It’s not every day a car brand launches into a new territory, particularly when that brand is Volvo – the Swedish brand known as much for playing it safe as they are for safety itself. And yet at the launch event for the new Volvo XC40 in Fourways, I found myself in a model as new as it was eccentric, and yet not all too surprisingly, one that lives up to the recent run of form displayed by the Swedish brand.
The Volvo XC40 the first compact crossover from the Swedish marque, and it enters a territory that this year alone has been flooded with adversaries ranging from the BMW X2 to the Jaguar E-Pace, with the existing entrants of the Audi Q2 and Mercedes-Benz GLA now coming under fire from all sides. But the XC40 enters the market with an ace up its sleeve – it’s just been crowned as European car of the year, the same title bestowed in recent years upon the likes of the Peugeot 3008, Opel Astra, and Volkswagen Passat.
The Volvo XC40 is the first vehicle to be underpinned by Volvo’s new CMA underpinnings. CMA – short for Compact Modular Architecture – is the junior sibling to the SPA platform underpinning larger Volvos like the S90, XC90, and the forthcoming XC60, due for local release within the coming months. Like the larger SPA platform, CMA underpinnings have been engineered with strength and safety in mind, and crucially, they’ve been developed to coincide with Volvo’s plans to electrify every offering from the year 2019 onwards – with the platform ready top house plug-in hybrid running gear, and under Polestar, a fully electric drivetrain.
Though built on front-wheel drive underpinnings, at launch the Volvo XC40 is available in just two all-wheel drive derivatives. The D4 AWD Geartronic is the sole diesel model in the line-up, utilising the latest 2.0-litre turbocharged Drive-E diesel engine to generate 140kW @ 4000r/min and 400Nm @ 1750-2500 r/min, sent to all 4 wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox. The T5 AWD Geartronic is the only other derivative available at launch, packing a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine sending 185kW @ 5500r/min and 350Nm @ 1800-4800r/min through the same running gear as the D4.
However, Volvo South Africa will also be introducing a T3 FWD Manual later in 2018. The T3 will be the first Volvo to feature a new Drive-E 3-cylinder engine, a 1.5-litre turbocharged unit (based on the Drive-E modular engine technology) developing 115kW and 265Nm, and driving the front wheels solely through a 6-speed manual gearbox.
The 4.4 metre long Volvo XC40 is only marginally shorter than the XC60 (by 20cm), though it remains as wide and as tall as its bigger brother. But the key figure with regards to dimensions is the ground clearance on offer, with the XC40 riding 211mm above the ground to ensure capable clearance even off-road.
Advanced Safety Systems
Of course the Volvo XC40 wouldn’t be a Volvo if there weren’t a focus on safety – after all, by the year 2020 Volvo is aiming to have not a single death or severe injury occurring in any new Volvo model.
Volvo has equipped with XC40 with the same technology found in the 90 cluster of vehicles. This includes the City Safety suite with front collision warning and full autobrake in the event of an impending crash. These systems are fully functional, even when it may be too dark for the human eye to detect the potential hazard. Volvo’s safety systems also comprise pedestrian, cyclist, and large animal detection with auto-braking, rear collision warning that can also warn the driver behind of a potential crash, and lane keeping aid.
But the key safety features are the road sign information system, Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving, park assist pilot, and blind spot information with rear cross traffic alert – the latter of which for the first time will automatically brake to avoid a collision when reversing into the way of unsighted traffic. Other safety features include driver alert control, run-off road mitigation, and impact and speed sensitive airbag deployment that will vary deployment pressure and speed, as well as seatbelt pre-tension based on the speed and severity of the impact.
Technologically Advanced Infotainment
The XC40 derives much of its technology from the 90 cluster vehicles that have come before. But instead of cheapening the tech for the cheaper vehicle, Volvo has essentially equipped the XC40 to the same standards as you’ll find in the XC90 and V90 Cross Country. Dominating the centre of the dash, the 9-inch Sensus Connect touch screen boasts the same pinch and swipe functionality we’ve lauded it for previously. A digital instrument cluster is also standard across the range, with customizable display options and various themes to be applied.
But with an eye on a new generation of Volvo buyers, new technology has been added to the already extensive array of functionality. In addition to Sensus Connect’s full smartphone connectivity, the XC40 features a QI wireless charging pad in the centre console for compatible devices, and there are up to 4 USB ports available throughout the car to ensure that all occupants remain fully charged and ready to go.
With the Volvo XC40 catering to a younger audience than ever before, Volvo needed to ensure that it was packaged and designed to meet the needs and wants of such a target audience. The interior follows on from the exceptional design seen in recent offerings from the brand, but a new layer of customisation has been added by allowing buyers to opt between a range of interior décor panels on the dash and door inlays, as well as a range of colour and texture options for the dash and upholstery. Particularly striking, Oxide Red leather can be specified, as well as ‘Lava’ carpets, made from 100% recycled materials and adding more than just a splash of colour to the svelte Swede’s interior.
