Everyone loves a crossover, it seems, and the number on UK roads has been increasing exponentially in recent times. It’s taken Volvo a little longer than most to jump on the bandwagon, with the Volvo XC40 arriving years after rival manufacturers BMW and Audi introduced the X1 and Q3. However, later is better than never and this final addition to Volvo’s revamped SUV lineup is a step in a slightly different direction – a more youthful, confident direction.
The first signifier of this is the design. The XC40 is simply a much more dynamic and aggressive-looking car than the rest of the models in Volvo’s SUV range. While there’s clearly some influence drawn here from its bigger family members – the front grille, Thor’s hammer headlights and classic Volvo L-shaped brake lights – the rest of the body is much funkier, blockier and fun than its more conservative siblings, the XC60 and XC90.
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Volvo XC40 review: Interior tech
The looks should help sell the XC40 to a younger audience, then, as should the price. The XC40 starts at just north of £27,000 in basic Momentum trim, which is nearly £10,000 cheaper than the basic XC60. Prices rise close to £40,000 as you go up the trim levels and start to add extras.
Yet, in typical Volvo style, and despite the more youthful outlook, there’s still plenty of grown-up tech on offer when you step inside. The first thing that catches the eye, as it does with all modern Volvos, is the large, centre-mounted 9in Sensus infotainment display. This is standard across all models, and it works the same way here as it does across all modern Volvos.
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It’s nicely angled towards the driver and falls within easy reach so you don’t have to stretch your arm out to operate it. It’s sensitive to prods and swipes and it has clear, crisp readable visuals that lend the interior of the car a properly modern look.
Sensus is the hub for all controls in the XC40 – from the satnav and media to the climate control, heated seats and automatic parking systems (where fitted) and, to a certain extent, this is a good thing. Once you’ve wrapped your head around the way it works, you’ll be whizzing around with gay abandon; I particularly love the space it gives to the satnav screen.
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The one criticism I have of Sensus is that, because it’s a touchscreen-only system, and because Volvo crams so much information onto the screen, you often need to tear your eyes away from the road for longer than is strictly safe to find the option you need. And, because there are so few physical buttons, it’s often a bit of a fiddle to get to commonly used functions such as the optional automatic parking assist, which is usually one or two swipes to the right.
Another moan is that, while other manufacturers are beginning to build in smartphone integration with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, it’s a £300 option here, which feels a little mean on a car starting at £27,610. And even if you do shell out, you’ll find it isn’t integrated brilliantly.
The landscape Android Auto/CarPlay screen ends up squeezed into the bottom half of Sensus’s portrait display, which feels cramped. When you navigate away from the screen to, say, play some music on the car’s integrated Spotify or to change DAB radio stations, it’s not straightforward to get back to your smartphone navigation. Indeed, in some circumstances, I found the only way back was to press the Home button, scroll down to find the Android Auto launch button and tap it – hardly ideal.
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It’s also worth noting that other, seemingly inconsequential inclusions are also quite expensive optional extras. The QI wireless charging pad, which incidentally is on the small side, is a £175 extra, while auto-dimming rear and wing mirrors are a £175 option. There’s no option to add a heads-up display (HUD), either, which I find odd.
At least the car gets a 12.3in digital instrument panel as standard, and this can be used to display satnav instructions and a variety of other information, right between the dials. And Volvo’s On Call control app is standard, too, with a three-year subscription included in the price of all new XC40s (further subscriptions are £35 annually or £55 for two years).
Once you’ve set this up, you can use it to prime the XC40’s heating and cooling systems so it’s warm and cosy right from the get-go and a cool oasis in the heat. You can check the locks remotely and lock or unlock the car, send a destination to the car’s satnav or get roadside assistance, and you can even use the app to share your car between family members and friends without having to hand over the keys.
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The audio system is decent, too. In fact, it’s more than decent; it’s brilliant. The car I tested had the 14-speaker £550 Harmon Kardon system fitted. As well as sounding big, authoritative, detailed and refined, with tight bass and no audible distortion, it’s cleverly designed so that the speakers don’t negatively impact the car’s practicality.
