This time, Volvo is bringing in more than a new car. It’s a whole new image, aimed squarely at the hipster. Does it work?
Without adieu, yes. It does. I mean, just look at that sculpted body and perfection proportions, starting from the high-nosed bonnet to the chunky C-pillar that swoops upwards and blends into the blacked-out roof. On the standard 18in wheels and custom Pirelli P-Zero rubber, it looks as purposeful as big brother XC60 with the funk of a Mini Countryman, making for the best looking SUV this side of the Range Rover Velar.
Built on Volvo’s new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), it is born ready for electrification in various forms like mild-hybrid, plug-in hybrid or all-electric so more variants are inevitable but in India we will first get the XC40 only in R-Design form. The sportier nature of the R-Design trim goes well with the positioning of this SUV as an urban-dweller with an appetite for adventure. Gloss black front grille, two-tone body colour, sportier suspension set-up and if you opt for the white exterior, the smashing Lava Orange interior carpeting and door trim. The two other colours at launch will be red and blue, both with contrasting roofs too but will only get an all-black interior. The front still retains the Thor's hammer DRL elements in the headlights but is significantly different to not confuse with the XC60 or XC90. Volvo has moved away from the cookie cutter mould and ensured that the smallest of the family is also the most modern looking of the trio.
Step inside the cabin and it's time to go wow! There are a lot of familiar elements from the bigger Volvos, like the digital instrument cluster, the 9in Sensus infotainment screen and the switchgear for the audio controls and volume knob. But besides that, the metallic trim going around the doors and the centre of the dash is all new and looks fantastic, adding to the trendy look of the cabin. Smart touches like a removable dust bin, wireless charging for your Qi-enabled smartphones and door pads big enough to swallow a laptop prove that even under the Chinese ownership, Volvo hasn’t lost any of its Scandinavian sensibilities. The steering is nice and chunky with aluminium paddles to take control over the 8-speed transmission if you like. The back is a bit cramped but no more than the competition and the seats offer good lumbar and back support. As expected, under thigh support takes a hit due to limited space. In the boot, more combinations than a Rubik's cube allow you to store various bags, luggage and oddities the way you like without them turning into mush. As is the standard these days, you don’t even need to touch the boot lid to open it. Just play footsie under the bumper and you’ll be charmed with a…large offering.
While Volvo never claimed to make the cheapest luxury cars, most of their models are full build-up, imported units and most of them are only imported in the range-topping Inscription trim. The XC40 R-Design gets most of the tech the European models get, at an estimated price that is going to be smack in the middle of the German rivals. The 9in Sensus system is a straight lift from the other Volvos and works just as well with zero latency and a touch sensitivity that is as good as an iPhone. It does take a few minutes to acclimatise to this interface but once you do, it is extremely easy to use. No gesture or touchpad to fiddle around with here. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard, so does a wireless charging mat that accepts new iPhones and all Qi-enabled Android phones. The charging time was acceptable and while it cannot substitute wired charging for a quick dash of juice, it’s more about the convenience here. Wireless CarPlay would’ve been a great addition to go with this but sadly, gets a miss.
If you’ve ever sat in a modern Volvo with a Bowers & Wilkins audio system, you’d know what a concert hall on wheels sounds like. To keep costs down but not the tonality, they turned to Harman Kardon for the XC40 and the result is mighty impressive. Moving the space-consuming woofers from the lower door panels and into the dashboard itself, it uses the AC vents to port the low frequencies through. They call it the Air Woofer Technology and the system consists of 13 speakers powered by a 660W amplifier, enough to let Freddie Mercury come alive in the passenger seat. It sounds punchy yet detailed with great stereo separation and imaging. It doesn’t have the soundstage depth and width of the B&W system, but it handles the bass so well that you’ll never feel short-changed. And like on the bigger Volvos, its well-built body panels don’t start resonating at the first sign of a kick drum. It’s taut, well controlled and pushes you to play it louder, which it handles pretty well.
Safety has always been Volvo’s best kept marketing slogan and the XC40 carries forward that tradition with pride. The only compromise here is the inclusion of single, front radar system and not at the rear. This still gives it semi-autonomous driving smarts and you get Lane-Keeping Assist, Pilot Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, City Safety and Park Assist. The only two aids you miss out on due to the absence of a rear radar are Blind Spot Assist and Tailgating Warning. Since you’re driving in India, you probably have skills more highly developed than the aids but I tried them on Hyderabad’s Outer Ring Road and they all work as advertised, which is to say, unreal! Having your hands off the wheel on a busy highway doing 100km/hr and the car doing its thing without any input still takes a bit of getting used to. The XC40 will drive for about 30 seconds on its own until it detects no hands on the wheel and will gently prompt you to stop showing off and get to the business of driving back again.
Other niceties include a panoramic sunroof, Hill descent/ascent control, seven airbags, reversing camera, electric seats with memory and heated function and dual-zone climate control.
A car that looks this good obviously sets up expectations of how it’s going to drive. Specced with the D4 4-cylinder diesel motor, the XC40 produces a robust 190bhp and 400Nm of torque, figures that keep it abreast of at least one German rival and above the others. Power goes to all four wheels via a Haldex system that can transmit power in 50:50 or up to 95:5, depending on wheel slip conditions. Ground clearance is a generous 211mm, again the highest in the segment, yet once you get behind the wheel, you’re greeted with minimal body roll. The seating position is higher than most compact SUVs and that is a good thing. Different drive modes like Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Off-Road and individual change throttle, steering and gearbox responses but we don’t get the adaptive suspension for India. The ride is still quite composed, soaking up bumps without allowing the thuds to enter the cabin sharply. The 235/55 R18 tyres help in taking the hits and the superbly crafted front seats add another layer of isolation from the bad surfaces under you.
Push the throttle into the floor and the 2.0lt engine does take a second or two to spool up, calling for planned overtaking moves, but once you’re up to speed, it doesn’t hold back. Gathering pace rapidly, it gets to unmentionable digits without a fuss while the intelligent safety seasons remind you if you’re going out of line.
The more powerful T5 petrol engine may be launched at a later date, depending on market demand says Volvo but for now the D4 will have to suffice for city dwellers looking for the ideal combination of frugality and driveability. It’s not sporty by nature and sounds coarse too but be sensible about it and play to its strengths and you realise that it is the practical choice for a car that will be stuck in stop-go traffic a lot. Handling is surprisingly good for an SUV that stands this tall and around corners, it feels eager to change direction while the lovely steering is perfectly weighted and accurate at following your commands. At the end of the day, you will emerge from it satisfied and non-fatigued and I guess that’s what Volvo engineers were gunning for.
The XC40 is sure to be a hit. Its styling, tech, features and safety all make it stand out in a very crowded and hotly contested segment. It doesn’t put a foot wrong if you consider the demographic of buyers it is targeting. It’s a refined drive with a genuinely useable feature list and if Volvo prices it right, it may just become the compact luxury SUV of choice here at the Stuff HQ too!