2019 Volvo XC40 First Drive Review: Redheaded Stepchild

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Volvo’s three SUVs are all similarly dressed and obviously related, but line them all up, and the new little 2019 XC40 kind of stands out like a brutha-from-anutha-mutha. Like maybe dad stepped out on the XC60 and XC90’s handsome blonde mom and knocked up a vixen from the other side of the tracks. Short overhangs push the wheels to the corners, the beltline swoops up into a blind-spot-inducing C-pillar, the other vehicles’ LED headlight hammers morph into Thor’s divining rods here, and the XC40 wears the XC90’s grille inside out. It is designed so that you can assign digital keys to the smart phones of family members, loved ones (or perhaps the occasional renter) for car sharing. And the XC40 won’t force you into an arranged marriage involving laborious purchase or lease negotiations with a dealer. You can effectively “swipe right” on an app and hook up with one for as little as a year (learn about Care by Volvo below).

BLACKTOP R-Design models all get a black roof and roof rails, grille, mirrors, and an embossed black R-Design logo on the C-pillar. Momentum trim levels can have a white top for $300.

All of this is carefully planned to steer upscale millennial buyers away from the established players and into Volvo’s open embrace. As the first product on the Geely group’s new CMA small-car platform, the first 40-series car Volvo has offered on a global basis, and the brand’s first entry in the fast-growing premium compact CUV space, expectations for the XC40 are pretty high. So is the body (Volvo asserts best-in-class ground clearance and height) and the equipment specification, with the safety gear list mostly identical to an XC90’s—Pilot Assist (adaptive cruise and lane-centering), City Safety, run-off-road protection and mitigation, cross traffic alert with brake support, and a 360-degree camera system to help drivers maneuver their car into tight parking spaces. To assess its chances of success, we channeled our inner entitled, lazy, selfie-snapper and headed to Barcelona to sample what might be the most youthful Volvo since the 1957 P1900 roadster.

The only trim level available for test-driving was the range-topping T5 AWD R-Design, and we gravitated to a white one with the “molten lava” orange carpet and door insert trim (a $100 option on R-Design models only). As with the exterior, the XC40’s Sensus vertical iPad-like infotainment screen, A/C vent design, gauges, and fonts say Volvo, but the lack of a woodgrain trim option and the techie metal trim—not to mention that bright orange carpet—all reflect Volvo’s desire to lure the youth. Nothing’s getting lost on this floor or in the gigantic door storage pockets, which benefit from ditching the bass speakers from the lower door trim and replacing them with a single big bass speaker mounted to the firewall just under where the right wiper parks. The interior bristles with clever storage solutions. There’s a retractable hook above the glove box described as a place to hang carryout food bags (an owner’s mom could hang her purse there, too). A console trash bin with a lid comes out for easy emptying, and Volvo introduces its first wireless phone-charging doc in the console. The rear cargo floor folds to form a divider, with three hinge points that serve as bag hooks (another pair of bag hooks flank the cargo area for when the floor is left flat). We also like the rigid cargo cover that stows beneath the floor when carrying taller items.

XC40 T5 models are powered by a 2.0-liter turbo that’s rated for 248 hp at 5,500 rpm and 258 lb-ft between 1,800-4,800 rpm. The engines in the senior XC T5s make two more horses and reach peak torque 300 rpm earlier. A T4 front-drive base model will trail the T5 to market, outfitted with a smaller turbocharger producing 14.3 pounds of boost (down from the T5’s 20.0), so output peaks at 185 hp and roughly 195 lb-ft (full specs are not yet available). In other markets, the XC40 will introduce Volvo’s forthcoming I-3 engine making 150 hp and 207 lb-ft, and we could yet see hybrid and/or fully electric variants. The XC40 uses its elder siblings’ eight-speed automatic, ratios and all.

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The all-new CMA platform employs struts in front and a fully isolated four-link rear suspension. Base cars get twin-tube shocks, the optional sport suspension (standard on R-Design) gets fancier mono-tube shocks with stiffer damping and spring rates, and an optional Four-C suspension will eventually be available with continuously controlled damping courtesy of Tenneco valves on Öhlins dampers. In another departure from SPA practice, the electric power steering system’s electric motor moves the steering rack via a second pinion instead of via parallel belt-drive and worm gears. The effort map looks like a deep notch, ramping up quickly just off center in each direction. Base cars get 18-inch wheels, 19s and 20s are optional, all shod in all-season tires for the U.S. There’s a 21-inch accessory wheel that gets summer tires.

