Compact SUV hits the mark

by Huw Thomas, chairman, Welsh Motoring Writers

THE XC40 took the European Car of the Year Award for 2018 despite competition from Alfa Romeo, BMW and Audi. It was Volvo’s first outright win although the XC90 was runner up in 2016 and Volvo came 3rd in 2013 and 1983.

Its recent success reflects the shift from solid, spacious saloons and estates to more “on-trend” SUVs and “crossovers”. The saloons and estates have become sleek and stylish but over half of all Volvos made are SUVs and they are the core product now.

Unlike the large S90 (saloon), V90 (estate), XC90 (SUV) and upper-medium S, V and XC60 the lower-medium XC40 is based on a CMA (Compact) platform which will carry an S40 and V40 before long. A ‘clean sheet’ project it is pitched at a more ‘youthful’ audience. As with the 90/60 series XC comes first in the range roll- out.

Although Volvo’s engine line-up is narrower with less of an emphasis on the sort of dynamic prowess served up by Mercedes, BMW or Audi for example, its approach majors on security, ‘cool-clean’ interior design, comfort and a relaxed driving experience. The XC40’s front has the Volvo look but it’s not a ‘down-sized’ XC60.

Although predominantly an on-road vehicle, the XC40 is more than a ‘jacked-up hatchback’. All- Wheel Drive versions predominate and even the sportier suspension (up-rated springs, anti-roll bars and rear shock absorbers) of an R-Design variant does not reduce ground clearance. Drive Mode selection is a standard feature and its ‘Off Road’ setting, apart from optimising the car’s electronics for off-tarmac use, activates Hill Descent Control while cutting off the engine’s start- stop device.

Once back on-road Drive Mode offers ‘Eco’, ‘Dynamic’ with ‘Comfort’ as the default setting. In R-Design guise the ride is firmer than with standard models but not uncomfortable. If pressing on there’s some body roll (lean) when cornering but grip is all there. The steering is light and there’s a tendency to apply a bit too much on entering a corner although it’s easily corrected.

‘Dynamic’ reduces the steering’s power assistance and, although usefully weightier, it’s only marginally more communicative. Otherwise it sharpens up the dynamic character of the car (acceleration, braking, etc.) and again cuts off the stop/start.

Volvo’s Sensus Sat-Nav via a 9” centrally mounted portrait-style touchscreen is another standard fitment. Connectivity, ‘On-Call’ and voice-activation are here as is ‘City Safety’ emergency auto-braking, lane departure deterrence and run-off road protection. As ever there’s a long list of extras.

Again, too many functions have been swept into the touchscreen. The only buttons left are for basic audio controls, Drive Mode, windscreen/back window electric heating and emergency indicators. A multi-function steering wheel looks after cruise control, etc. Lights and indicators are operated by column-mounted stalks. Having to go

‘into’ the screen merely to adjust air-con settings for instance can be distracting.
Smaller 3-cylinder engines are on the way but the current petrol and Diesel line-up adopts the larger-cars’ 2.0-litre, 4-cyl units with outputs varied via turbo-charging or (later) petrol-electric hybridisation. The XC40’s regular model range is supplemented by two “limited allocation” First Edition variants to mark the launch. These are based on the high-spec R-Design Pro AWD 8-speed auto with D4 190ps Diesel or T5 247 ps petrol engines and have additional equipment packs: £39,305/£40,055.

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