WhichCar do we live with: 2019 Volvo XC40

How does the Wheels Car of the Year, the Volvo XC40, fare in the real world?

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What is it: Volvo XC40 T5

Why we're driving it: Volvo’s first small SUV is an exceptionally stylish premium SUV, with an innovatively-designed interior and a choice of turbocharged petrol powertrains. It won the 2019 Wheels Car of the Year, so we were keen to test its street smarts and its luxury chops to understand how this versatile five-seater can handle the rough and tumble of real life.

Week 1 - Getting to know the Volvo XC40

The Volvo XC40 is the baby of Volvo’s SUV range, slotting in below the bigger XC60 in size and price. It’s half a size bigger than traditional compact SUVs but half a size smaller than mid-size SUVs, which gives it the uniqueness and practicality to stand out.

Image result for Volvo XC40 red

Prices range from around $45,000 for the T4 Momentum to $56,000 for the T5 R-Design we’re testing here, making it competitively priced against rivals like the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC. You might want to add Lexus RX and Jaguar F-Pace to the list, although neither of them sell in the same volume as the Germans.

The Volvo XC40 is almost perfectly sized for an urban family – comfortably capable of seating four, with a usefully well-configured boot and plenty of clever storage ideas. That it’s also entertaining to drive, interesting to look at and solid value for money pretty much seals the deal. It’s bloody good.

Jetting around Sydney, it’s become clear why the Volvo XC40 won the 2019 Wheels Car of the Year award. I've been lucky enough to give the XC40 its maiden voyages around town, and I’ve found that the Volvo extremely easy to drive. The electrically adjustable driver’s seat makes finding an ideal driving position a doddle, and visibility through the big windows is excellent so there’s no risk of hitting curbs even in tight parking spaces.

Image result for Volvo XC40 red interior

The XC40 has no shortage of safety systems, as you’d expect of a Volvo.

Among the active safety aids on every XC40 are city-speed auto braking, blind spot monitoring (a light in the side mirrors warns you of vehicles alongside out of view), and rear-cross traffic alert (which alerts you, when reversing, to cars crossing behind).

Rear Collision Mitigation Support works when the car is at a standstill. It looks for cars approaching too fast from the rear, and flashes the indicators should it detect one. If it thinks you are about to be rear-ended, it tensions your seatbelts and applies the brakes, to reduce your potential for injury.

There’s also Front Collision Mitigation Support that helps avoid collisions by automatically veering to avoid collisions with oncoming vehicles if travelling between 60 and 140km/h. If you cross a lane marking in the way of an oncoming vehicle, it automatically steers back and warns you.

With that impressive array of sensors, alerts and cameras, you’d have to be exceptionally unfortunate to be involved in a crash. Initially, I’ll admit I found it all a little overwhelming when the car is alerting you to what feels like anything and everything, but it doesn’t take many kilometres to feel like it’s almost a guardian angel. It tells you if someone is zooming up beside you, and whether someone is behind you when you're reversing out of a driveway. If you don't like the sensors beeping and buzzing, they can be turned down or off, although that kind of defeats the purpose.

2019 Volvo XC40

Size-wise, the XC40 nails an unexpected sweet spot because it is bigger than many small SUVs but smaller than some in the next category up. It has plenty of room for four adults and some luggage but never feels big or cumbersome to drive.

In fact the XC40 T5’s turbocharged engine almost makes this SUV feel like a sports car in a straight line. It’s got plenty of get up and go, which comes in handy in daily driving, and especially merging onto freeways.

2019 Volvo XC40

If you’re like me and you enjoy driving a car that knows how to handle itself, then you’ll find the XC40 endearing. It combines a surprisingly supple ride with good dynamics and body control. That may sound like enthusiast talk, but a car’s dynamic abilities can be very important when you have to swerve suddenly, or act quickly. Those quick reflexes can make a big difference when a car in front stops suddenly, or a pedestrian foolishly steps onto the road in front.

Inside, the Volvo XC40 is an absolute delight. The sculpted front seats provide excellent support on long trips

All in all, as first impressions go, the Volvo XC40 makes a good one and we can’t wait to get to know the car better over the coming weeks./Kate Hood

Week 3 - road-tripping

We really put the Volvo XC40 to the test this week. A couple of runs to the airport with luggage in the back tested its carrying capacity, as did a weekend jaunt to the Hunter Valley. All passengers reported having plenty of legroom and headroom, even in the second row, and under thigh support meant none of us suffered dead legs after a few hours in the saddle.