FLAGGED The first 5,000 XC40s will feature this little rubberized Swedish flag, adhered to the clamshell hood on the driver’s side and echoing the cloth one that’s been affixed to Volvo seats for years.

So how does it feel, zipping around the twisting Catalonian roads below Montserat? Compared with an XC60 T6 AWD sampled on these very same roads in May, it’s considerably lighter, more compact, and nimbler. Volvo estimates our XC40 will hit 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, and indeed it feels nearly as quick as our last XC60 T6, which hit 60 in 6.1 seconds. Clearly trimming 600 pounds is roughly equivalent to adding a supercharger, as our XC40’s engine is towing just a fraction of a pound-per-horsepower more weight than its big stepbrother. Bury the throttle to pass a slow-moving local, and revs build quickly and class-competitively, but we wish the engineers had better differentiated this engine’s sound signature. When it’s on the boil, it has the exact same angry-horseflies buzz one hears in the big-boy XCs. Oh well, crank up the Harman Kardon jams.

As in 60- and 90-series Volvos, the driver can select between Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Off-road, and Individual driving modes that tailor the throttle and transmission response, brake and steering feel, all-wheel-drive torque bias, and damping level (when so equipped). Sadly, XC40s trade the console-mounted diamond-milled rotary push knob for a plain black button on the center stack. Dynamic mode brightens up throttle response and sharpens transmission logic quite noticeably, but any variation in steering or brake feel were too subtle to notice on this drive. At one point an aggressively driven older VW GTI gave chase, and we were impressed by the flat cornering and high levels of grip afforded by the R-Design’s standard sport suspension. Of course our Euro-spec cars were shod in optional 20-inch Pirelli P Zero summer rubber. America gets standard all-season fitments, so we should expect more tire squeal and fewer cornering gs. None of the bumps we encountered with these sport suspenders threatened to knock passengers’ phones from their hands. If our drive raised one caution it’s on the fuel economy front. If the computer’s self-reporting is to be believed, we managed just 22 mpg over 180 miles or so, probably half of which was gentler highway cruising.

Customer deliveries are expected in the second quarter of 2018. Before then we’ll ask our own millennial staffers to rank this wild Swede amongst its Eurasian peers, the BMW X1, Audi Q3, Infiniti QX30, and Mercedes GLA-Class. Their eagerness to assume the task might be our first clue to the vehicle’s success.

NORWEGIAN WOULD? The interior manages Scandinavian sleekness without wood. It looks upscale despite conventional starter and mode-select buttons. The by-wire shifter requires two taps forward or backward to engage R or D as in T8 Volvos.
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Care by Volvo—Netflix for Premium CUVs

Today’s harried millennial has no appetite for the hassle of dickering to buy or lease a vehicle, cross-shopping insurance, contemplating maintenance plans, etc. He or she just wants to pick the colors, twiddle a smartphone screen, and drive off. That’s all it takes to download a movie or TV series from Netflix or Amazon, and now as little as 10 minutes of phone-fiddling can also “download” a nice Volvo XC40 (T5 AWD Momentum trim with five popular options) for $600/month or a nicer Volvo XC40 (loaded R Design) for $700. During that time, Care partner Liberty Mutual Insurance assesses your risk profile and either accepts or declines you for its $500-deductible standard insurance plan—there’s no discounting or surcharging based on your location or driving record. The contract is for two years at 15,000 miles per year, but after just 12 months the car can be swapped for another one by signing a new 24-month contract. These mono-spec cars will be stocked and distributed by Volvo and delivered and serviced by local dealers. All the subscriber pays for is gas and local taxes/fees (this is an ownership model, not a rental model like Cadillac’s Maven). The first Care subscriptions will be offered in March, selling on convenience, not lower overall costs.

Learn more about Care by Volvo here

2019 Volvo XC40
BASE PRICE $34,195-$38,695
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINES 2.0L/185-hp/195-lb-ft (est) turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 2.0L/248-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3,450-3,550 lb (est)
WHEELBASE 106.4 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 174.2 x 73.3 x 65.0 in
0-60 MPH 6.2-7.0 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. Spring 2018

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