Just how good is the award-winning small Volvo SUV? Ben Griffin headed to Volvo’s research and development centre in Daventry to find out as part of his Volvo XC40 review, which includes drives of the T5 petrol and D4 diesel in First Edition trim.
When you drive cars for a living, you have to be honest otherwise what is the point? Inevitably, that means swimming against the tide of popular opinion, internet experts (many of whom are too young to drive) and marketing hype.
In the case of disliking the Volvo XC40, that would also mean undermining the accolades it has been given by fellow motoring journalists, including the 2018 What Car of the year award. Not only that, as Volvo was keen to point out it has won every group test it has been included in.
Luckily though, there is no need for Volvo fans to gather their pitchforks and turn up at the Recombu office, complete with flaming torches and wooden stocks. Our first impressions of both the D4 diesel and T5 petrol were resoundingly positive.
Is it good enough to be our preferred compact SUV, though?
What is the Volvo XC40?
The Volvo XC40 is a compact premium sports utility vehicle (SUV), which means it is a direct competitor of the Jaguar E-Pace (reviewed here), Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Range Rover Evoque.
Its arrival marks the debut of the CPA platform – short for Compact Modular Architecture – which is essentially a smaller version of the SPA platform used for the medium-sized XC60 and the larger, seven-seat XC90. It has been designed to be lightweight and with electrification in mind.
The Volvo XC40 also sees the launch of the upgraded ‘Volvo on Call’ service, which used to only cover technical questions but now acts as a posh concierge service. Press the button in the car and you will be connected to someone who can book you a flight or hotel, as opposed to being limited to telling you how to top up your washer fluid.
There are two engines available at launch, the first being the T5 petrol and the second the D4 diesel. A T3 three-cylinder petrol, which will be cheapest, is coming in the middle of 2018 followed by a hybrid that won’t be so cheap.
The T3 kicks out 156hp, while the T5 has a much more impressive 247hp and 350Nm of torque. In the diesel camp, the D3 (expected to be the biggest seller) and D4 kick out 150hp and 190hp, respectively. Only the T3 and D3 come with front-wheel drive, all the rest benefit from all-wheel drive.
As for your gearbox selection, the T3 can only be had with a six-speed manual. The D3 also adds the option of an eight-speed automatic, with the T5 and D4 featuring said auto only.
Trim, meanwhile, comes in three flavours. At the bottom is Momentum, followed by R-Design (the sporty choice) and then Inscription (the posh choice). A ‘Pro’ version is available for each level that adds even more stuff, which we will get to in a second.
The first 1,200 cars can be had in First Edition guise. It is actually even more lavishly specced than the R-Design Pro trim level it is based on, but works out cheaper than if you bought the extras separately.
For total convenience, you can opt for the ‘Care by Volvo’ package that covers your maintenance costs, car insurance (eligible ages from 25 to 79), car tax, the aforementioned Volvo on Call concierge service, use of another Volvo for 14 days a year and roadside assistance. Dig deep though, because it costs a whopping £779 a month on the T5 and D4 First Edition model.
How does the Volvo XC40 drive?
Like most Volvos these days, which is to say it is extremely refined, rides well despite the First Edition’s sizable alloy wheels and provides a welcome dose of luxury motoring. Bigger bumps are the only thing that upset the suspension, although this will be less of an issue with smaller wheels.
The steering is light, direct and provides more feedback than the Volvo V90 we drove on the same day. For what is a tall vehicle, body roll is well-managed and there is a firmness to the suspension (partly because of the R-Design’s firmer setup) that helps the XC40 stay on track in a fast corner.
At low speeds the XC40 comes across as pleasingly effortless, especially the D4 diesel and its ample torque figures from low in the rev range. Changing up and down a gear is handled just as confidently, thanks to Volvo’s competent eight-speed automatic.
Get past second gear and both the T5 and D4’s engine noise is masked by the quiet hum of road and wind noise, neither of which is at all obtrusive. For a quiet drive, the Volvo XC40 comes highly recommended and is on par with its Germanic rivals.
In terms of excitement, the Volvo XC40 could be better although the T5’s turbo whoosh as you lift of the accelerator is an enjoyable touch and the level of performance is more than ample. You can, however, squeeze out some enjoyment if you really pick up the pace. It certainly has the agility and sure-footed grip to keep you in one piece.
There are faster, lighter and dynamically superior options out there, such as the BMW X1, but the Volvo XC40 is more than capable enough, especially given its family-focussed nature.
What about practicality and boot space?