On these longer journeys the cabin’s quietness impressed, as did its ability to isolate us from road rumble, even on coarse chip roads. Despite the XC40 T5 wearing bigger 19inch tyres, the ride is supple and comfortable, too.

2019 Volvo XC40

But the biggest hit on these long drives came thanks to the premium sound system. Not just the sound quality – although that is commendable – but also the XC40’s party trick: the Infotainment system.

Imagine if you will a massive Apple iPad mounted portrait-style in the centre of the dashboard. This controls everything – and I mean everything – from the multi-zone climate control to the aforementioned sound system, satnav and other convenience features. It works largely like an iPad too, reacting to finger swipes and taps to give you detailed control over all the car’s many complex system simply and effectively.

It can be hard to find things initially, but we quickly got used to it and now can’t imagine going back to old-fashioned dials and buttons!

Well done Volvo – this feature alone makes the XC40 stand out from the crowd. 

Inside, the Volvo XC40 is an absolute delight. The sculpted front seats provide excellent support on long trips

All in all, as first impressions go, the Volvo XC40 makes a good one and we can’t wait to get to know the car better over the coming weeks./Kate Hood

Week 5 - A fresh new perspective after a week apart

I’ve been travelling interstate for the last week and driving rental cars, so I found it quite interesting to dive back into the XC40. The first thing that struck me was how clean the dashboard layout is, and that’s because most of the car’s comfort functions are controlled by the large portrait digital touchscreen display.

Upon swiping through the numerous screens it becomes very obvious (well it did for me) how user friendly it is. Connecting my phone to the media centre is quick and easy, and climate control is all a touch of a finger with separate controls for passengers.

A swipe further and all the car safety commands are on display. From here it is just a matter of selecting which ones I want on or off: park assist, collision alerts and a variety of others to keep me safe and separate from nearby obstacles.

I must admit after a few weeks with them all on, and the constant alerts thrown at me I was tempted to turn some of them off. But it’s fair to say these had saved me many potentially embarrassing (curbed alloy wheels) and sometimes dangerous situations, especially unsighted cyclists or fast-moving cars.

We’ve been driving the XC40 for a while now, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the vehicle’s economical 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. I’m getting around two weeks out of an $80 tank, with most of the driving being my 30km commute to and from work. There is the odd weekend drive to a friend’s place or out into the country, but again the Volvo proves quite affordable on the hip pocket.

The Volvo’s credentials as a distance traveller are strong. It’s easy to handle in cruise mode and very comfortable on the open road.  The engine’s definitely got the legs to lope along, and the power to overtake when I need. 

Week 7 - Deflating experience 

What did we do before the humble tyre pressure monitor was invented? Drive around with a deflating tyre, presumably, degrading our car’s performance and handling, and its ability to grip around corners or under brakes. Sometimes dangerously so.

It’s a law of the universe that flat tyres happen at the worst possible time. So it was with us, heading north out of Sydney on a weekend away when the XC40’s tyre pressure monitor notified us of a problem as we pulled up to lunch.

The reason for the Volvo’s alert became obvious when I looked at the front left tyre and found a large screw where it shouldn’t have been.

With an hour still to go on our journey, we put it to a vote and made a committee decision to cautiously continue of our journey into town on the injured tyre after reinflating it at a service station.

And there we began to heal our flat tyre.

First step was to unload the boot and get the space saver spare tyre out. We were impressed that Volvo had included a pair of gloves in the tyre changing kit. No more greasy hands!

We found the jacking point and jacked the car up, remembering to start undoing the wheelnuts before the tyre totally lost contact with the tarmac. Then it was a simple case of removing the wounded tyre and replacing it with the skinny spare.

Conveniently, the bigger flat tyre fitted just fine into the underfloor cavity where we’d found the space saver, so we were able to repack our luggage without inconvenience.

Less pleasing was the return journey to Sydney a day later, all the way at just 80km/h. But when we got back, our flat tyre was repaired for just $40, reinflated and returned to duty.

In hindsight, the weekend would have been a disaster had Volvo not offered a spare tyre of any kind. As it was the space saver got us through without interrupting our weekend much – apart from making it a longer, slower trip home. We’ll take that – and the tyre-changing gloves – as a win.


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