I CAN guess what you’re thinking: Inwood has been banging on about this white Volvo for months now. Yawn. But look closer; all is not what it seems. Yep, like many other Aussies, I’ve embraced this whole ‘downsizing’ thing and swapped out the (brilliant) XC60 T8 I’ve run since its COTY win in January for its smaller brother – the box-fresh, and highly sought-after XC40.
My time in this new addition will be fleeting. It’s earmarked for Wheels online editor Ryan Lewis who’ll slip behind the wheel next month once his 3008 long-termer heads back to Peugeot HQ.
For now, though, I thought it’d be useful to share my initial thoughts on how the XC40 measures up. After all, expectations are high: concentrating the goodness of the XC60 into a smaller, funkier and more affordable package has to be a recipe for success, surely?
Just getting an XC40 is a minor miracle in itself. A combination of supply constraints and a massive underestimation of demand by Volvo Oz means that for now, there’s a six-month wait on orders. Just one powertrain is available; a 2.0L turbo four in two states of tune. Ours is the sportier T5, in R-Design trim level, which adds a smattering of upgrades inside and out (see sidebar above), with a few options that build on the $55,990 list price. They include the $2500 Lifestyle Pack (heated seats, panoramic sunroof), Adaptive Cruise Control with Pilot Assist for $2500, and an excellent 360 camera for $900.
All up, the sticker jumps to $62,710, which is a sizeable $43K saving compared with the larger XC60. And there’s plenty of core goodness to enjoy. The first thing you notice is the size. Foursquare and tall, with a chunky stance and a generous 2702mm wheelbase, the XC40 feels perfectly proportioned for a young family. The cabin is airy, the rear seat spacious, and the number of cleverly designed and thoughtful touches verges on Skoda-esque. There’s a small, removable rubbish bin in the centre console, a take-away food hook that extends from the (chilled) glovebox, and the 460-litre boot has a three-piece floor that lifts and folds to stop bags sliding around.
There’s performance to burn too. T5s deploy the same 2.0-litre petrol/eight-speed auto combo as some XC60 variants and with 185kW/350Nm on tap, performance is hot-hatch rapid.
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Unlike the XC60, however, the smaller XC40 debuts Volvo’s all-new CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform, though there’s plenty of common DNA. The pair share the same smartphone-like infotainment system, the steering has that unique combination of being accurate and quick-witted while feeling light and a little distant, and both roll on huge wheels. In R-Design trim the XC40 boasts 20-inch hoops and it’s here that we run into the first chink in its armour. Suspension comprises struts up front with multi-links out back, and while the passive set-up is nicely poised through turns, we are keen to see what ride improvement comes with cars fitted with optional ($850) adaptive dampers.
Meanwhile, the back seat cushion is a bit firm and flat, and rear three-quarter vision is heavily impeded by that chunky C-pillar.
And annoyingly, the stop-start function switches itself on with every new journey. Turning it off requires you to dive into the infotainment screen, swipe right and locate the appropriate tab.
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Where the XC40 claws back ground is with its personality. Unlike the beautifully engineered and mature XC60, the XC40 majors on character and spunk. There’s plenty of visual flair and I especially like the scalloped bonnet and section on the lower door. The only bummer is this particular XC40 doesn’t have the lairy Lava Orange carpet option, which makes me think of the Peugeot 205 GTI.
So is the XC40 as convincing as our reigning COTY? First impressions are that it shares much of the fundamental virtues. Let’s see what Lewis makes of it over the next five months.
By Ryan Lewis
DISASTER loomed large this month, and you, faithful reader, were lined up to receive a blank page that very nearly took the place of this XC40 update. See, the stylish Swede has been so popular in the Wheels office that for a good portion of the last four weeks I had no idea where it was.
Editor Inwood reluctantly renounced possession of the key after welcoming the XC40 into our garage last issue, as a follow-up to its bigger brother, and his last long-termer, the XC60. But somewhere in the transfer to yours truly, the in-demand Scandinavian fell into opportunistic hands and became nigh on impossible to get a steer in, with every other member of staff playing dumb to its whereabouts.
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By the time I tracked it down there were seven different phones paired to its Bluetooth system. That was no great surprise, as the owners of those devices had stopped by my desk to spontaneously relay their individual XC40 appraisals. I’ve been exposed to every XC40 opinion except my own.
