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Ah, the new Volvo XC40. Let me guess, plodder to drive, lovely to live with?
Less than half right. It’s actually not such a plodder to drive at all, which I’ll come on to in due course. The XC40 is, of course, Volvo’s eagerly awaited first time entry into the crossover market. It’s about the same size as a Nissan Qashqai, seats five, has a boot big enough to be useful and comes from Sweden – with all the good connotations that involves.
But Volvo already has a car in this market – the V40 Cross Country.
And when was the last time you saw one of those? You make a good point though – the V40 hatch is a decent car, but this is built on Volvo’s all new CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform – which is likely to spawn a V40 hatch and BMW 3 Series rivaling S40 compact saloon in the fullness of time.
But Volvo doesn’t want you to see this as related to the V40 in any way. As good as the hatch may be, it is a more conservative car with an older age profile. The XC40 is different. Not least because it’s a cracking piece of industrial design. It looks tough and robust without being domineering or aggressive. It exudes safety yet manages to convey a certain dynamism. It’s clever, striking and desirable. I really can see people ditching their Q3/X1/GLA and even Evoque in favour of this.
Is that the market it sits in?
Yes, and it’s priced accordingly. You’re looking at paying at least £4,000 more for a XC40 than you would for an equivalent engine/spec V40. Prices start at £27,905, but by the time you’ve got it with the engine you want (probably the T4 or D3) in the spec you want (cool Inscription Pro rather than plain Momentum or schporty R-Design) with the gearbox you want (it’s not brilliant, but probably the £1,590 eight-speed auto), you’ll be paying somewhere around the £32,000-£34,000-mark (the 150bhp D3 Inscription auto is £33,055).
The one I’m driving is the 190bhp D4 First Edition at £39,905. That’s too much money for an XC40, although Volvo hopes you’ll ignore that and choose to buy it through their new Care by Volvo package. This brings insurance, servicing, repayment and even a concierge service under one umbrella payment – although it is quite a steep one. £795 per month. It’s only available for top line models at the moment, but will be rolled out further as time goes on.
What’s the diesel engine like?
It’s not the best thing about the car, but it’s no disgrace either. The 2.0-litre is a bit gruff at low speed and could do with being livelier, with better turbo response. As it is, it takes too long to wake up, and the delay means that the auto gearbox tries to make up for it by getting involved first, which leads to the sudden activation of both. Best use the paddles to make those decisions yourself.
It could also do with being a little quieter and smoother at low speeds and while I’m at it, I’m going to criticise the fuel economy, too – it took a lighter foot than it should to coax it beyond 40mpg, against Volvo’s claim of 55.4mpg. It doesn’t help that this 4WD version weighs a considerable 1,698kg.
So the engine and gearbox aren’t the best things about it?
Indeed – it just feels like they ought to be more perky, because that’s how the car drives. This is a Volvo with a spring in its step. It rides nicely, with the right amount of cushioning, the right amount of roll resistance to make it feel cossetting, while also being well propped up enough through corners to deliver a modicum of enjoyment.
The steering rack is fast, so you don’t have to turn it much and the front end is precise and alert. It behaves nimbly. There’s a bit of tyre noise, but suspension noise and cabin insulation is great.
In short, I can’t remember a more satisfying Volvo. Or one better tuned to its audience. It gets along the road with a bit of verve – which makes you aware that the engine ought to be perkier, the gearbox better calibrated. I came away from the XC40 wondering why, if Volvo is capable of this, neither the XC60 or XC90 rides particularly well.
Are there modes to play with?
There are – Eco, Comfort, Off-road and Dynamic. The dampers are fixed, so by upping the ante you’re basically sharpening the throttle and gearbox. With mixed results. Shift manually (although with eight to choose from you can get lost in the gearbox), keep the revs up and Dynamic is brisk enough. If you’re in less of a rush, use Eco and try to make it coast by lifting off – just be aware the throttle develops narcolepsy. Comfort takes care of everything else.
One other thing to get used to. Volvo has simplified the gearlever, so you don’t have to press a button to shift from P to D. Instead you pull the stubby lever twice – a sort of double tap. Same for reverse. Nothing to be worried about, just a different way of doing things and to start with leaves you selecting neutral a lot…
How’s the cabin?
Quite like the XC60 and XC90, come to think of it. Similar portrait screen, high quality materials and feelgood ambience. The driving position is well judged, but you do have to raise the seat if you want to see the bonnet and feel in control of urban situations. The view out is good, but the design of the rear door pillars and rear tailgate have limited the inlet of light. You can have cameras all around, but the view they show on the screen isn’t particularly clear.
Rear seat space is good, although the bench lacks underthigh support and the backrest is rather upright (front seat comfort is superb, though), there are enough places to drop stuff and Volvo has thoughtfully included a removable wastebin in the centre console. It’s not big enough to take a coffee cup, but it’ll prevent sweet wrappers and apple cores being lost under the seats for months.
The boot’s good too. There’s more depth to it than you expect from the outside, proving it to be a well packaged machine, and the boot floor lifts to reveal stowage underneath and flips upright to hold bags and so on.
Plenty of tech on board?
Plenty, from the Volvo on Call phone app and Sensus Connect (internet and apps via a SIM card) to City Safety, active lane keep, pedestrian detection. That’s all standard. In addition our car had the Intellisafe Pro pack that includes adaptive cruise and Pilot Assist. I only mention this because it’s all relatively logical and user-friendly. Volvo is the mainstream brand getting closest to Tesla in terms of the frendliness of its integrated tech.
What about rivals?
There’s some good cars in amongst that lot, but I’m not sure any of them hits the modern crossover brief as capably and accurately as the XC40. The X1 is a shrunken X3 SUV, the GLA is too close to the A-Class hatch, the E-Pace is based on familiar underpinnings.
The XC40 is the right size, the right quality, the right style, the right image. It’ll make the right impression on people. Hard to say whether it’s the best car in the class just yet, but this might just be the best car Volvo makes right now.