Like it or not, the SUV and crossover are a big part of the motoring landscape these days, so it’s no surprise Volvo is cashing in with its compact XC40. Slotting in beneath the vast XC90 seven-seater and BMW X3-rivalling XC60, the XC40 has cars such as the BMW X2, Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA firmly in its sights. Intended as a more engaging and sporty addition to the line-up, the Volvo promises to be the sort of car that can slip into the everyday grind while adding a bit of spice when the situation demands. It’s an ambitious claim for a machine that effectively follows the template of a high-riding and heavyweight off-roader, but in reality the XC40 comes very close to nailing its brief – few crossovers are as accomplished on the road.
There’s a wide range of petrol and diesel engines to choose from, including Volvo’s recently launched three-cylinder units. Pick of the bunch for performance is the T5, which is the most powerful version of the turbocharged 2-litre four-cylinder that also serves in the T4. The diesels are frugal and refined enough, but in a car of this size the appeal of petrol is harder to ignore.
Of more interest is the chassis, which does a fine job of treading the line between agility and everyday comfort. The light steering is nothing to write home about and there’s noticeable roll, but it responds quickly and is more poised than you’d expect, plus it rides deftly when all you want to do is cruise. Then factor in the car’s handsome lines and an interior that’s a cut above the Germans for style and pretty much matches them for execution. It’s fairly roomy and practical, as well, helping make the XC40 a decent option for those forced down the SUV route.
Volvo XC40: in detail
Performance and 0-100kph time The flagship T5 is the choice for performance, delivering decent urge and a sub-seven-second sprint to 100kph.
Engine and gearbox Volvo’s range of modular engines is fairly straightforward, with a choice of 2-litre petrol and diesels, plus a 1.5-litre petrol-only triple. Two or four-wheel drive is available with either six-speed manual or eight-speed auto.
Ride and handling given its SUV remit, the XC40 steers with surprising alacrity and poise, yet this agility doesn’t come at the expense of comfort.
L/100km and running costs All the diesels will crack a claimed 5.6L/100km, but you’ll need to do the kilometre to offset near-7.1L/100km of the thirstiest petrol. Residuals are rock solid.
Interior and tech Volvo is on a roll here, with the XC40 getting a bright and slickly designed cabin that’s packed with kit.
Design As bluff-fronted off-roaders go, the compact and neatly proportioned XC40 is one of the most visually appealing.
Price, specs and rivals
Entry point to the XC40 is $36,220, which buys you the entry-level two-wheel-drive T3 Momentum model with a manual gearbox. At the other end of the scale is the $49,355 (deep breath) T5 AWD Automatic Inscription Pro. However, be aware that indiscriminate plundering of the options list can see the price of these flagship models swell to an eye-watering $65,600 in a matter of a few ticks. Yikes!
Still, given the list of standard kit there shouldn’t be too much need to add extras as even basic Momentum models get all the kit you’re likely to need, including climate control, satnav, a nine-inch portrait-style infotainment screen, LED headlamps and more driver aids than you can shake a EuroNCAP five-star-rated stick at. R-Design models add some sporty styling cues, a ‘sports’ chassis, part-leather trim and configurable ambient lighting for the cabin among other things, while the Inscription brings full-leather trim and a whole host of extra convenience features, such as powered seats. All trim levels can be enhanced with the addition of the $2030 Pro pack that bundles together desirable extras such as heated seats and windscreen, adaptive LED lights, powerfold mirrors and powered seats.
In terms of price, purpose and perceived prestige appeal the challengingly styled BMW X2 is arguably the Volvo’s closest rival. Prices start a little higher at $41,310, but there’s a similar choice of petrol and diesel engines, plus two or four-wheel-drive options. Strangely, a manual gearbox is only available with the entry-level 18d diesel variant, with all other versions getting a six-speed auto. The less said about the fact the two-wheel sDrive versions send their power to the front wheels the better.
Another option is the Audi Q3, which is getting on a bit now and not far from replacement with the recently revealed all-new model, although that does mean there are likely deals to be done. Prices start at $36,620 and rise to $50.14. It’s been around for six years now, but the Q3 still feels relatively composed on the road, a firm ride the trade-off for reasonably precise handling. It’s inside that the car suffers, because while the interior is well built from quality materials it feels a generation or two behind recent Audi products in terms of technology and packaging. The engine line-up is limited to a pair of TFSI petrols (a 148bhp 1.4-litre and 177bhp 2-litre), plus a 2-litre TDI with either 148bhp or 181bhp. Sadly, the turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder RSQ3 was dropped from the range a while ago.
Performance and 0-100 time
Apart from the range-topping T5, the performance potential of the XC40 is best described as adequate. Slowest of the bunch is the 148bhp D3 AWD, which comes as standard with an auto gearbox and will need 10.4sec to go from standstill to 100kph. Sticking with front-wheel drive chops two-tenths off this time, while the six-speed manual will just dip under 10.0sec. Swiftest of the diesels is the D4, which is four-wheel drive and eight-speed auto only. The dash from 0-100kph takes a claimed 7.9sec, while the top speed is a heady 209kph. That said, all feel reasonably brisk on the road thanks to thumping mid-range torque (236lb ft for the D3 and 295lb ft for the D4) delivered at just 1750rpm.
Of the petrols, the manual-only T3 is the tardiest performer, not surprising when you consider the 1.5-litre triple has just 156bhp to haul around the best part of 1500kg. That said, a 0-100kph in 9.4sec is lively enough, although some way short of the 8.5sec time set by the 187bhp T4, which is AWD and auto only. The same is true of the range-topping 244bhp T5 that manages to slice the 0-100kph dash to 6.5sec and tops out at 225kph.