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2019 Volvo XC40 Test Drive Review
The XC40 captures the style and sophistication of Volvo’s flagship vehicles and scales it down to the more affordable subcompact SUV segment.
If any brand is experiencing a revival in terms of both form and function, it's Volvo. The Swedish automaker is experiencing a renaissance, delivering new cars that are not only breathtaking to look at inside and out, but that also provide fantastic technology, safety, and performance.
Volvo was once the Safety Brand, but with the advent of advanced safety technology, many other brands have caught up. Volvo has found its niche in high fashion, backed by continually improving safety technology that rivals the best in the world.
This recent trend started with the XC90 SUV and was followed by the V90 wagon. These are world-class vehicles, but they also fetch high prices.
Enter the 2019 Volvo XC40. It scales down much of what makes those high-end models so great, offering it in a (comparatively) more affordable subcompact SUV package. The XC40 offers ingenious cargo solutions, incredibly advanced technology, and even a new way to go about car ownership. Is that enough to make it stand out compared to other subcompact SUVs? Read on to find out.
Look and Feel
Before you ever experience the tech, performance, or safety features of the XC40, you’ll notice its standout styling. The XC40 includes many elements from its larger sibling, the XC90, and as a result, it has an upright appearance. This contrasts with competing subcompact SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class and BMW X2, which have more low-slung designs and are more like hatchbacks with added ground clearance. The XC40’s more SUV-based design gives it a more upright driving position and plenty of head- and legroom.
The XC40 comes in three trims: Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription. We spent a week with the Momentum trim, which is technically the base, but comes very well equipped. Standard features include 18-inch wheels, integrated bright aluminum roof rails, and LED signature headlights with the “Thor’s Hammer” design. Other standard features include a leather steering wheel and shift knob, power windows and doors, and the large 9-inch Sensus touchscreen infotainment display.
The mid-level R-Design trim adds a unique front grille, contrasting black roof, and integrated dual tailpipes. The best version of this is the white XC40 with a black-contrast roof. For reference, our Momentum test model featured black-on-black and was a bit visually underwhelming. The color choice of our test model underserves the XC40’s great styling.
Inside, the R-Design adds a sport steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, a charcoal headliner, and ambient interior lighting.
The range-topping Inscription features unique, eponymous badging inside and a massive panoramic sunroof, which is a $1,200 option for our test model. It also features actual driftwood door inlays and an Orrefors crystal gearshift knob.
Our test model came with the Premium Package, which added a wireless charging pad, Volvo’s Pilot Assist system (more on that later), dual-zone climate control, power folding backseats and headrests, heated windshield wiper nozzles, and other goodies—adding $1,400 to the price of our tester.
Regardless of trim, Volvo provides the XC40 with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine that puts out 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Power gets sent to standard all-wheel drive (AWD), though a front-wheel-drive (FWD) version might be coming this summer.
Power gets routed through an 8-speed automatic, which is operated via Volvo’s unique shifter design. Now, as we’ve stated before, proprietary shifter designs are a wasted effort by automakers—they do nothing to improve the driving experience and can easily get confusing.
With Volvo’s shifter, to put it into Drive, the driver needs to pull back twice. For Reverse, you have to push the knob forward twice. However, if you pull back or push forward only once while in Park, that kicks the transmission into Neutral, and the XC40 will roll. It's way too easy to accidentally shift the XC40 into Neutral, which is relevant in light of recent shifter-related rollover accidents. People could eventually get used to the shifter design, but it's inherently confusing, and Volvo would be better off changing this to a more conventional design.
Shifter issues aside, once you get on the road, the XC40 is a dream. It provides brisk acceleration, well-weighted steering, and responsive turn-in. The suspension strikes that ideal balance between being able to soak up bumps in the road and still being responsive. There's a bit of body roll in turns, but overall, the XC40 stays quite flat for an SUV.
One of the few actual buttons in the center console of the XC40 is a Drive Mode button. It features Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, Off-Road, and Individual modes. Comfort is the normal default drive mode, while Dynamic is the performance mode. In our week with the car, we often put the XC40 into Dynamic mode. In this mode, acceleration is strong, as the transmission holds gears longer. It also adds more weight to the steering for a dialed-in feel and provides a throatier note from the exhaust.
The system defaults to Comfort, while Eco focuses on maximizing fuel economy. As the name suggests, Off-Road employs unique tuning for the throttle and AWD system for optimized crawling over varied terrain.
Fuel-economy estimates for the XC40 are 23 mpg city, 31 highway, 26 combined. In our time with the XC40, we observed fuel economy of 21 mpg.
Form and Function
The XC40 makes incredible use of its space. That upright layout we spoke of provides the XC40 with plenty of front-seat head- and legroom—the seat actually extends so far back that we wish the steering wheel extended farther to meet the hands of the driver a little more casually.
The XC40 has a ton of features designed for everyday life. If you look at the center console, it has a little flappy door. That’s actually a trash bin, which can be removed from the center console for easy emptying. The XC40 also has a large tray in the center console that features a wireless charging pad.
