
It’s a shame, in a way, that the powertrain has a few shortcomings because the XC40 is a surprisingly fine thing to drive. Its suspension is supple, but not too firm and it’s surprisingly lightweight, so it’s quite a tidy thing to drive. For an SUV, at least.
But it’s the gadgets Volvo offers that make it the star of the show. With adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and a queue assist function, it’s as close as we can legally get to an autonomous car.
That, along with Volvo’s suite of cameras, countless pieces of safety tech and a top-notch stereo and an XC40 could be all the car you’ll need.
And there’s an interesting point. Volvo’s XC90 is a monstrously large thing and the XC40 suddenly makes the XC60 feel a tad portly too.
To be able to get all the Volvo refinements you could want in a car this size might open up a new dilemma. It does for me, at least.
If you can live without the XC90’s extra row of seats, or the added cabin and boot space of the XC60, then why would you not choose the XC40? It’s better to drive, more economical, lighter and arguably more attractive.
In this segment it does have some stiff competition but, if Volvos are your cup of tea, the firms’ first foray into the compact SUV sector might be all the car you’ll ever need.