By Marc Lachapelle
AUSTIN, TX – And then, there were three. In the wake of its full-size XC90 and mid-size XC60 luxury sport-utilities, which both won the North American Utility of the Year awards at their respective launches, Volvo is adding a smaller entry to its portfolio of pseudo-trucks.
The all-new XC40 joins the fray in the wildly popular, subcompact luxury sport-utility category, a bustling segment that is growing almost exponentially in Canada.
The XC40 is the first model developed and built on Volvo’s brand-new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), while all recent 90 and 60 series models are built on the Swedish automaker’s larger Scalable Product Architecture (SPA).
The most significant technical difference, between CMA and SPA is the former’s use of lighter, simpler McPherson strut suspension at the front axle instead of the latter’s double wishbones.
Common DNA for CMA and SPA
Most major components are shared by the two platforms, including powertrain modules. Two versions of the XC40 will be offered in Canada this spring: the Momentum and sportier R-Design models.
Both feature Volvo’s T5 powertrain and all-wheel drive. Under their hood is a turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Drive-E gasoline engine that develops 244 hp and delivers its full 258 lb-ft of torque from only 1,800 rpm, bolted to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. It’s good for the benchmark 0-100 km/h sprint in a brisk 6.5 seconds, Volvo says.
Physically, the XC40 is shorter than the mid-size XC60 by a solid 263 mm and narrower by 83 mm, counting the side mirrors. Yet, it is only 6 mm lower overall and its ground clearance is just 5 mm less. No wonder it looks tall at first glance, for a compact SUV.
Since its wheelbase is shorter than the XC60’s by only 163 mm, the XC40 also flaunts very short front and rear overhangs. This means quite decent room inside for passengers but also good approach and departure angles, in the unlikely event that the typical XC40 driver will tackle anything steeper and gnarlier than the average cottage trail.
That said; no mention was made of the XC40’s off-road readiness during the presentation, even though the T5 Momentum and R-Design models we drove both had an Off-Road driving mode, in addition to Comfort, Dynamic, ECO and Individual. Each of these modes sets engine, gearbox, accelerator, steering and brake response thresholds in accordance with its specific mission. Oh, the glory of electronics!
The smallest XC’s fifth-generation BorgWarner centre-coupling (formerly known as Haldex) can transfer up to 50% of driving torque to the rear wheels when the fronts are slipping, ever so slightly, but all wheels are engaged when starting off, for maximum initial traction.
In fact, while it has potential off-road creds, Volvo basically sees and markets the XC40 as a ‘city car’. And the Swedish carmaker has designed, furbished and equipped it accordingly, in quite a convincing manner.
Styling-wise, the angular profile and front fascia tie the XC40 to its larger siblings instantly. The trapezoidal ‘shark-nose’ grille is finished in matte black instead of chrome, with different patterns for Momentum and R-Design versions.
The large Volvo crest, with its thin, chromed diagonal strake, and the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED headlights, clearly establish family identity at the front. A sharply bisected rear pillar, scooped-out flanks and large cap-like rear spoiler give it a funky look and set it apart from the larger XCs.
The optional contrast roof, white on the Momentum and black on the R-Design, makes the XC40 stand out further and should prove quite popular.
Trendy buyers targeted by the XC40 will also likely go for the optional larger alloy wheels, up from the 18 and 19-inch rims that come standard on the Momentum and R-Design, respectively.
Kudos to Volvo for offering its new street-savvy compact SUV in sixteen different colours, from quiet to vibrant, with plenty of optional trim details to play with.
Smart and practical
The theme is carried inside with slightly different trim for Momentum and R-Design versions. Materials are top quality for the category and competitive set, with thick standard leather for the seats, real aluminium trim pieces and nicely-textured plastic surfaces.
Instrument panel design combines the now-familiar, 9-inch Sensus touch screen at the centre and the increasingly common 12.3-inch configurable screen for the driver.
The ergonomics are fine, once you are in synch with the pinch, swipe and zoom routine of the Sensus system that makes for a clean and uncluttered environment, with just a rotary selector and a smatter of buttons for vital elements such as defrost, channel hopping and emergency flashers.
The short and stubby electronic shifter for the auto gearbox on the console, on the other hand, takes some getting used to. It requires two deliberate strokes to engage drive or reverse, which proves frustrating at first. Competitors let you do it with a single stroke with no perceptible incidence on safety. But this is Volvo, after all, the carmaker that has vowed to prevent any fatality in its vehicles by 2020.
In this vein, the XC40 is replete with all manners of standard safety systems, some of them unique to the brand. Strangely, the otherwise ubiquitous Blind Spot Information system, pioneered by Volvo, is only optional.
Rear collision warning and cross-traffic alert with braking are also optional, as are its 360-degree camera and Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive, City Safety and navigation systems.
The right moves
The driving position is spot on too, with new front seats that are perfectly up to Volvo’s high standards, a nicely shaped, fully-adjustable, leather-draped steering wheel with efficient control buttons and a nice, flat and solid footrest.
There is ample space in the rear for two adults but the seats are firm, the cushion a bit short and the seat back very upright. It does fold in 60/40 sections and there is a ski/board pass-through at the centre. Cargo volume is abundant for this segment, with additional storage under the floor.
Great efforts were also made to maximize and optimize storage inside the cabin, with impressive results. With a new type of subwoofer for its audio system tucked under the instrument panel, the XC40 has amazingly long and wide storage bins at the bottom of both front doors. There is also a nifty, removable bin for small trash, all the connectors you need and a berth to charge your phone by induction, on the console, plus a clever fold-out hook for bags and such, behind the glove box cover.
The best part remains driving the XC40, which is as it should be. The turbo engine is lively and acceleration swift, even in ECO mode, when needed. Steering is linear and precise, with very good feel even in the Momentum, running on optional 19-inch tires and wheels.
Ride comfort was about equal in the R-Design we drove, in spite of its firmer springs, thicker anti-roll bar and optional 20-inch rims and rubber. Both models proved agile, maneuverable and good fun to drive.
There’s no word or confirmation on other powertrain choices for Canada, even though the XC40 will be offered with a milder 2.0-litre turbo, a turbodiesel and a new three-cylinder, 1.5-litre gasoline engine in other markets. And with front-wheel drive, in several instances. Hybrid and full electric versions will come too, at some point. More luxurious and richly-equipped Inscription models are expected later this year.
With base prices of $39,500 for the Momentum and $43,700 for R-Design models, this new Volvo compact luxury utility has all the makings of a hit, with strong pre-sales confirming it.
Especially with the new subscription-type ‘Care by Volvo’ program that puts you in an XC40 with your name on the registration and only gasoline to pay for, in addition to a set, no-haggle monthly fee. There definitely is a serious new player at the table in this hot segment.
2019 VOLVO XC40 SPECIFICATIONS
- Name: Volvo XC40 T5
- Price: $39,500 (Momentum); $ 43,700 (R-Design)
- Type: four-door, subcompact luxury sport-utility
- Configuration: unit-body, front-mounted engine, variable all-wheel drive
- Engine: inline, turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder
- Maximum output: 244 hp at 5,500 rpm
- Maximum torque: 258 lb-ft at 1,800-to-4,800 rpm
- Gearbox: eight-speed automatic
- Suspension (front): double McPherson strut, anti-roll bar
- Suspension (rear): multi-link, anti-roll bar
- Brakes: four discs with ABS
- Brake diameter (front/rear): 345/302 mm
- Tires: front/rear: (225/45 R18?)
- Steering: rack-and-pinion, variable electrical assist
- Turning circle (curb-to-curb): 11.4 m
- Length:4425 mm