As impressive as the front seat is, the real surprise is the amount of backseat legroom. In addition to having enough leg-, head-, and shoulder room, the rear seats have smart little trays down beside the edge of the seat cushion that give passengers a place for their things without intruding on space.
Walking out back, we found the hands-free power liftgate actually worked really well—these foot sensors are typically buggy, but Volvo's sensed our foot after kicking it under the bumper once. And once it senses it, the hatch goes up very quickly.
The hatch opens to a decent-size load floor for large items. The load floor actually has a handle, which allows two-thirds of it to be lifted, providing additional storage below the hard floor. This is a great place to store groceries and other items that might move around in transit. For items too large to fit in the tray or items you don’t want to tip over, there's a clever elastic strap on the right side of the cargo area.
On the right side of the hatch, there are toggles to drop the rear seats, which are also quite clever. They are spring-loaded, and pressing the buttons also drops the headrests. This is huge, as dropping the seats cleanly often requires either moving the seats or removing the headrests altogether. Dropping the seats gives way to 57.5 cubic feet of cargo space. Among subcompact SUVs, only the BMW X1 has more cargo space, and by just a single cubic foot.
Upon entering the XC40, your eyes can’t help but be drawn to the large touchscreen in the center of the dash. Portrait orientation was something first adopted by Tesla with the Model S, and it was then embraced by Volvo, starting with the rollout of the XC90.
The portrait layout enhances the functionality of this screen, as Volvo puts almost all the typical vehicle controls in the center screen. The only hard buttons are for Drive Mode, the defroster, defogger, and a Volume knob with a Pause/Play button in the middle of the Volume ring.
All other systems such as the stereo, phone, climate control, vehicle settings, and available navigation system are all routed through the screen. This could be a very confusing setup, but Sensus has a home screen and a home button. All the aforementioned systems are represented in large bands with a giant font. Touching the band opens up that menu. And to get back to the main screen, simply press the Home button below the screen.
Thinking of this system as being a tablet, like the one you may have at home, makes using it a lot easier. You’ll know to swipe left and right to get to various other menus, and you'll be able to easily scroll up and down.
That said, the system does have some setbacks. To save a radio preset, you can’t just hold down the station. You have to go to a separate screen and save the one you want as a favorite. But once you have everything set up, all the tech systems work very well.
Two features I would like to see moved out of the screen are the heated seats and steering wheel. It takes two steps to bring up the toggle on the screen and then select the heat level. Dedicated buttons on the dash would be more helpful—though this probably qualifies as a “first-world problem.”
Once you have everything set up, all the tech systems work very well. The standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work seamlessly with the Sensus system. Unlike using CarPlay in other cars, where it takes over the screen completely, the CarPlay tile is only a part of the screen, allowing you to jump out easily.
The available Multimedia Package on our test model enhances Sensus with a navigation system and a 15-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
Safety has long been part of Volvo’s identity, and while it has evolved to include design and technology, safety is still core to the company. The XC40 comes standard with a full array of airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, whiplash protection system, road-sign information updates, and even a rear-collision warning system as standard equipment on every trim. Also standard is the City Safe automatic braking system. This system can detect cars and pedestrians as well as large animals.
Our test model came with the optional Vision Package. It included blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alert. This package also included Pilot Assist, which is a semi-autonomous driving system with adaptive cruise control. It should be noted that Pilot Assist is a driver-assistance system, though it interacts with many high-tech safety systems. The Advanced Package adds a 360-degree camera, LED foglights with a cornering function, and automatically bending headlights.
And yet with all this safety technology, the XC40 has some safety pitfalls inherent to its own design. Its C-pillars are massive and make for huge blind spots. The result is quite poor rearward visibility. Factor in the C-pillars plus the poor shifter design, and the XC40 has some glaring safety issues—especially for a brand so committed to safety for so long.
Before we get to pricing, we need to explain something called Care by Volvo. The Swedish automaker is offering a new method of car ownership, which treats ownership more like a subscription, so there’s no down payment, and your monthly cost includes an insurance payment. It’s something of an evolution and simplification of the leasing process. If you want to own the vehicle outright, this doesn’t offer much of an advantage, but if you were planning to lease, this could be less hassle.
Base MSRP for a 2019 Volvo XC40 is $35,200 for a Momentum trim. An R-Design starts at $37,700, and an Inscription starts at $39,750.
But options and packages can jack up the price, and our test car came with a bunch. The Premium Package adds $1,400, and the Vision Package adds $1,100 to the price, while the Advanced Package adds $985, and the Multimedia Package adds $1,395. As for a la carte options, the combination of heated front seats and steering wheel adds $750, the metallic paint adds $595, and the optional 19-inch wheels add $800. With all these options, our Momentum test vehicle came to $44,410.
We have driven a lot of cars in the past few years, and few truly stand out. Over that time, the bars for what's a “good” car and what's a “great” car have been raised. The 2019 XC40 offers a tremendous amount of car for the price without diluting Volvo's technology, features, or quality. Despite the visibility and shifter issues, this XC40 a standout vehicle and an accomplishment by Volvo.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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