What came through loud and clear was universal appreciation for the XC40’s youthful design panache. Desire for the Iron Mark brand has come on in leaps and bounds with each new vehicle, and this – its most accessible SUV – is now arguably the most attractive to an enthusiast audience.
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Distinctive exterior highlights include its Hammer of Thor headlights (carried over from the XC90 and XC60 SUVs before it) and a rising window line that meets a split C-pillar and fashionable blacked-out roof. There’s undeniable flair in the execution of the XC40, though it remains friendly and approachable. Not to mention perfectly sized for young, urban-dwelling families like mine, though its appeal extends far beyond a single niche.
So the XC40 is kicking goals before turning a wheel, but we will get to that part of the equation in the coming months. One impromptu drive review delivered at my desk was presented by a journo who seemed to have evaluated it like it was Volvo’s latest sports car. Having just finished up in a Peugeot 3008, I think my frame of reference is a little more appropriate, and a quick stint in a near-identical T5 R-Design on hand for Car of the Year testing gave me enough ammo to brush those comments off. To say I’m looking forward to getting to know the XC40 is an understatement.
LIKE a Tony Greig pitch examination, which verged on forensic in its investigation of firmness, springiness and surface moisture, I tend to pay careful attention to where I place my bottom.
Hard-earned experience tells me this is an undervalued life skill, and one that is particularly useful when it comes to cars. Not because my derriere is especially sensitive, but because proper seat comfort is one of those things you never truly appreciate until it’s gone, like having a full head of hair, or a healthy set of chompers.
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The pews in the XC60 long-termer I ran last year were especially praise-worthy, and the plush, electrically adjustable, leather-clad seats in the XC90 T6 Inscription I drove over the Christmas break were, if anything, even better. Both major on comfort with brilliant lateral and lumbar support.
All of this serves to explain the niggling disappointment I’ve felt with the seats in our XC40 T5. They aren’t bad exactly, they’re just a little … flat. And narrow. And short in the base.
T5s use ‘sportier’ seats than other XC40s, and both rows have issues with my 6ft frame. The fronts lack lateral shoulder support and are too narrow in the base, so the outside of your thighs can feel pinched. And while there’s oodles of space in the rear, the bottom cushion is too short and minors on under-thigh support.
Fickle complaints, you might suggest, considering the XC40 has just been handed our highest honour, but hey, no car is perfect, right?
AS you’ll HAVE noted from the opener to this Garage section, I’m currently in the rather excessive and embarrassing position of running two long termers: one is the current Wheels Car of the Year, and the other is a bona fide carbon-tub, doors-go-up supercar. So you can see why that combo is worth putting up with a bit of stink-eye in the office for.
As a result of the McLaren arriving, I’ve been able to spread the good news about the Volvo XC40 a little wider, and the recipients of the Enright largesse this month were video director Josh Robinson and photographer Ellen Dewar. I don’t think I’m offering too much in the way of a spoiler to let you know that you’re set for one heck of a comparo in a forthcoming issue when we pit BMW’s M2 Competition against the Alpine A110 up on the Great Alpine Road. The XC40’s role was to act as a chase car, camera dolly and hauler for all the imaging equipment. And that is a lot of gear.
It’s said that nature abhors a vacuum and so do photographers and video teams. Any available space in a vehicle gets filled with hard cases, stuff sacks and tripod bags until it’s packed to the roof lining. Both Dewar and Robinson looked a bit sceptical when offered the XC40 but were duly impressed with the amount of gear it could swallow. “I reckon I can get more in here than I would have done in my FJ Cruiser,” admitted Dewar. Robinson was more impressed by the pace the Volvo could carry on a twisty mountain road. “Sorry for holding you up,” said the impeccably mannered chap after almost driving the tread clean off the tyres.
Indeed, on some of the grittier sections of the road up from Harrietville to Hotham, the XC40’s all-wheel-drive advantage meant that it could punch out of corners at a pace that neither of the sports coupes could quite level with. What’s more, it did so while consuming less fuel on the route up the hill than the featherweight 1.8-litre Alpine A110. Go figure that one out.
