Considering the huge number of cars they sell, it’s hard to argue that German prestige brands are wrong to give their cars ‘Russian doll’ designs. And yet it’s still refreshing when a rival is a bit braver, as Volvo has been with its smallest SUV.
This Volvo XC40 may have similar front and rear lights to the company’s other models to ensure a family resemblance, but the rest of the detailing and the overall proportions of the car are quite different; it certainly doesn’t look as if Volvo has put the blueprints for the larger XC60 in a photocopier and set it to 75%.
Proof that the Swedes wants to lead, not follow, can also be found in the fact that the XC40 will be the first car to be offered on a subscription scheme called ‘Care by Volvo’, with insurance, taxes, maintenance and roadside assistance all included in the monthly fee.
Meanwhile, less surprisingly given its history, Volvo is claiming that the XC40 is the safest car of its type, with a long list of high-tech driver aids borrowed from the more expensive models in its range. But overall, is the XC40 better than the likes of the Audi Q2, BMW X1 and Volkswagen Tiguan?
Driving – What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Volvo XC40 performance
Initially, the only engine options are a pair of four-cylinder 2.0-litres: a 247bhp petrol (badged as the T5) and a 187bhp diesel (D4). However, the range will quickly expand to include a 187bhp petrol and a 148bhp diesel. A small, frugal three-cylinder petrol will also arrive in 2018, while hybrid and fully electricXC40s are part of the longer-term plan.
Both of the launch engines get four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard and both can whisk you up to speed easily enough, although it’s the diesel that’s stronger at low revs and the petrol that’s ultimately the livelier and faster of the two.
The auto gearbox can feel a little hesitant when you want a quick burst of acceleration off the line but is generally smooth thereafter.
Volvo XC40 ride comfort
The XC40’s suspension manages to waft you over most imperfections in the road surface at higher speeds, which makes for a car that’s very relaxing during long motorway stints.
Unfortunately, the ride is less impressive is in town, because here it starts to feel a bit brittle and you find yourself being jostled around over patched-up surfaces; the same criticism can also be levelled at the Audi Q2, BMW X1 and Jaguar E-Pace.
Volvo XC40 handling
Audi’s Q2 may offer a sportier driving experience, but the XC40 still resists body roll well in corners and feels more eager to change direction than most SUVs.
It’s best to keep the adjustable steering in Comfort mode, because switching to Dynamic merely adds a lot of extra weight that actually makes it harder to judge how much you need to turn the wheel, particularly in the diesel.
Volvo XC40 refinement
The D4 engine isn’t the quietest of diesels, sounding a bit grumbly in town and quite coarse at high revs. But it transmits little vibration into the car, and the XC40 is a refined cruiser.
It’s helped by the fact that road noise is well controlled and the suspension goes about its business quietly most of the time, although the door mirrors do whip up a bit of wind noise at higher speeds.
Interior layout – The interior layout, fit and finish
Volvo XC40 driving position
The standard front seats may not be quite as impressive as those fitted to larger Volvos, because they offer less under-thigh support, but they’re still some of the best that you’ll find in a small SUV, and there’s a wide range of adjustment, including for lumbar.
You also sit higher than you would in a conventional hatchback. Just don’t expect to be able to see over the top of other cars as you can in a Range Rover or even Volvo’s own XC90.
Volvo XC40 visibility
Slim windscreen pillars combine with the slightly elevated seating to give you a good forward view, but over-the-shoulder vision is compromised by the way the window line kicks up towards the rear of the car.
It’s fortunate, then, that rear parking sensors are standard across the range, while front sensors are also fitted to Inscription-spec cars. A bird’s-eye-view camera is an option.
Volvo XC40 infotainment
As in other modern Volvos, the dashboard of the XC40 is dominated by a large touchscreen that has let the designers slash the number of buttons and create a modern, minimalist ambience.
Not that the absence of buttons is all good news, mind. While the idea of a screen that lets you swipe, pinch and scroll as you do with your iPad sounds good in theory, in reality it makes simple tasks such as changing the radio station quite difficult on the move.
Still, at least the system features satellite navigation, a DAB radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
Volvo XC40 build quality
When it comes to interior quality, Volvo interiors are now up with the best in the business, and the XC40’s is no exception because every surface feels suitably upmarket and reassuringly solid.
The only slight disappointment is the fact that the metal or wood trim on the front doors isn’t carried through to the rears.
Space & practicality – How it copes with people and clutter
Volvo XC40 front space
The XC40 features thoughtful details such as a pop-out rubbish bin between the front seats, drawers beneath them and door pockets that are big enough to take a laptop or a couple of large bottles of water.
What’s more, front head and leg room are generous; Volvo has even moved the lower audio speakers from the doors to the dash to free up extra space.
Volvo XC40 rear space
Rear head room is also impressive, thanks to the XC40 having a higher roofline than your average small SUV, and there’s enough rear knee room for most adults to sit comfortably.
The XC40 does have a couple of issues, however: the door openings are rather small and the way the window line kicks up towards the rear of the car is likely to compromise the view out for small children.
Volvo XC40 seating flexibility
Folding rear seats are standard, but these are split 60/40 rather than in the more versatile 40/20/40 arrangement that the BMW X1 offers.
Unlike the X1, the XC40 doesn’t have rear seats that slide to let you change the balance between rear leg room and luggage space.
Volvo XC40 boot space
The XC40’s boot has a 460-litre capacity, which means it’s smaller than the X1’s and the Volkswagen Tiguan’s. However, it should still be able to swallow a couple of large suitcases or a baby buggy and several bags of shopping.
There’s no load lip to heave luggage over, either, and part of the boot floor can be folded up into a vertical position to divide up the area and stop smaller items from sliding around.
Cost & verdict – Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Volvo XC40 running costs
The XC40 is competitively priced and more fuel efficient in official tests than an equivalent Jaguar E-Pace or Volkswagen Tiguan, although the BMW X1 is better still.
Company car drivers will probably want to look elsewhere until the smaller engines and front-wheel drive become available. However, private buyers should already benefit from strong resale values.
Volvo XC40 equipment
Only high-end versions are available initially. However, Volvo has released details of the full range, which will include an entry-level Momentum spec that still features climate control, keyless start, cruise control, and automatic lights and wipers.
The next rung on the ladder, Momentum Pro, adds heated and electrically adjustable front seats, a heated windscreen and headlights that follow the curve of the road, while luxurious Inscription and sporty R Design trims complete the range.
Volvo XC40 reliability
The XC40 was too new to feature in our most recent reliability survey, but Volvo as a brand finished a relatively disappointing 25th (out of 32 manufacturers).
A three-year, 60,000-mile warranty is standard, as is a three-year paintwork warranty and 12 years of cover against rust. This is par for the course in the family SUV class.
Volvo XC40 safety & security
Automatic emergency city braking is standard across the range, and not only recognises other cars, but also cyclists, pedestrians and large animals.
Likewise, all XC40s come with an Oncoming Lane Mitigation system, which can intervene if you inadvertently begin to cross a road’s centre line into the path of oncoming traffic. Meanwhile, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are available as part of a pack that also includes adaptive cruise control.
As is customary on cars of this sort, an alarm and engine immobiliser are fitted to boost security.
The Volvo XC40 mixes style with practicality and an enjoyable drive with cutting-edge safety. When more frugal petrol engines are introduced, it has the potential to be even more appealing.
- Gorgeous interior
- Composed handling
- Comprehensive safety kit
- Unsettled low-speed ride
- Fiddly infotainment system
- Limited engine range initially