The winner of autoTRADER.ca’s Best Subcompact Luxury SUV category is one of those rare cases where a manufacturer hits the ground running with a brand-new model and manages to get it right pretty much out of the gate. When the Volvo XC40 arrived in 2017 as a 2018 model, it looked great, had just the right powertrain for the job (a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder good either 187 or 249 horsepower, and 221 or 258 lb-ft of torque) and a well-equipped, high-quality interior that Volvo has quickly become known for.
The momentum continues into 2020, with the XC40 winning as the best in segment after our jury of more than 20 professional automotive reviewers considered every single vehicle in the segment and evaluated them over 12 criteria ranging from performance, innovation, driving dynamics, to in-car technology, styling, and more. Our jury voted to shortlist the BMW X1, BMW X2, Acura RDX, Audi Q3, and Volvo XC40 to the final round of voting, but Volvo took top honours in the category.
While exterior styling tends to hold a little more weight in the sports car or luxury car categories, the XC40 has turned a neat trick of bucking that trend to show that CUVs and SUVs can also be modern and classy head-turners. Style is an area in which the XC40 excels against the competition, with only the Acura RDX really making us think twice about which vehicle in the category is the style king.
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The “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lights, two-tone colour pattern, unique wheel choices, vertical tail lamps and planted stance all combine to make the Volvo stand out from the crowd.
The theme continues once inside with the use of high-quality materials on all the areas you can touch, as well as some of the most supportive, yet comfortable seats in the business. You can even have the seats make a style statement by adding contrasting colour for various patterns.
autoTRADER.ca car reviewer and jury member Justin Pritchard commented that the XC40 was “more Mini Cooper than Mercedes-Benz,” which is an apt way of describing it. In essence, the Volvo XC40 has a playfulness in its design and demeanour that its often serious German rivals lack. While the interior is fun and modern, the ambiance also manages to strike a luxury chord that is both funky and futuristic.
For the XC40, this is achieved by offering a big, tablet-like nine-inch screen as the infotainment hub. This vertical setup makes scrolling through menus that much easier and time-efficient. The display also has smooth refresh rates and crisp graphics, though there’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is a must for many Canadian drivers.
How about a little bit of Swedish uniqueness? Well, it appears that the Swedes are very neat people because this little crossover comes with a removable garbage can. This is just a simple yet clever solution that is insanely useful.
Another standout for the XC40 is its suite of driver aids, most notably the lane-keep assist and parking aid systems. For parking, the big main display features a fantastic, high-definition back-up camera, while the XC40’s automatic parking aid works well in either parallel or perpendicular spots.
The parking aids are great, but the XC40 is so compact and easy to place that you’ll rarely find yourself relying on them. The XC40’s compact styling not only looks the part, but it makes it easier to manoeuvre through the tight confines of the city. The almost complete lack of overhangs both front and back means a nice, tight turning circle, making parking that much easier. Even though the XC40 is so compact and city ready, there’s enough room for four adults thanks to that tall roof and less wheel well intrusion, helped by having those wheels pushed as far out to each corner as possible.
When it comes time to free yourself of that congested city environment and stretch your legs a little, the XC40 is a punchy little crossover with enough gusto to feel perfectly at home on the highway or twisty mountain road.
Another aspect that impressed judges during voting – and Prichard during his test – was the AWD system, which was particularly impressive in slippery conditions. “The AWD system extracts available grip from snowy roads with expert precision,” writes Pritchard. “It requires absolutely none of your attention.” Heady praise indeed, but the XC40 has earned it. The Volvo XC40 is an impressive blend of luxury, innovation, clever features, dialled in driving dynamics, modern style, and a fun personality, and it all comes together in a cohesive package that is worthy of the Best Small Luxury SUV title.