2018 Volvo XC40 first drive review


Volvo designer Robin Page is clearly pleased by the new XC40.

Walking around his brand's latest work like a sculptor showing off his latest creation, Page draws attention to thoughtful elements woven throughout the baby SUV.

There's the brightly-coloured carpet made from recycled drink bottles which extends from the floor to expansive door pockets and beyond the armrests, replacing conventional plastic trim. A cute handbag holding hook flips out from the glovebox, the boot floor folds to prop grocery bags in place and the front seats are comfortable yet super-thin, allowing for impressive knee space for rear seat passengers.

The legroom stems from "lagom", a Swedish school of thought that doesn't translate easily to English. It's a sense of balanced mindfulness which can mean careful consideration for your surroundings or peers in lieu of a me-first mentality - like leaving room on your plate when dining in a group setting, taking only what you need rather than all you desire.

There's lagom in the decision to invest in new seats delivering big-car room within a small-car footprint, allowing designers to eliminate around 20mm from the car's overall length and reduce the amount of metal, plastic, glass and other resources used in its construction.

As expected, Volvo's Scandinavian design ethos results in a comfortable, beautifully executed cabin featuring everything you need without ostentatious frippery. Simple stuff includes clever storage solutions and cubby holes everywhere you look, while the tech front is led by a customisable digital instrument cluster and Volvo's impressive tablet touchscreen bringing access to the latest maps and infotainment features including Apple CarPlay connectivity.

Customers can choose between two engines and two main trim lines for now.

A 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol "T5" model offers 185kW and 350Nm of torque, while Volvo's diesel-powered "D4" alternative brings 140kW and 400Nm outputs, both driving all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The T5 is priced from $47,990 in entry-level "Momentum" trim, which rises to $54,990 if you go for the high-spec R-Design model and its extra loot such as LED headlamps, 20-inch wheels and sharp-looking black exterior elements. Diesel power costs a further $3000, and buyers can get hold of special "Launch Edition" packs for $5000 on the Momentum trim and $1740 for R-Design models.

The latter represents some of the best value you will find in a new car today, adding a premium Harman Kardon stereo, 360-degree camera with self-parking features and adaptive cruise control with Volvo's outstanding Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driver assistance suite. As if that wasn't enough, you also get a sunroof, tinted windows, heated seats, power folding seats and an alarm.

You would be mad not to pick that option.

And you will also be mad when it's time to service the XC40.

The minimum amount you'll pay for three years of basic maintenance is $2165, while an all-encompassing five-year service package asks $6345 ? well over the odds for this size of car.

We tested the XC40 in T5 R-Design trim with the optional Launch Edition pack and metallic pearl white paint ($1150). It looks smart inside and out, particularly if you specify the car with orange carpet at no additional cost, lending a dash of funkiness to the fairly formal crossover.

A high-set driving position offers excellent forward visibility, and those thinly-padded seats are surprisingly comfortable. Volvo's baby SUV offers a relaxed driving experience, with minimal cabin noise, a hushed engine and first-rate driver aids that work brilliantly on well-maintained roads with clear lane markings.

The high-riding hatch does a great job dispatching bumps ? even when riding on 20-inch wheels ? and isolating occupants from the outside world. That sense carries through to the driving experience, as the Volvo's overly light steering is a little slow to respond, with minimal feedback filtering through to your fingertips.

Likewise, its engine and transmission are happiest at a quiet cruise ? full-throttle applications result in a whooshing, asthmatic hiss from a motor that sounds somewhat stressed at the top of the tacho.

Composed without feeling truly engaging, the XC40 is pitched at people ranking style, practicality and technology ahead of dynamic prowess.

It has strong company in that regard ? you could say the same about Audi's Q2, BMW's X2 and the Jaguar E-Pace. Volvo's approach to the segment has won support from critics declaring it the 2018 European Car of the Year, along with more than 200 local customers who ordered early examples of the crossover.

Volvo says there is more demand than availability for the Belgium-built XC40, which is proving a surprise hit in the UK and other key markets. That comes as no surprise ? this machine represents a commendable mix of aesthetic and practical design in combination with world-class driver aids shared with $100,000-plus models, and an impressively refined driving experience.

Page is right to be proud.

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