Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Volvo XC40

To the most pragmatic sorts, a burlap sack provides every bit the utility of a Fendi handbag. A $40 Timex does the same job as a $4,000 Tag Heuer. And a run-of-the-mill compact SUV – the sort you find by the dozen in every school or Walmart parking lot – gets its passengers where they need to go, just as the new Volvo XC40 crossover will.

Materials and assembly are all top-shelf, and there’s a unique aesthetic.

To spend on premium products is to appeal to one’s sense of style; satisfying the heart over the head (and wallet). Yet brands like Fendi, Tag, and Volvo that carry with them pedigree and European cachet, are thriving. They extend the fundamental functionality of bargain brands, but present superior materials and artistry to charm the senses.

The 2019 Volvo XC40 is all new. It’s Volvo’s first model to employ the Compact Modular Architecture platform and deviates in both mission and execution from its larger XC60 and XC90 cousins.

While the handsome XC60 and XC90 (as well as the rest of the lineup, for that matter) are anything but stodgy, the XC40 takes a decidedly more youthful and sporty approach to its styling both inside and out. Dimensionally it’s obviously smaller than the other Volvo ’utes, but it also has fun flourishes that simply wouldn’t fly on the bigger rigs. Contrasting colour roof panels, available white-painted wheels, and even the little Swedish flag poking out from under the hood along the driver’s fender are all details designed to appeal to a younger, more fashionable demographic.

The development team is quick to point out that the XC40 is tall enough to wear big 20-inch wheels, offers the most ground clearance in the premium compact class and is meant to give drivers a proper, commanding SUV vantage point. That may be, but while the XC40’s front end is smart and sophisticated, it’s still pretty cutesy from the back three-quarter view.

Volvo’s designers are an especially clever bunch, and what they’ve done with the XC40’s interior is thoroughly impressive. Storage solutions abound inside. The centre console contains a removable garbage bin. There are nooks, crannies, and cubbies throughout the entire cabin, including front door pockets large enough to contain a sizeable water bottle and a laptop computer. The glove box has a fold-out hook from which to hang that Fendi handbag (or maybe a bag of take-out food).

The rear cargo hold has plenty of modular options to organize stuff too, and best of all, the privacy cover fits underneath the cargo hold floor if removed to allow loading of bulky items. Why it’s taken us as a society so long to come up with this solution is a mystery for the ages.

Four adult occupants can travel quite comfortably in the XC40, with ample space. A fifth, squeezed between the two rear passengers, may cause some grumbling.

There’s plenty of style inside the XC40 to remind owners of the premium brand they’ve paid for. Materials and assembly are all top-shelf, and there’s a unique aesthetic with vertically oriented vents, a printed matrix design for the accent trim, and on some of our R-Design test vehicles, fuzzy “Lava Orange” door inserts made from recycled plastic bottles.

Amenities abound as well. The R-Design seats are swathed in leather and Alcantara, and are both supportive and comfortable. There’s an available wireless charge panel for smartphones, a crisp screen for the primary gauges and a vertically oriented infotainment system screen.

That 9.0-inch touchscreen system is more complex to figure out than some of the competitors’ systems, but with a bit of time, is sure to become second-nature in operation. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included. The sound system connected to the infotainment unit on our test machine was an upgraded Harman Kardon unit that foregoes speakers in the doors for an air-vented woofer mounted on the passenger-side dash area, ahead of the firewall.

The system sounds great and can be appreciated all the more thanks to the XC40’s very quiet cabin. Road and wind noise are especially well suppressed, and engine noise only becomes intrusive when the driver asks the Volvo to kick up its heels.

And kick up its heels it can. The 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. What’s more, peak torque is spread flat from 1,800 to 4,800 rpm, making real world driveability very easy. Volvo claims a 0–100 km/h run of 6.5 seconds – a pretty impressive figure for the class that seems completely believable.

From a standstill, there’s a whiff of lag before the XC40 takes off smartly. With standard all-wheel drive for Canadian XC40s, traction is well-managed, too.

Power is directed through an eight-speed automatic that’s seemingly tuned for efficiency over sportiness given how eager it is to upshift, and sometimes reluctant to downshift. A “Sport” driving mode is available which encourages the transmission to hold gears longer (and makes the throttle inputs more aggressive), but really doesn’t do much to change the Volvo’s personality. If there’s another nit to pick about the transmission, it’s how Volvo requires multiple taps of the shifter stalk to reach Drive or Reverse (instead of being able to go directly from Park to Drive in one motion). It’s not a big deal, but something that did mildly annoy my drive partner and I on our trip.

Handling is decent, if not likely to be best-in-class, but the trade for ride quality is favourable. Truthfully, this is the smart move for Volvo since most buyers of the XC40 will be looking more for a vehicle that’s comfortable and manoeuvrable in an urban setting, than a back-road carving machine anyway.

Not forgetting its reputation for safety, Volvo has loaded up the XC40 with their entire suite of safety features including City Safe with vehicle, pedestrian, cyclist, and large animal detection with auto braking; as well as lane-keeping and on-coming lane mitigation, driver alert control, and post-impact braking, to name a few. A 360-degree camera system to assist in low-speed moves in tight quarters, adaptive cruise control, Pilot Assist semi-autonomous functionality, and blind-spot information system are available as an option package. Given the limited visibility over the left shoulder due to wide B-pillars, this package should be seriously considered.

There are other option packages as well, allowing a buyer to spec out an XC40 to a truly luxurious level. Volvo has priced the XC40 aggressively with a starting price of $39,500 for the well-equipped Momentum trim. Step up to the R-Design for $4,000 and both the equipment and style levels are elevated accordingly.

There are more affordable compact sport utility vehicles on the market, but Volvo’s XC40 makes a pretty strong case to spring for a premium product with such style, performance, and safety. With a growing portfolio of beautifully designed and properly luxurious machines, it’s no surprise Volvo’s sales have been on the rise in Canada, and this new XC40 is sure to help keep the brand on its strong upward trajectory.

The Volvo XC40 will start appearing in Canadian showrooms by spring 2018.

Pricing: 2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD

Momentum: $39,500
R-Design: $43,700

Destination: $1,395