- The Volvo XC40 is the newest and smallest addition to the Swedish automaker's SUV lineup.
- It arrives at the perfect time for Volvo, as the luxury compact SUV segment evolves in the US.
- The XC40 is a tasteful, high-quality and exceptionally well-packaged small SUV for a starting price of around $33,000. It's also available via subscription through the Care by Volvo program, which lumps the car payment, insurance, and scheduled maintenance into one monthly fee.
The Volvo XC40 is the newest addition to the Swedish automaker's SUV lineup and it joins a growing segment of compact sport-utility vehicles and crossovers currently dominating the market.
Now eight years into its relaunch as a luxury brand under the Chinese automotive conglomerate, Geely Holding Group, Volvo has launched seven new models, three of which are SUVs: the XC90, XC60, and now the XC40.
The 40 is built on Volvo's proprietary small-car skeleton, denoted as the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform which was co-developed with Geely.
As automobiles go, being the smallest and least expensive model in a lineup usually means you'll have to make some compromises — the evidence of which might manifest itself in lower-quality materials and fewer options than the pricier models.
That is not the case here. The XC40 feels nearly every bit as premium as a compact luxury four-wheeler should.
From the moment you pull open its hefty doors, plant yourself into the sculpted, leather and Alcantara-wrapped driver's seat, and grip the thick-rimmed steering wheel with the stoic chrome-plated Volvo badge planted dead-center, you realize you're about to pilot a very capable, exceptionally well-built machine.
At the same time, it's also quaint. And comfortable.
Unlike its larger siblings, the XC40 has no plug-in hybrid variant yet. It can only be had with one of two versions of the company's four-cylinder, turbocharged, gas-powered engines — available with 187-horsepower, or a more energetic 248-horsepower variant. An all-electric version is currently in development.
Volvo recently loaned us a fully loaded XC40 R-Design for a weeklong drive in Los Angeles. These are our impressions:
In pictures, the XC40 looks deceptively small. In reality, it's compact enough for city driving but has plenty cargo and passenger room for longer trips.
The Volvo family resemblance here is unmistakable. By now, you've seen what Volvo lovingly calls the "Thor's hammer" effect prominently featured in the automaker's signature headlights. Up front on the XC40, it gives the car a subtle, unique flair that makes it instantly memorable.
The inscribed "VOLVO" badge on the reflector lens is a nice touch.
Our Crystal White metallic test-car came with several panels and trim pieces, including the front grille seen here, painted gloss black.
You're probably seeing a lot of cars with this aesthetic on the road right now: side-view mirrors, roofs, rear decklid spoilers, side and hood vents — both fake and real — and, in some cases, door handles — all painted black. I have mixed, mostly negative, opinions about it.
But here on our R-Design model, it works.
The entire roof, and a portion of the D-pillar, are also painted black. Again, it works for the R-Design, but still feels just a little bit contrived. Call me boring, but I'd prefer the entire car painted one color.
Overall, this is a very handsome package, as equipped.
In keeping with the current mode for modern SUVs, a striking pair of shoes are a must. These are Volvo's 20-inch, 5-double spoke matte black diamond cut alloys.
Current-generation Volvos are some of the few luxury cars that boast a family resemblance from the front and the back. The upswept tail lights are instantly recognizable. Even from a distance, everyone will know you're driving Swedish.
Broadly speaking, the mighty turbocharged four-cylinder engine has become a staple in the modern auto industry. You get a very capable one in the XC40. Our tester was equipped with Volvo's 248-horsepower T5 variant. It's quick, quiet, and efficient.
Gas mileage was as good as I expected: 23 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, according to Volvo.
During my time with the XC40, I took a weekend road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Starting with a full tank on both ends of the journey, I only needed to top off once, roughly halfway between the two metropolises. I'm certain I could've kept driving for a while before the tank got too close to empty.
The interior is really well done, and a pleasant surprise for any compact SUV starting in the $30,000 range.
Granted, our test model was loaded with every option available, but that doesn't negate the consideration Volvo's designers gave to the tactile feel of nearly every interior touch point — from the seating surfaces, to the chunky metal interior door handles, and the knurled center-console knob just below the nine-inch touch screen.
And for maximum practicality, there's a small rubbish bin in front of the center armrest.
And this is probably one of the best steering wheels in the segment.
The XC40's sportier R-Design package equips the seats with a rather typical combination of leather and a suede-like Alcantara. Also typical of Volvo specifically: the seats are a deeply satisfying place to be.
The splash of orange on the interior door panels and carpet help break up the visual monotony of what would otherwise be an all-black-everything interior.
On paper, you'd think a splash of orange would turn an otherwise handsome interior into something rather undignified, but that's not the case here. It livens things up just enough, without feeling cheap or gratuitous.
And, of course, there's a panoramic sunroof for good measure. Full disclosure: I've driven dozens of vehicles with these extra-large openings overhead, but I never drive with the roof open.
I like the aesthetic, though — and sometimes I will retract the sunshade.
Our test XC40 also came with Volvo's Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive feature. It keeps the car within its own lane on road, and maintains a set speed and distance from the car ahead.
Unlike Tesla's Autopilot, Volvo's almost-but-not-quite-self-driving technology will not let you drive for any length of time with your hands off the steering wheel.
While testing the feature in freeway traffic, we observed that it took the XC40 mere seconds to recognize there was no driver input on the steering wheel, and it gave visual and audio prompts to reengage.
I would argue — as many automotive journalists before me have — that Autopilot is a more advanced semi-autonomous driving system that handles steering, acceleration, braking and lane-change duties in real-world traffic more gracefully than most other systems on the road right now.
But the system is not perfect. And in my personal experience, Autopilot is far more permissive of longer stretches of handsfree drive time. Autopilot does deploy a set of alerts that gradually escalate if drivers go hands-off for more than 30 seconds.
Sensus, Volvo's infotainment interface, is fantastic system. One of the best vehicle UIs in the industry.
It merges the car's systemwide settings and features with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The drawback to that is you get a screen with multiple layers of pages and tabs that require a sizable share of your brain's attention to navigate. It's a fine system nonetheless.
And, as is typical of Volvo, the Swedish automaker always adds just a splash of patriotism
You can see that here, with the rubberized miniature Swedish flag affixed to the front left fender.
The Volvo XC40 really hits a sweet-spot among the current crop compact luxury SUVs. It's large enough for cargo and crew, but remains nimble and responsive on the road. The available active safety and driver-assist features are well-executed.
It's an attractive and capable vehicle that's distinctively Volvo, and comes in at a price point that positions the company to reach new customers.
Coincidentally, Volvo says it has already seen such an influx with the XC40, which is available by subscription, via the Care by Volvo program.
Subscribers can order an XC40 and pay a flat monthly fee that includes the car payment, insurance, and scheduled maintenance. "We’re proud that 92% of subscribers are completely new to the Volvo brand," company spokesman Jim Nichols told Business Insider in an emailed statement. As of July 2018, the automaker has sold more than 6,600 XC40s — surpassing all other models in the Volvo lineup.
All that's missing is an electric variant. Given the current obsession for these compact luxury SUVs, and the growing demand for affordable electric vehicles, an all-electric XC40 could conceivably dominate the market once it hits the road.