Car reviews - Volvo - XC40 - T5 R-Design
Shapely Swede, great balance of size and cabin space, pleasant drivetrain, beautiful cabin design, sensible features list
Room for improvement
High ownership costs, gearbox and stop-start can be abrupt, visibility around big B and C-pillars, fuel thirst
Volvo’s appealing city-centric XC40 is a cut above its direct rivals
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3 Sep 2018
By NEIL DOWLING
FROM the people who brought to motoring fundamentalists around the world a string of “boxy but safe” vehicles comes a new wave of cars that bear simply no relationship to the designs that put the Volvo name on the map.
Thanks to a clean sweep of fresh designers and more globally conscious owners, Volvo has transformed from a Euro-centric brand for buyers who wanted something different, to one that slips perfectly into contemporary road traffic.
Along the way it has retained a strong following by the previous generation of owners, and more importantly, picked up a new wave of buyers attracted by the sensibility of the brand, the fir-tree-and-rollmop romanticisms of Sweden, and the environmental ideals earnestly promoted by Volvo.
The XC40 is the fourth family member to reflect these values. It follows the first all-new vehicle released by Geely – which bought loss-making Volvo from Ford in 2010 – in 2014, the XC90. This uses Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture one-size-platform that fits the larger vehicles and has more recently successfully underpinned the S90 sedan, V90 wagon and XC60 mid-size SUV.
Now the XC40 follows through with its version of the platform, this time called Compact Modular Architecture, and to become common to other Geely children, including Volvo, Geely and Lynk & Co badges.
The new small SUV now faces up against the Jaguar E-Pace, Lexus NX, BMW X2, Audi Q2 and Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and others. Outside of this pond, it also lures buyers from upmarket versions of SUVs from Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai.
We spent a week with the petrol-powered XC40 T5 R-Design to see how Sweden was faring.
Price and Equipment
Volvo enters its XC40 into Australia’s small-SUV category but with a start price of around $45,000 plus on-road costs for the Momentum, it’s hardly small bucks. The T5 R-Design tested here starts at $55,990 plus on-road costs for the petrol engine and if you ensconce yourself into one of Volvo’s new Swedish decor showrooms and feel the Scandinavian ambience, you may well flick through the options list and cough up considerably more.
There is a healthy list of extras that can personalise your XC40 – any Volvo, in fact – ranging from a contrasting white (or black) roof for the Momentum, 21-inch wheels, dog harness and neck pillow. Prices aren’t advertised so you’ll have to visit the Volvo dealer.
But the good news is the R-Design comes with most of the fruit you’d desire.
Standard equipment starts outside with the mascara makeover, with black grille, dual tail pipes and roof, and LED headlights with the characteristic ‘Thor’s Hammer’ T-shaped lights running through the centre.
The wheels are 20-inch diamond-cut alloys, so the styling is separate from the Momentum that gets silver features and optional roof colour plus 19-inch wheels.
Inside the R-Design has perforated leather seats and black headlining, adds gearshift paddles to the steering column and an electric tailgate with gesture control.
The safety gear reflects Volvo’s long-standing mandate to maximise passive and secondary armour for its occupants and links with its vision that by 2020, no occupant will die in a collision between new Volvos.
Audio and infotainment is by Harman Kardon that has eight speakers and it Is accessible through the 9.0-inch central iPad-looking touchscreen that also houses satellite navigation, ventilation, heated seats, phone, audio, connectivity and vehicle information.
It’s a swipe, pinch and touch operation that requires some familiarity but works particularly well, although it requires the glass to be cleaned frequently.
Then there’s a 12.3-inch TFT screen in front of the driver that is both accurate and easy to comprehend, although the single dial tachometer and digital speedometer of some other Volvo models is a cleaner look.
The understated elegance of Volvos continues with the XC40, bringing leather and techno-finishes – such as the test car’s aluminium-look dash infills – to the R-Design and integrating that with soft plastic fascias and shirt-fibre carpets.
Included in all the cabin features is the handy wireless charger for the mobile phone but suits specific phones with the Qi feature.
Seats are leather faced and firm, with electric adjustment for both front occupants and with heated elements. The taller SUV design allows Volvo to place the seat cushion higher than the pedals to give a more relaxed seating position than an equivalent sedan.
Rear seats are slightly higher than the front for a theatre-style position suitable for children, but unlike the XC60 and XC90, there’s no integrated pop-up booster seat.
The driving position is actually liberal and indicative why SUVs – with their ease of access and large footwell – are so popular with people who may be less agile on their feet.
The high seat is also great for visibility around the car and within the cabin, halted mainly by the large B- and C-pillars. Parking is a doddle, mainly because of the large screen for the camera and the front and rear sensors.
The luggage space is a generous 459 litres with the rear seats in place, then expanded to 1336 litres with the rear seats folded down. This compares with the Audi Q3 at 427 litres and the Jaguar E-Pace at 577 litres.
The cargo floor is flat, with no lip to the leading edge, making it easy to slide parcels in and out.
There’s also a luggage net and hooks for shopping bags.
Engine and transmission
The break away of Volvo from Ford and its 2010 sale to the Chinese conglomerate Geely was a bit of a culture shock to Volvo lovers, and many followers were preparing for the Swede to plunge from sight in the first world.
That didn’t happen. Obviously. What rattled Volvo (and Geely) following the sale was it continued to source engines from Ford with a resulting monthly invoice that began to hurt the its finances.
So Volvo went and developed its own engines. Interestingly, Jaguar Land Rover – which also fell out of the Ford nest around the same time – also funded its own engine development and both orphans came up with 2.0-litre petrol and diesel mills.
Volvo’s four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo-petrol comes in different power outputs and attached to different accoutrements – electric motors in hybrid, electric motors in parallel, turbocharging and turbocharging with supercharging – depending on the model and the requirement.
