Trucks and SUVs

2021 Best Overall SUV: Volvo XC40

It would be an understatement to say that the Volvo XC40, the brand’s first-ever subcompact crossover model, is off to a good start following its launch in 2019: It has won an Award every year since it has been on the market.

Sweden’s Volvo was one of the last brands to break into the subcompact luxury SUV space. Apparently, that wait-and-see approach worked, according to our jury of more than 20 expert car reviewers from all over the country. After considering every single every vehicle available in Canada’s subcompact luxury SUV segment and judging them against a dozen criteria, the XC40 not only won as the Best Subcompact Luxury SUV, but it also got the highest score in all the combined SUV categories, meaning it was also voted as this year’s Best Overall SUV.

As an upmarket model with a $40,000 starting price, the XC40 will not be accessible to all buyers, however, we think it nicely illustrates why the combination of a compact footprint and upscale design is so popular among today’s car shoppers.

The XC40 combines a blocky SUV body with eye-catching touches like a unique lighting signature and a floating roof design. The design is conservative but handsome.

A tall roof creates comfortable space for four adults in the car’s small footprint. Those adults will find the XC40’s interior looks a lot like every other contemporary Volvo and, consequently, unlike anything else in the class. Reviewer Justin Pritchard praised a clever cabin that is “more youthful and less serious, and styled to put colours and textures and shapes in the spotlight, rather than high-tech and bling.”

That’s important here: the XC40 is Volvo’s least-expensive model, and one it hopes will attract younger shoppers and keep them coming back. But even though it’s the most affordable Volvo, drivers still get a convincing luxury experience.

Many buyers who choose a car that looks fun will also expect driving dynamics to match, and the XC40 succeeds there, too.

In the XC40 T5 variants, a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, and AWD deliver 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque along with fuel economy that’s average for the class. For 2021, there’s also a fully electric model being added to the lineup called the XC40 Recharge with 402 hp, 486 lb-ft of torque, and 335 km of driving range. reviewer Peter Bleakney thought the internal combustion XC40 felt “sprightlier than most, surging ahead on a linear wave of torque,” and Lesley Wimbush said the combo “makes the XC40 feel more powerful than the numbers may suggest.”

Pritchard said the XC40 “feels like a little pocket rocket,” and that he “can’t imagine most shoppers wishing for more power.”

Bleakney thought the XC40 R-Design’s firmer suspension was “a bit too stiff-legged,” and Pritchard agreed, but was smitten by a chassis that “feels like a feisty little sports car and encourages you to play.”

Pritchard hails from snowy Sudbury, Ont., so we listen when he says a car’s AWD system is well done: “This is some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a Volvo in the snow. The XC40 can be as childish and slippery or as planted and sure-footed a thing to drive as you like.”

There’s little about the XC40’s engineering that breaks the subcompact crossover mould, but it’s rare to find chassis and powertrain components that create such a cohesive overall driving feel.

The XC40 lives up to Volvo’s reputation for safety-focused designs with standard front and rear collision mitigation, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist, and great LED headlights. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the XC40 its top “good” rating across the board for crash protection.

Every XC40 also comes with automatic climate control, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter, power driver’s seat, and digital gauge cluster.

More high-tech stuff lives in the XC40’s 9.0-inch vertical touchscreen, which controls most of the car’s secondary functions. This is one of the weak points in modern Volvos, and our reviewers were unanimous in calling the interface “fussy” and “distracting.”

Buyers who like style but are also keen on sustainable solutions will appreciate the R-Design trim’s “lava” carpet, which covers the doors, floors, lower dash, and console in a fuzzy orange material made from recycled plastic bottles. It sounds garish but looks great, and is a nice complement to the cabin’s quality feel.

The XC40 may not be affordable by overall subcompact SUV standards, but it ends up being a strong value because it makes you feel good about spending $40,000 – or more – on a small crossover.

It’s not every day that a vehicle satisfies the needs of a mass-market segment and the wants of driving enthusiasts, and it’s even more rare that the car to do both is a Volvo. But the verdict is in: Volvo has scored a hit with the little XC40.