Interior packaging is however the pièce de résistance of the Volvo XC40. Care has been taken to ensure that the interior is as functional as it is stylish, with an array of storage areas scattered around the cabin to ensure you always have space available for whatever you need to stow. An innovative refuse binnacle has been added to the centre console – one that can be removed to be emptied and cleaned – whilst the speakers usually mounted in the doors have been moved to the dash to allow the large door pockets to be engineered to house a laptop computer in addition to water bottles.
There are storage trays beneath the front seats, a fold-out hook from the cubby hole, and an array of storage options when the tailgate is opened. Volvo has advanced its Ikea-esque cargo bay divisibility with a false floor that, when raised, partitions the cargo area as well as creating hooks upon which to hang shopping bags to keep the contents upright. The rear parcel shelf can also be stowed neatly beneath the false floor.
Crucially, the Volvo XC40’s cargo volume has been prioritised. The wide load bay is capable of holding 460 litres with the full quota of 5 seats in full use. The rear bench will fold completely flat though, bringing with it a volume of 1336-litres of storage space, in addition to 73-litres of under-floor storage.
In a segment whose chief rivals come from the most prolific of German manufacturers, the XC40 needs to be brilliant to set itself apart from the rest – if the striking styling hadn’t done enough.
From behind the wheel, it seems Volvo has managed to produce something more than a match for those in the segment. The tall seating position provides a commanding view of the road, and makes the most of a fairly compact interior. There’s space for adults in the rear row of seating – even in the obligatory ‘me behind myself’ test at 182cm.
Multi-link suspension has been tuned to provide a fine balance between comfort and capability, with masses of ride refinement clearly displayed on the patchwork of roads surrounding the Fourways launch venue. Large bumps are handily dealt with by the 211mm ground clearance and wealth of suspension travel that brings with it, whilst the finer imperfections are subtly ironed out.
The ride is accomplished, yet devoid of the wallowing nature oft delivered by softer, comfort biased suspension setups. Instead, the XC40’s ride is wonderfully supportive, even under cornering where grip levels are high and body roll is kept to a fair minimum. Handling is sharp and precise – though the electronic power assisted steering is devoid of feel, it’s accurate and well weighted, with good turn in and decent responses just off the centre of the mark. It’s not exactly the kind of vehicle you’re likely to toss about, but it’s more than capable under duress, even if not exactly communicative about it.
Both D4 AWD and T5 AWD models were sampled on various routes, with the peach of the two being the oil burner. Despite the lack of PowerPulse to mitigate the fairly minimal amounts of turbo-lag, it’s the wealth of torque that makes it worthwhile, offsetting the power deficit between it and the petrol offering and ensuring that pace off the mark is swift, and overtaking equally so. While the petrol derivative naturally revs higher, the 8-speed automatic gearbox effectively manages the torque curves of both engines to within a negligible degree. It’s no ZF 8-speed, and at times the ‘box can be a tad slow to effect downshifts, but on the whole it manages things quite smoothly.
But where the Volvo XC40 scores highly is the all-round refinement. It’s not just the exemplary ride, but the low levels of NVH (Noise, Vibration, and Harshness) permeating the cabin. The levels of refinement are truly premium, and match the perceived quality of the interior – one in which it seems the XC90 has been scaled down, but not cheapened to meet a budget. The XC40 feels a thoroughly developed compact SUV that, if buyers can look past brand bias, should provide an exceptional alternative to the X2, Q2, and E-Pace.
Pricing and Specification
Three engines derivatives will be available – T3 FWD, T5 AWD, and D4 AWD – with each available in one of three trim lines – Momentum, Inscription, R-Design. Items like Led headlamps and rear park assist are standard on all models, along with cruise control, digital instrumentation, 60/40 split folding rear seats. Inscription and R-Design models benefit from power adjustable seats – with the R-Design getting combination suede and leather sport seats – as well as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration and wireless charging.
A range of options are available either individually or in packages, including auto-dimming mirrors, heated seats, Blind spot assist, heated steering wheel, premium Harman Kardon sound, and the power panoramic sunroof. 18-inch alloy wheels are the standard, though wheel designs up to 21-inches in diameter can be specified. A total of 7 interior colour combinations are available, with 3 inlay designs, and an exterior colour palette of 13 paints available – all of which can be paired with a contrasting roof.
As for pricing, at launch, pricing on all models has been set as follows:
|T3 Manual Momentum||R489,500.00|
|T3 Manual Inscription||R521,300.00|
|T3 Manual R-Design||R528,400.00|
|T5 Geartronic AWD Momentum||R610,900.00|
|T5 Geartronic AWD Inscription||R642,600.00|
|T5 Geartronic AWD R-Design||R649,700.00|
|D4 Geartronic AWD Momentum||R600,300.00|
|D4 Geartronic AWD Inscription||R632,100.00|
|D4 Geartronic AWD R-Design||R639,200.00|
Volvo’s XC40 subscription service, Care by Volvo, introduced globally with the XC40 is under consideration for the South African market, but will only likely be introduced in 2019. Care by Volvo takes care of insurance, maintenance, and ‘ownership’ of the XC40 on a lease type basis, effectively creating a cell-phone contract-like subscription in which the driver only needs to pay for refuelling, with all other costs covered within the monthly subscription fee.
Photography by Roarke Bouffe