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The XC40 returned to Bauer Towers filthy and definitely in need of a little TLC. But having earned its spurs on a Wheels road test, it’s certainly not short of respect. There are some COTY decisions that the lens of hindsight can warp into personal uncertainty and doubt. This isn’t one of them.
CAN WE TALK about sport modes? Broadly speaking, these fall into two types: those that affect the suspension settings and those that don’t. These overlap almost perfectly with the respective Venn diagram of those sport modes that are worth having and those that are complete junk.
The XC40 T5 R-Design on our fleet doesn’t have adaptive suspension and therefore I hadn’t really bothered with the sport mode, figuring that it would just ruin the throttle mapping, change the gearshift strategy to ‘perforated eardrum’ and make the steering feel as if the rack was running in Perkins Paste. Besides, I was largely satisfied with the way the XC40 would tackle a twisty road in its Comfort mode.
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Body control was well contained and the steering, gearshift and throttle never felt noticeably doughy.
So the Drive Mode button just sat there unpressed, but the longer I ignored it, the more I felt I’d devalued my service to you, dear reader, who needs to know what happens when buttons get pressed in these things. So while taking the twisty route home one evening, I decided to switch the car into Dynamic, largely so I could make snarky references in my next long-term report at how inept and comical it all was.
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But it wasn’t. The steering weighted up sympathetically, so that you could just take up the strain with the weight of your arm on corner entry without it deviating too far off line, but enough to feel the tyre’s contact patch flex a little under torsion. The throttle pedal seemed to tense a little without becoming neurotic. It wasn’t a night-and-day difference, like those shots on a Light n’ Easy ad where people turn from Pillsbury-white pupae into condoms stuffed with walnuts, but it gave the Volvo the feel that it would now leap out of the blocks at the ‘b’ of the bang.
The gearshift strategy was awful, though, so if you’re going to use the Dynamic setting, make sure you click the car into manual shift mode and get tapping on the wheel-mounted paddles instead. It took us over 5000 kilometres to unlock the next level of fun in the XC40. The secret sports car in the Wheels garage continues to win friends.
IT’S A road tester’s nightmare. We’re talking about those cars that initially blind you with their brilliance but which, after a few weeks, turn out to be a chore to live with. We often only get a limited amount of seat time to deliver you a reliable verdict, so we’re naturally cautious of these superficial dazzlers and prefer to give those that might be satisfying slow burners the benefit of the doubt.
Winning the judges over at Car of the Year is almost certainly a good indicator that a car will shine over the long haul, but we’ve had a few years that have raised eyebrows among readers. Leyland P76 (1973), Honda CR-Z (2011) and BMW i3 (2014), I’m looking at you. I’m utterly certain, however, that the XC40 won’t attract such controversy. It convinced at the event and, after six months with the car in every condition imaginable, it continues to shine.
It’s easy to see why. The XC40 is bigger than its key rivals inside. To net something that’s comparably sized and sports a premium badge, you need to spend more. A lot more. This T5 R-Design delivers 185kW of AWD goodness from a base of $56 grand. You could buy a $60K Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 and only end up with 155kW of the good stuff, and you’d still have to ladle on gear like the $2K AMG Line kit, the $2.5K COMAND pack, another $2.5K for the driver-assist pack, a grand for the parking assistance pack and then you’re into nearly $70,000 for something smaller, slower and due for replacement.
It’s no wonder the fob for the XC40 remains one of the first to disappear off the office key board. I’m sadly saying adjö to the Swedish SUV and handing the keys over to Alex Rae, our newest signing. You can look forward to something even faster and considerably more yellow from me next month, but I’m certainly going to miss what might just be the best long-termer I’ve had the privilege to run.
When Dep Ed Andy flung the XC40’s neat rectangular key fob toward me, I thought there’s surely no worse an introduction to Wheels’ long-term car pool. I had settled into my new seat in the office, but this was the ultimate litmus test: “Here’s the 2019 Wheels Car of the Year winner, tell us what you think about it.” If I was anything less than impressed, I’m sure Editor Inwood would be scratching his head.
Thankfully, it’s not hard to understand why it took out the top gong, with its slick and spacious interior, good handling and punchy engine apparent from the outset. But I had something more in mind for my first long-term report, rounding up the wife and child to head north along the east coast toward Bega – you know, where the cheese comes from.
