Driven: Volvo XC40

The Volvo XC40 removes the hassle of driving but leaves a good dose of fun, says Ian Angus.

Despite the SUV market in the UK having become ever more crowded, Volvo is keen to enter the fray and make your SUV-buying decision even harder, and the XC40 sits at the smaller end of that range.

Volvo is the UK’s fastest growing premium car brand; with the Volvo XC40 price ranging from £28,000-£40,000 (before options), it looks set to rival the BMW X1, Jaguar E-PACE, Land Rover Evoque, Mercedes GLC and the Audi Q3.

So yes: a crowded market – and that’s without even mentioning a host of other less prestigious rivals that you could add all the optional extras to and still come home with a bit of change from £30k. So is the XC40 worth parting with your hard earned cash?

The exterior of the XC40 reflects what Volvo has been about over recent years. They’ve quietly been turning out quality cars that don’t do anything brash. It’s unmistakably a stylish SUV, with rugged, sporty good looks and an assertive front end that’s a pleasure to look at. The design is in keeping with the current V range family and the larger XCs, but the XC40 still subtly boasts its own identity. The bonnet’s satisfying lines coming up from the lights are reminiscent of more recent Ford Mustangs; the front lights also provide the contours along the body (these include a small Swedish flag, fact-fans); and the boot’s diagonal line almost has a symmetry with the window in the rear doors. All this adds up; this is a good-looking car, and one of the most aesthetically pleasing small SUVs on sale today.

Inside the XC40 is solidly built with a quality finish; there are no cheap plastics on show, and essentially, it’s exactly what you’d expect from the brand. The T5 Inscription Pro model I drove boasted leather seats throughout, with the front seats easily adjusted to suit any shape or size, – and there is even the option to have a massage chair.

Once you’re comfortable, the elevated driving position gives you a great view of everything else on the road, as well as that nicely designed bonnet – it really feels like you are driving a big SUV despite it being the smallest model Volvo offers. It does this by providing space galore: the front is roomy and in the back you’d be able to comfortably fit two adults, with plenty of leg room for six footers sitting behind a driver of the same or larger stature. Three adults fit in the back without a problem and the comfort level only dipping a small amount. There’s loads of headroom in there, even if you opt for the glass roof (which forms part of the Xenium Pack). The rear doors themselves open wide to give you plenty of room for loading items on the back seat. The first of two niggles in the back are that the rear seats don’t have a lot of customisation in terms of reclining or sliding back and forth, which some rivals do offer, but then again the sliding really isn’t necessary with the available leg room. The second niggle is that the view through the rearmost window is marginally restricted by the diagonal line that creates some of the external ascetics.

There’s is plenty of room in the boot (460-litres), as well as no load lip, which is great for loading heavier or bulky items. If you are travelling with larger items and need to remove the parcel shelf then the versatility of the boot floor is a plus as you can store your parcel shelf under here. This versatility goes even further as you can fold it into a couple of positions: up and over to create a bit more depth, or up into a tent-like divide to create segregation to ensure whatever you’re carrying doesn’t move around – especially shopping bags, as the fold comes complete with some handy tabs that your bags can hook on to. Whilst that’s not something that will sell a car, it is a nicely thought out touch, and one that speaks volumes about the way the XC40 has been designed.

The boot opens with a gesture of your foot and closes at the touch of a button; the rear seats also fold down electronically at the touch of another button, and by doing so you’ll get 1,336 litres of room. That’s a bit less than others in the class, but still large enough for a good tip run. These features are all part of the Convenience Pack, that will set you back £350.

Looks aside, how does it drive? As an SUV it’s not designed to be thrown around corners, so there is a bit of sway if you do let loose on the country roads – which could be a problem if anyone in the back suffers from car sickness. When driven less aggressively, in town or on motorways then you’ll be rewarded with a hugely comfortable journey.

