Barossa Valley, South Australia. Volvo has rounded off its SUV line up with the Australian launch of the XC40, following on from the XC60 and XC90. But while it may be the baby of the bunch the biggest issue at play is simple, has Volvo become socially acceptable? While that may sound like a heavy sledge, the taunts about ‘Volvo drivers’ have been a constant over time, at least in Australia. Their boxy creations of years gone by hardly garnered widespread appeal. When I think about the brand its safety credentials that immediately come to mind. I vividly remember the campaign to the tunes of the Bee Gee’s Stayin Alive. But now it seems it’s possible to be safe and dare I say trendy. Chris Bowen reports.
The first tell tail sign this was to be a Volvo that smashed conventions was the orange carpet in the footwells and all over the door trim. Carpet made from 97 per cent recycled bottles, collected from polluted shorelines. Volvo’s Global Design boss, Robin Page certainly could produce a factoid or two about this global SUV that sees the company have three circulating for the first time in history.
It’s enlightening to listen to a guy who literally carved out the shape and form of a car. This is a bloke who worked with Rolls Royce and Bentley, in fact he’s worked for the Queen herself when it comes to her 2002 Bentley state car. “It’s like having a polished black gentleman’s shoe size 12 which is the XC90, then a size 10 for the XC60 and a size 8 for the XC40,” Mr Page said.
He described the XC90 as being a formal black leather dress shoe, the XC60 still flash but made of suede. As for the XC40, they see it as more of a Prada trainer shoe. Seemingly gobbledygook, but he’s the kind of bloke you could listen to for hours. An awful lot of creative thought goes into a car, plus remarkably the shapes and designs you see today were conceived four years ago.
There are two variants at this stage with names familiar to the Volvo family, the petrol T5 AWD Momentum and the sports orientated R-Design. A Diesel D4 AWD will be available but was not included on the test program.
The T5 engine is a turbo in-line four-cylinder unit matched to an automatic eight-speed transmission. 182kW is produced at 5500rpm while 350Nm is on tap between 1800-4800rpm. R-Design cars score glossy black roofs, larger 20-inch wheels, perforated Nappa leather / textile seats, bespoke steering wheel and added touches from the gearshift paddles to the charcoal headliner. Oh, and if you really want it, that wild ‘Lava’ carpet.
Momentum variants score lower grade leather accented seats, smaller 18” wheels but there are a stack of options such as a white roof, panoramic sunroof and larger rims that will edge you closer to the R-Design car anyway.
The XC40 comes standard with many goodies. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster can display the satellite navigation map for example. The Sensus 9.0-inch infotainment screen is excellent, with most of the car’s functions operated via the touchscreen. Apple CarPlay comes as standard along with key features such as wireless phone charging pad, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and dual-zone climate control. Pilot Assist that allows for a high degree of semi-autonomous driving is an option as is a Harman Kardon audio system that goes above and beyond the standard eight-speaker setup.
But What About the Drive?
For a smallish Volvo SUV it borders on being entertaining. The as-tested T5 engine is quick and responsive enough to really make life spirited. A run up the Adelaide Hills into the Barossa Valley revealed a vehicle with minimal body roll, high levels of AWD assisted grip and just the right levels of calibration when flicking through the various driving modes, Eco, Comfort, Sport and Normal.
The ride was a tad harsh at times, especially when driving the R-Design model fitted with 20-inch rims. The entire range misses out on dynamic suspension, so the Volvo Sport Chassis tune on this variant can struggle on some of our lesser roads. There’s a little more road noise at freeway speeds than I’d personally like, making it a tad harder to hold down a conversation with rear passengers. The engine note isn’t exactly inspiring, but it really gives the XC40 a boost in overall enjoyment.
I love the feel of the steering wheel on the R-Design model, it has just the right size and overall texture to it. Dynamically the steering is also pretty good at communicating what’s happening without being overly artificial. Stomping on the brakes reveals a setup that’s confident and capable.
There are some handy and some unusual additions to the XC40. A rubber Swedish flag sticks out like a daggy clothing tag above the right-hand right wheel. You’d have to wonder how long that would last, it’s probably going to be the most souvenired feature since those erect Mercedes-Benz badges. You can get a new one easily from any dealership, but I’d stock up on a glove box full.
A hook with a 2kg weight limit can be extended from the glovebox, perfect for holding a bag full of milk or a late-night ice cream run. There’s no speaker in the lower side doors making way for plenty of storage space. A centre console tissue box, which is apparently big in China can be removed for even more storage space.
In the rear trunk a folding panel can be lifted from the floor revealing an upright structure with three more hooks for shopping bags. Speaking of the trunk, it looks a little narrow to me at first glance. I’m not sure it would pass my pram test, at least when placed lengthways across the car. The space can accommodate 460-litres or 1336-litres with the second row flattened. Rear passengers score well, there’s plenty of headroom, rear air-conditioning vents and the latest USB-C port.
Safe as a Bank.
All the expected features are there and them some, including AEB with pedestrian detection. Many of the XC40’s technology driven driver assistant functions are expected these days but given many are standard it gives the brand serious cred. You really shouldn’t run off the road or hit anything with any great force in a car like this. It will even attempt to predict and prevent head on accidents. But if you do; the front and rear collision mitigation sensors will do their best to lessen the blow.
I think for what you get, the car is very well priced. The Momentum T5 kicks off at $47,990, the diesel D4 $50,990. The two same models in R-Design mode start at $54,990 for the T5 and $57,990 for the D4. The T5 sips a claimed 7.1L/100km (8.4L/100km on test) and just 5.0L/100km for the D4.
EFTM Rubber Stamp of Approval
This is an edgy looking SUV with a Volvo badge on it, something you wouldn’t expect anyone to say a few years ago. The ‘Thor’s hammer’ headlights, typical Volvo LED tail-lights and masterclass yet uniquely Scandinavian interior really do set it apart from the obvious rivals. As a daily driver it would suit a small family who want to look the part in something distinctively different. As a car it’s a compelling package, with great looks, decent handling, plentiful power and a dash of Volvo creativity. I award the Volvo XC40 The EFTM Credit Rubber Stamp of Approval.