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The Top Gear car review: Volvo XC40
What is it like on the road?
Engine choices are all Volvo’s four-cylinder block, and follow simple naming conventions: D for diesel, T for turbo petrol. Then a number: 3 is around 150bhp, 4 is 190bhp and 5 is 250bhp. The choice is diesels as D3 and D4, plus petrols as T3, T4 and T5. Manual and front-wheel drive are available for the the D3 and T3, but higher up the power scale it becomes all-wheel drive and automatic gearbox only.
Volvo reckons well over half XC40s sold in the UK will have that low-power D3 engine, though many will have the ‘sporty’ looking R Design trim. That underlines the wisdom of the chassis settings: this is a soft-riding car for making gentle progress, not a firmly-sprung tyre-stressing terroriser of backroads.
The cars we tried at the off were D4 and T5, both with automatic transmission and AWD. In raw numbers the performance is competitive, as the XC40’s weight has been kept in check at around 1,700kg for these AWD cars. The diesel get to 62mph in under eight seconds, the petrol in 6.5secs. There’s handy mid-rev kick that’s not over-burdened with lag.
If you’ve been in any of the recent bigger Volvos, the quality of these engines springs no surprises. The diesel is quiet for its type but it carries a harsh edge that never goes away. Not wildly pleasant. Nor the petrol: it drones at low revs, then emits a drab and slightly tingly hubbub as you work it higher into the revs.
Also, the eight-speed gearbox can be a bit indecisive, and when it does make a choice it’s often accompanied by a jerk. I found myself using the paddle shifters. It meant I could keep the engine in its most sonically acceptable rpm range, as well as make sure the transmission wasn’t shifting under load.
Given how the powertrain is barely competitive for the car’s premium ambitions, it would be quite a feat if the rest of the dynamics managed to make up lost ground. But they do.
Running out through the suburbs, the suspension bears you along in superb repose, with supple springing and quiet tyres. When you add a bit of speed, the body movements tend towards the floaty. Which makes you expect the whole assembly is going to turn into a flubby mess as soon as you try a bit of brisk cornering.
It surprises you, though. Once it’s through that phase of long-amplitude movement, it doesn’t lose any more discipline. It gains roll and yaw angles with a nicely calibrated and progressive grace. The AWD system is a good antidote to understeer. So it can hustle its way down a set of twists perfectly respectably. A small steering wheel and reasonably quick ratio make it feel surprisingly light and agile in city junctions, but it stops mercifully short of pointless flightiness at speed.
Don’t imagine any of this is exactly a barrel of laughs, though. The steering has been given strong anaesthesia, and you won’t find much interaction between throttle and cornering line. But the point is, if you want that sort of tyre-stressing fun, an SUV is the wrong place to find it. You want a car with a lower centre of gravity. An estate. The XC40 instead has a tidy and relaxing chassis that does exactly what a SUV should. It’s comfortable to be in and at ease with itself.
Acoustic comfort is well taken care of, too. There’s little wind noise or racket from the tyres. It’s a peaceful cruiser. You can get Volvo’s optional Drive Pilot, which is radar cruise and lane-following. It won’t drive the car and you’d be a total fool to zone yourself out. But if you allow yourself to have your hands held, it can helpfully cut long-trip fatigue.
Off motorways, and away from roads at all, the XC40 isn’t a Land Rover or Jeep, but it does have a useful measure of bad-surface smarts. The tyres are chunkily treaded. Approach and departure angles aren’t bad, there’s 21cm of ground clearance, and you can switch to an off-road calibration for the powertrain and ESP.