There will be a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol series in Australia next year, along with hybrids and later, electric assist for the XC40 to match developments in the XC90.
The XC40 here has a 2.0-litre petrol four-pot coded T5 (which is the second-top power output available and indicates a high-performance T6 version is in the wings) with 185kW at 5500rpm and torque of 350Nm at 1800rpm right through like a table top to 4800rpm.
Volvo lists the T5 as having fuel economy of 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres, although even on our gentle freeway and suburban route over a few days it couldn’t drop under 11.7L/100km.
As an example, the Mazda CX-9 large SUV posted 9.9 L/100km over the same route and same time period.
Drive goes to all wheels through an on-demand all-wheel-drive system and is fed by an eight-speed automatic transmission that Volvo brands as Geartronic but in effect is an Aisin Warner torque converter gearbox with manual over-ride shifters.
The drive system is also from the Warner group – Borg Warner this time – which has a wet, multi-plate clutch with an electronic control unit that allocates the engine’s torque in different proportions to the front and rear axles.
As an on-demand system, it always drives the four wheels, but it can also automatically lock the drive depending on traction conditions.
It also concentrates most of the power to the front wheels during normal operation as a fuel saving method, but reverts to equalling torque to all four wheels at rest, pending acceleration where the electronic box correctly assumes it needs maximum traction on take off.
The elephant in the room is the Prius-like electronic gearshifter that is tiny, cute and makes people who grew up with PlayStation feel right at home. But its lack of feel and the need to double click it to run through the gate from reverse to drive can catch some people out in neutral, unless they keep an eye on the indicator on the dashboard.
Ride and handling
There’s nothing unusual in the suspension system of the XC40, using multi-links and coils at the rear and MacPherson struts at the front. The steering is electric-assisted and the brakes are four-wheel discs.
The SUV sits on Volvo-Geely’s jointly developed Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) that will also sit beneath the next V40 hatch and the future Geely-owned Proton models, those coming from Lynk & Co, and from Geely itself. Such is the beauty of the one-size-fits-all platform.
Who does Volvo aim the XC40 at? Is it families or couples who love to drive a sporty vehicle? Perhaps elderly people who want comfort and quietness above all.
To cater for the broader audience, the XC40 comes with adaptive drive modes, sliding from a rather asthmatic Eco through to Comfort and then to the more adventurous Dynamic.
The choices also affect the ride and behaviour, but to be fair, there’s no change from Eco to Normal and only Dynamic shows its potential by hardening up the steering and transmission and making the engine seem louder.
There is some firmness in the ride but a lot can be put down to the low-profile tyres – Pirelli P-Zero units – which also contribute to some tyre noise on coarse bitumen.
Off the bitumen the handling is very stable and the ride over gravel is good, but not consistent, preferring smooth graded surfaces and becoming a little harsh when there are any undulations. The all-wheel-drive system scores highly for instant traction, showing it’s a better choice compared to the pure on-demand systems that default to single-axle drive.
Despite its compact 4400mm size, it’s not a particularly light or agile vehicle. It weighs close to 1.8-tonne dry – which helps its ride comfort but not its fuel economy – and has a wide 11.4m turning circle which is up there among large vehicles, being the same as the new Commodore and the now defunct Ford Territory.
Safety and servicing
Safety first at Volvo with the XC40 coming standard with seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) including pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep assistance, satellite-navigation mapping-sourced speed sign alert, reversing camera and front and rear park sensors.
Optional equipment includes blind-spot monitor, 360-degree camera, active cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert.
The ownership is an area where Volvo is yet to get it right. It’s expensive and doesn’t have a capped-price service program – to be fair, its rivals mentioned here also bail on that – which makes the service cost jump to $2165 over three years. Service intervals are annual.
The warranty is the basic industry offering of three years and unlimited distance. Glass’s Guide estimates that the XC40 will retain a high 56 per cent of its purchase price after three years.
Volvo fans, rejoice., The XC40 is one of the better Euro SUVs on the market and looks as good as it – generally – drives. It’s a better size than some rivals, with an excellent balance of occupant space and car-park bay approval. The only real pain will be the cost of ownership.
Lexus NX300 AWD Luxury from $59,300 plus on-road costs
The baby NX arrived at the right time for Lexus, pushing sales and getting the brand better known. Buyer choice includes hybrid versions but the bread-and-butter 300 is probably sufficient for the urban owner. It has a 175kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine driving a six-speed automatic and then an on-demand AWD system. Lexus claims a 7.2L/100km average. It is the longest here at 4600mm and has the same turning circle as the Volvo. Features include AEB, satellite navigation and 18-inch alloy wheels. It comes with an optional pre-paid service menu. The warranty is four years or 100,000km.
Jaguar E-Pace S from $57,600 plus on-road costs
The new kid on the block is a punchy, small SUV with the Jaguar family grille and the brand’s 2.0-litre petrol engine. It delivers 183kW/365Nm through a nine-speed automatic to all wheels, and has a fuel average of 7.7L/100km. If garage space is an issue, this is a shade under 4400mm long, the shortest of the bunch and sharing its size with the Audi. Features include 18-inch alloys, satellite navigation, AEB and park assist. It has a three-year or 100,000km warranty and a pre-paid service program.
Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI quattro from $53,400 plus on-road costs
The seemingly perennial Q3 is due for a model change but shows it still has the goods in price and performance. The quattro (AWD) is the pick of the range, with the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine delivering a modest 132kW/320Nm. It drives all wheels constantly through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and claims 6.7L/100km. Features are similar to its peers, with 18-inch alloys, leather upholstery and electric tailgate. It has a three year, unlimited distance warranty and has a pre-paid service menu.
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