I was a bit sceptical as to how a tech-laden journo, his wife and two-year-old son with a litany of possessions from pram to portacot plus the pantry of food he can eat in any 12-hour period would cram into the Swedish car maker’s smallest SUV. But an SUV it is, the popular replacement for sedans and wagons that were equally called upon for such a trip when I was a tot. If we did it in a VC Commodore back in the day, surely this family bus can do it now.
The baby seat snapped in neatly against the rear pew with Isofix clips and anchored over the seat. The rear seat sits high, so the little man had a good view.
The boot’s rated capacity is 460 litres, which is smaller than a VW Tiguan but bigger than a Mazda CX-5. A flat floor with no obstructions was long enough that the pram was placed north to south – important to free up space on one side – and then the bags and sundry stuff piled together like Tetris. With arms grappling bags, the foot-operated, auto-opening tailgate was particularly useful, and despite a brimmed boot, the parcel shelf fell flat when the lid closed for unobstructed vision out the rear. Beaut.
With bottles of water sitting neatly out of the way in the centre console we hit the road. We’ve already attested to the spirited nature of the T5’s engine tune, and despite a saggy bum from all that gear, the 2.0-litre four-pot was no less punchy. Slow traffic that required expedited overtaking wasn’t a hassle (signed speed limits along the Princes Highway reach 110km/h) and over the 1000km trip, fuel consumption was steady at 8.9L/100km.
The all-wheel-drive system provided confidence on a wet twisting mountain road north of Cann River. No question front-drivers would have struggled for traction with similar throttle inputs. Same for all-paw versatility off the sealed stuff, where the XC40 scrambled around cows on the farm at our destination in ‘off-road’ driving mode. The only quibble is that the system doesn’t instantly catch the spinning wheel, needing a second to direct power to where it’s best deployed.
Two kids and we mightn’t have felt so comfortable. We were packed to capacity, so a reassessment of ‘essential’ luggage or a bigger cargo capacity would be needed, but for this modern family, it was a Goldilocks outcome.
SURELY there’s no place more important in a car than where the driver touches it for most of its motoring life – bum on the seat, hands on the wheel, fingers on controls.
Driving position, connection with the car and touch points quickly form an almost infrangible first impression; so there’s no point engineering a dynamically stunning vehicle and putting a wonky steering wheel on it.
After living with the XC40 for a couple of months, I think that more than a cursory effort in this department is what helped Volvo’s small SUV claim victory in Wheels Car of the Year 2019. Though the sportier seats in the T5 are a touch narrow and flat to rival the cushy tush holders in some rivals, the breadth of adjustment to find a suitable driving position is great, and the materials feel premium with practical longevity in mind. It’s the Scandinavian feng shui: it’s lagom.
But the leaps and bounds Volvo has made in the ease of use and convenience of its instruments and controls aren’t immediately evident.
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Volvo’s step into the ‘all-in-one’ infotainment system was, in many ways, brave. When the XC90 arrived in 2015, you could count on a velociraptor’s hand how many manufacturers had successfully embraced a digitised cabin.
It’s almost par for the course that when a manufacturer opts for a landscape screen – particularly when it’s plotted on top of the dashboard like an afterthought – the design and layout for functions such as heating, cooling and seat-warming are already baked into the dashboard’s mould.
But when a portrait screen is used, it usually means most of those functions need to be moved, or integrated, and it is the latter that can really make a mess of functionality. The XC40 has basically shoehorned nearly every core function into its touchscreen; gone are ‘old-school’ switches. So what of its functionality?
When Renault started doing this about half a decade ago, it was a nightmare. It was like trying to pin down a Battleship in the board game but on a boat that was actually sinking.
I was reluctant to think that the Swedes had found a solution, but they have. The software is lightning quick and there’s no latency from recognition to input. Hit the seat-warmer and it instantly clicks and changes the graphic.
The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) is the same. It’s like a smartphone to use, and it controls almost everything – lane-keeping assist, engine start/stop, ‘bending’ light-beam assist, adaptive cruise control, traction control, seat-warmers, and obvious things like the radio.
What’s best is that it isn’t distracting to use and it makes life easier, not harder. It’s clever, and shows we can successfully move on from switches that are collecting dust – literally. It’s an example to many of how to make the switch to digitisation feel seamless. And it makes a good impression, every day.