2018 Volvo XC40: First Drive Review
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This is Volvo’s answer to the BMW X1, the Audi Q3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA. Before it's launched in July this year, here're our first impressions of the baby Volvo SUV.
The Volvo XC40 is the company’s first offering in the compact luxury SUV segment. First shown as the Concept 40.1, the XC40 is what Volvo hopes will bring in a younger audience and people of different tastes to a brand that has been seeing great resurgence after being given a new lease of life 8 years ago. The XC40, like its elder siblings, the XC60 and the XC90, hopes to combine Volvo’s legendary focus on safety with their newfound panache for luxury and simply beautiful design in a much more compact and more affordable package. Does it succeed? Let’s find out.
Volvo’s managed to make an SUV beautiful without resorting to make it look like a car on stilts. Signature Volvo elements like the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED DRLs in the all-LED headlamps, the hexagonal grille with ‘Ironmark’ logo, waterfall tail lamps etc. remain but the XC40 has its own personality.
Unlike the other XCs, the XC40 has diamond-like studs in its grille, the hood has a more prominent clamshell design which gives it a more muscular look, and cuts and creases at the front to give it that imposing look. The design up front is so imposing that you do not realise it is actually just 15mm taller than the Maruti Suzuki Brezza.
The cleverness of the design is most evident from the side, where a number of elements make the XC40 seem smaller than it is. Right from the low overhangs to the blacked-out roof, the hood shutline, large 18-inch alloy wheels, black cladding and stylised concave surfaces on the body - these all give it a bold and exciting look without being over the top. The XC40 sits 211mm off the ground (unladen), which is the most in the segment, and it shows too.
At the rear, the XC40 has one of the biggest hatch doors in the segment, but the design doesn’t make it look like one off a van. The raked windshield, prominent spoiler, waterfall taillights and large black bumpers make the car look compact from the rear.
The XC40 exudes quality and also proudly wears its quirkiness on its sleeve from the moment you open the doors. India is the first market where the baby Volvo SUV will be offered in its top-of-the-line R-Design trim, bringing with it the best of features and a youthful air to the cabin.
That black and orange interior theme is unmissable, and with the only other option being the all-black interior, we imagine this to be found on most XC40s sold in India. The cabin uses the XC40’s class-leading height advantage to free up more space on the inside, and the large glasshouse area all around, including the huge panoramic sunroof, let in a lot of light. Even with the sharp crease on the rear window, the visibility out for passengers is not blocked.
While it does look spacious, the XC40 is strictly a 4-seater. While it is wider than the competition at 1863mm (the nearest rival is the Q3 at 1831mm), there is only so much wider it could be to hold three full-sized adults side by side. The rear seats also seem to have been designed to be upright in the interest of offering more luggage space in the boot. While the rear centre back sits flush when not used as the armrest and is offered with a safe 3-point seatbelt, there is simply not enough space to fit a large adult here.
There is a 586-litre boot which can be used in more ways than just dropping the rear seats flat. The XC40 gets an intelligent floor which can be folded in half to store items more securely without resorting to nets. Shopping bags can be hooked on cleverly designed hooks which pop up only in this configuration. Folding the floor also reveals a hidden but not flat storage compartment which can be used to stow away items out of sight. This space is bigger in the XC40s sold abroad but Volvo is offering a space-saver spare wheel instead in India.
The integration of storage spaces around the cabin continues. The centre console has a deep open space in front of the gear lever, whose main attraction is the availability of a wireless ‘Qi’ charging pad.
There are two cup holders with flexible elements to hold different sized cups or even small bottles. The compartment under the fixed but upward-swinging centre armrest has space for a large box or a lot of small things and also gets a dustbin!
While the front door pads can hold 1-litre bottles and some more kick-knacks, the driver also gets an underseat tray to hold items as big as a notebook laptop. The rear door pads are not as big, managing to fit only half-litre straight bottles (not hourglass-shaped Coke bottles) but there are cupholders in the middle armrest and shallow holders beside the seats for the same.
The large 9.0-inch vertically stacked touchscreen infotainment system and the all-digital instrument cluster have helped remove the clutter. Apart from the crazy colour scheme, the use of unconventional shapes, like the tall AC vents, squared steering horn pad, curved door handles and 3D-effect trim on the doors and the dashboard make sure you have enough reasons to smile just being in the cabin.
The quality of materials, their fit and finish and the features on offer will make you smile further. There’s soft-touch plastics everywhere important, no sharp edges anywhere; and the buttons on the doors, the dashboard and the steering wheel are well weighted while the rotary knobs on the A/C vents operate with a very satisfying ‘click’.
The mixed leather, contrast orange stitching and Alcantara make even the seats look like pieces of art. The long feature list also adds to the premiumness of the XC40 - be it the multi-functional-with-a-vengeance centre touchscreen, all-digital instrument cluster with navigation display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, radar-based safety suite and adaptive cruise control, 8-way electrically adjustable front seats, 2-zone climate control or the panoramic openable sunroof.
For everything that the Volvo XC60 offers, two things stand out as sore spots. There are no auto wipers on offer, even though there are auto headlamps. The reason for offering heated front and rear seats is also confusing since it could have been excluded for more practical features like a 360-degree camera.
The Volvo XC40 will be offered with only one powertrain at launch: a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine developing 190PS of maximum power and 400Nm of peak torque. Paired with an Aisin 8-speed automatic transmission, this engine sends power through a front-biased AWD system.
On paper the XC40 is on par with the sportiest version of the BMW X1, but the engine has been tuned more for driveability and efficiency than outright performance. There is a delay between you pressing the accelerator hard and the gearbox selecting the right gear and the XC40 galloping forward, but you will never notice this lag while driving sedately.
Ride and handling
The XC40 surprised us the most in this aspect, and not in the positive way. With large 18-inch wheels and non-adaptive steel springs it was clear the ride was going to be a bit on the harder side. Bumps of all sizes and road undulations are transmitted to the cabin and things don’t improve till you hit speeds of over 80kmph. At these speeds though, the suspension seems to have developed a tendency to bounce.
Things don’t improve when taking corners, with the XC40 showing a surprising tendency to roll at even modest two-digit speeds. This is the only problem, but it is nonetheless a major one with the Volvo XC40.
The Volvo XC40 has the design, equipment and luxury quotient sorted to be a segment disrupter. Being adamant that it will launch the XC40 only in a properly loaded trim, Volvo is also set to offer a value-for-money proposition to customers in the segment.
Those who do not feel the need to be badge snobs will find the XC40 hard to resist, with its SUV design, luxurious and spacious interior, segment-leading features and the company’s obsession with safety. The ride quality is the only factor which may put customers off and Volvo has more than a month’s time to set this right.