Road noise is scarcely noticeable and the steering is responsive, if a touch on the light side. The T5 I drove had an 8-speed automatic, 2.0-litre petrol engine; generating 247bhp and boasting a 0-60mph of 6.5 seconds, which is not bad for an SUV in this price range at all. The stats are good here but the drive was a bit less comfortable when unleashing full power, as the gearbox wasn’t entirely predictable on gear changes and could give both driver and passengers a jolt. The auto I drove didn’t have paddle shift either (though it is an option); giving the gear knob a nudge to the left or right makes the XC40 go up or down a gear, but I didn’t find this overly rewarding as it felt a bit unnatural, and there’s a small delay between your nudge and the gearbox actually changing gear. Not a deal breaker by any means, and it was definitely more predictable than putting your foot down in performance mode. But again, SUVs aren’t meant for that, so just put it back into comfort mode and enjoy the ride.

When it comes to technology the XC40 comes pretty kitted out. It has a 12.3 inch infotainment touchscreen that is pretty easy to navigate through, and can pair with your smartphone via Bluetooth, as you’d expect. The wireless charging plate will set you back another £175 but worked well for me and gave my phone a home that prevented it sliding about.

The model I drove also came installed with the Intellisafe Pro Pack (£1,500) that gives pilot assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot information and a couple of other less exciting extras like auto dimming mirrors and folding mirrors. I’d recommend having this option installed no matter what trim level you go for; the adaptive cruise control really made motorway driving a doddle: set your speed, choose the distance you’re comfortable with and the XC40 takes care of the rest using radar technology. If you’ve set the cruise control to 70 and the car in front slows to 50, the XC40 will follow suit and keep you at your preferred distance and match that speed of the vehicle in front; indicate to pull out and the XC40 will accelerate as you leave the lane to get you back up to 70 as quickly as possible; and as for those average speed checks, well they’ve never felt less annoying.

The Xenium Pack (£1,600) gives you a nice 360 degree parking camera, that big sunroof and the Park Assist Pilot. The 360 degree camera gives you top-down view of your car on the touch screen so obstacles can be seen in real-time on all side. The Parking Assist Pilot will help you find a space large enough to park in – if you drive slowly enough and close enough to the parked cars. There really are a lot of useful options and extras here that can start to add up; the standard T5 model has an OTR price of £38k but all the extras on this model pushed it up to £48.5k. If you are price conscious I’d recommend not test driving the top spec model as these little extras are all good – and once you know they are there, you’ll want them.

Volvo has launched Volvo Online, offering a hassle-free, secure end-to-end purchase process including configuration of your XC40, part exchange of your old car, and the ability to sign your finance agreement – all forms of purchase are available here including PCP, PCH, conditional sale and cash. It says you can get through the process in as little as 20 minutes.

Volvo has also launched a new scheme called Care by Volvo; this scheme allows you to pay a monthly price to cover all your car running needs (except for fuel). If you go down this route you get your car, insurance for you and two additional drivers, all service and repair costs, pick-up and delivery of your vehicle when it is due for servicing, tyre replacement, plus Volvo on call and breakdown cover. It really is a comprehensive list that makes life easier by keeping it all in one place and will certainly be an appealing prospect for those not wanting to sort all of these bits individually.

My verdict? Volvo really is going from strength to strength and the XC40 is a great small SUV that is well worthy of the price tag. The XC40 has a unique identity that sets it apart from its bigger siblings and really captures the essence of what an SUV is all about, but still manages to have an executive feel. With its good looks and rewarding drive, it’s easy to see why this car is picking up so many awards. If you’re in the market for a new small SUV – and can afford one – this has got to be on your shortlist.

Alternatively, if you are in the market for a small SUV but this is just out of reach, you could go for the Peugeot 3008 GT Line; this comes in new at around £30k, manages 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds and has a combined mpg of 54.3 from a 1.2l petrol engine – and it offers a bit more boot space than the XC40 too. In the Driver Power manufacturer rankings Peugeot has been performing well on customer satisfaction and is rated in the top 10 for practicality, connectivity and running costs.

 

Ian Angus @goose_burger