Automakers want to be first into a new segment for various reasons. They can become the icon for the class and grab a fair chunk of sales as competitors rush to get their models in. There is a significant downside to being first as it allows some of the competition to study and figure out where to improve on. This brings us to the 2019 Volvo XC40 which is the focus of today’s review. It was one of the late arrivals to the subcompact luxury crossover class, but it allowed the automaker to study and figure what it could improve on. How does it stack up?
The XC40 shares various design traits with the XC60 and XC90 crossovers. They include a familiar boxy profile, wide rectangular grille, and LED headlights with the signature “Thor’s Hammer” element. But Volvo allowed their designers to play around to give it a distinct identity. Take for example the side profile with its beltline that sharply rakes along the rear door and meets the rear pillar. There is also the option of a two-tone color palette that gives the XC40 a youthful look.
Inside, the XC40 follows the ideals as seen in other Volvos with a minimalist look. But again, Volvo gave free roam to their designers to make it slightly different. While my test vehicle didn’t come with the bright ‘Lava Orange’ carpet, there is patterned metal trim where you would expect to find wood and felt-like material covering parts of the door panels. There is a fair amount of hard plastics used, but Volvo made the smart decision of keeping them in places where they make sense such as panels covering the center console.
My R-Design tester came with leather upholstery for the seats, along with power adjustments for those sitting in the front. The front seats are the best place to sit in as they offer plenty of support and comfort for any drive length. In the back, there plenty of head and legroom for most passengers. But the XC40 falters on the seats as the bottom cushions come up a bit short and the seat-back doesn’t have any form of recline.
Volvo’s technology story in the XC40 is mixed. The reconfigurable 12.3-inch display for the instrument cluster is a delight to look at with vibrant graphics and different layouts to present key information. Move over to the center stack to find a nine-inch touchscreen with Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. Many of the controls for audio, climate control, and systems are controlled through the screen, with a row of buttons sitting underneath for volume and a few other functions. This decision does make for a cleaner dash but also makes accomplishing simple tasks very irritating. To change the fan speed or audio input, you have to go through various screens to find that one menu or slider. Adding more physical buttons would clutter up the dash, but would massively improve overall usability.
What engine comes under the hood of the XC40 ultimately depends on the driven wheels. Go for front-wheel drive and you’ll end up with the T4 - turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder with 187 horsepower. Opt for all-wheel drive like in my tester and you’ll get the T5 - the same 2.0L four, but with 248 horsepower. Both come paired with an eight-speed automatic.
The T5 is the workhorse of Volvo’s lineup by boasting decent performance and fuel economy for most of their models. In the XC40, the T5 becomes a surprising performer with excellent off the line performance and a seemingly endless flow of power when needed for passing. Some credit is due to the 258 pound-feet of torque which is available on the low end of the rpm band. The eight-speed automatic provided timely and smooth shifts.
Fuel economy is rated at 23 City/31 Highway/26 Combined. My average for the week landed around 24 mpg.
Opting for the R-Design does change up the chassis setup with an emphasis on sporty driving. This is apparent in the bends as the XC40 feels confident with minimal body roll and quick reflexes. Steering is responsive, but there will be some who wished there was a little bit more weight dialed in. The downside to the R-Design’s chassis is the ride feeling slightly rough, not helped by the optional 20-inch alloy wheels fitted to my tester.
Despite being somewhat late to the party, the Volvo XC40 stands out from the subcompact luxury crossover crowd. The styling inside and out put the model into its own space that competitors dream about, along with offering a strong performer in the form of the T5 engine. Where the XC40 stands out is the Care By Volvo subscription service. Starting at $700 a month for 24 months, this service gives you the vehicle, complimentary maintenance, insurance, and the ability to upgrade your vehicle to another one after 12 months. No one has been able to match what Volvo is offering.
The XC40 shows that if you bring something compelling to the party, it doesn’t matter how late you are.
Disclaimer: Volvo Provided the XC40, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Trim: T5 R-Design
Engine: 2.0L Turbocharged DOHC Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 248 @ 5,500
Torque @ RPM: 258 @ 1,800
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 23/31/26
Curb Weight: 3,713 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Ghent, Belgium
Base Price: $35,700
As Tested Price: $46,385 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)
R-Design Features - $2,500.00
Laminated Panoramic Sunroof - $1,200.00
Vision Package - $1,100.00
Advanced Package - $995.00
Premium Package - $900.00
20" 5-Double Spoke Matte Black Alloy Wheels - $800.00
Harman Kardon Audio System - $800.00
Heated Front Seats & Steering Wheel - $750.00
Metallic Paint - $645.00