Drop the rear seats and the Volvo XC40 offers 1,336 litres of space. With them in place you get 460 litres, which is more than the Q3 but less than the X1. Hooks let you secure your shopping, while the flexible floor lets you separate your luggage.
Even with the panoramic roof in place, rear passengers around the six-foot mark have ample head room and leg room. You certainly never want for space in the front or back despite the XC40 being a little shorter than the X1, thanks to having a longer wheelbase.
Other neat extras make the Volvo XC40 particularly good at daily life. The centre console, for instance, has a removable plastic insert so you can use it as a bin and there are plenty of other storage areas to stow things away.
You even get a fold-out hook in the glove box for keeping your takeaway off the floor, credit card slots and door bins large enough to accommodate a laptop and water bottle. Hell, even opening the boot can be done hands-free, via a wave of your foot under the rear bumper, if you purchase the relevant optional extra.
As for infotainment, the Sensus system is unchanged. That means the same responsive touchscreen, but also slightly fiddly menus that sap your attention just that little too much. Adjusting the temperature, for instance, takes way more physical and mental effort than it should.
On a more positive note, the ability to use Android Auto and Apple CarPlay means most smartphones can be connected with ease. Usefully, both third-party systems only take up half the display so there is no need to back out of them if you want to use Volvo’s own system.
You also get voice connectivity, although we were unable to test this out, and a SIM-card slot for utilising the WiFi hotspot.
What do you get for each Volvo XC40 spec level?
All Momentum-equipped XC40s (from £27,905) include dual-zone climate control with the ‘CleanZone’ air filtration system, LED headlights, rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloys, cruise control, height-adjustable front seats, autonomous emergency braking and multiple drive modes. Momentum Pro (from £29,455), meanwhile, adds active bending headlights, heated windscreen and front seats, electric driver’s seat and auto-folding door mirrors.
R-Design (from £29,755) adds a black roof, gloss black front grille, 18-inch matt black alloys, firmer sports suspension, dual integrated exhaust pipes, leather upholstery instead of cloth, leather perforated steering wheel and black mirrors. R-Design Pro (from £31,655) comes with 20-inch black alloys and the same bits added to Momentum Pro.
Inscription (from £30,405) provides Drift Wood interior inlays, metallic paint, glass gear lever for the automatic (usually seen in Volvo hybrids), matt silver skid plates, chrome window trim, 18-inch black alloys, front parking sensors and automatic tailgate. Inscription Pro (from £31,955) mirrors the other two trim levels.
Last but not least is the Volvo XC40 First Edition, which comes with a nice-sounding Harmon Kardon system, wireless mobile phone charging, hands-free tailgate opening, heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, Intellisafe Pro Pack with Volvo’s semi-autonomous Pilot Assist and the Xenium Pack comprised a panoramic roof, Park Assist Pilot and 360-degree surround-view parking camera. Expect to pay £40,355 for the T5 AWD petrol and £39,305 for the D4 AWD diesel in First Edition.
Is the Volvo XC40 cheap to run?
In terms of running costs, the T3 is the most economical petrol, with a claimed 42.8mpg. The diesel D3’s 58.9mpg is more impressive, followed by the D4’s 56.5mpg. As you would expect, the powerful T5 is least economical, although 39.8mpg this is still decent.
In terms of CO2 emissions, the D3 is the least polluting, at up to 131g/km, and therefore cheapest in terms of Benefit in Kind (BIK). The T5 is the most polluting, scoring between 161 and 168g/km, depending on the alloy wheel size and other extras.
It must be said, the standard level of equipment in the Volvo XC40 is impressive. The likes of autonomous emergency braking, that Sensus nine-inch infotainment display with navigation and a 12.3-inch digital display instead of analogue dials help make it particularly good value.
Then there is the fact it has class-leading residual values, which means the Volvo XC40 can be had for as little as £279 (for a bog-standard T3) a month on PCP and PCH finance. Try getting a BMW X1 for as little.
Should I buy the Volvo XC40, then?
Based on first impressions of both the T5 petrol and D4 diesel, there is no standout winner unless you only care about efficiency because both make driving from A to B a pleasure. The interior, meanwhile, is as good as it gets for the money. Honestly, the Swedes are leading the show on that front.
We can see someone who wants the sportiest SUV being unfulfilled by the XC40, but it is anything but another soulless, personality-bypassed family wagon. Serving up a potent mix of practicality, refinement, value for money and desirability, it is impressive to think it can be had for under £30,000.
We will be spending more time in the Volvo XC40 in May before we consider adding to the Volvo awards cabinet, but we doubt it will disappoint. Volvo aimed to capitalise on the growing small SUV market and it has done so with a super all-rounder.