Instead of hosting the front woofers in the doors of the car, as most car audio systems do, the drivers are housed in the dashboard, with only the tweeters in the door. This allows for much larger door pockets than usual for a car of this size, and it doesn’t affect sound quality in the slightest.
Volvo XC40 review: Autonomous driving, parking and safety
Volvo is rightly famed for the amount of standard safety gear it squeezes into its cars and the XC40 is no exception. Even the base-level Volvo XC40 comes with road-sign recognition, which picks up oncoming speed signs and reminds you via the digital dashboard, and has oncoming lane mitigation and lane keeping, both of which work to pull the car back on track if you start to veer out of your lane.
You can also specify blind-spot warning alerts, cross traffic alerts and rear-collision mitigation (£500), which prevent reversing accidents – handy as the XC40’s C-pillar is a little on the bulky side and restricts rear visibility. However, the Volvo XC40’s best feature is Pilot Assist.
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Pilot Assist is Volvo’s semi-autonomous driving system and is available as part of the £1,400 “Intellisafe Pro” upgrade. It takes complete control of the vehicle at speeds from 0mph right up to 125mph, including steering, braking and acceleration, and it keeps the car a safe distance from the car in front at all times.
All you need to do is keep your hands lightly on the wheel, otherwise the car gets unhappy and disengages. It’s a fantastic tool for taking the stress and strain out of driving long distances on the motorway.
For my money, it works even better on the XC40 than it has done on previous Volvos I’ve driven, and it’s a system that few of the XC40’s rivals – the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace and Mercedes-Benz GLA – can match.
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And that’s not the end of the Volvo XC40’s driver-assistance systems. There’s also the option to fit the XC40 with 360-degree parking cameras (£700) and automatic parking, which will take control of the steering for you and back the car automatically into perpedicular bay and parallel spaces. It isn’t entirely self-sufficient, though, leaving the driver to apply the throttle and brakes and to change gears.
Volvo XC40 review: Engines, drive and handling
You get a choice of five engines with the XC40: two diesels and three petrols. And there are three transmission setups: a six-speed manual, eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive automatic. The car I drove for this review was fitted with the most powerful T5 petrol engine, which develops a healthy 244bhp and whisks you from 0 to 62mph in a brisk 6.5 seconds, all wheel drive and eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It’s quick but the T5 engine isn’t particularly frugal, with fuel economy hovering around the 23-24mpg mark. Indeed, I’m not sure why you’d opt for the petrol over the 187bhp D4 diesel, which isn’t as rapid but offers plenty of power, more torque at low revs and better fuel economy.
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The automatic gearbox can be a little sluggish, too, especially pulling away from a standstill in Eco mode and the automatic gear selector is a little weird as well. To put the car into Drive you have to pull it back twice; to put it in reverse you push it forwards twice. But even weirder, to change gears manually up and down you have to push the selector to the right and left. It’s a very odd arrangement.
Still, ride comfort and handling are both excellent for an SUV in this class. The XC40 is supremely comfortable over the bumps and composed in the corners and, although it will never threaten a sporty hatchback or saloon in this department, it’s far from wallowy or floaty, and the steering is well weighted and precise.
Overall, I like the way the XC40 drives. It’s not overly sporty, and the automatic gearbox is a touch sluggish, but this is a compact SUV, not a sports car. The way it combines a comfortable ride with decent handling and quietness when cruising at speed strikes the perfect balance.
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Volvo XC40 review: Verdict
The Volvo XC40 is fresh, looks great is fun to drive and comfortable. It has some quirks, such as that odd gear selector, the fact that Android Auto and CarPlay don’t come as standard and that you can’t specify a heads-up display. And the base models are a little bare when it comes to the features included as standard.
However, if you accept that you have to ramp up the options to make the most of it, and add Pilot Assist and the premium audio system to the mix, then the XC40 turns into a thoroughly modern, compact SUV that’s a cut above the competition.