Volvo is the latest upmarket automaker to add something new to a growing list of smallish crossover wagons, any one of which you’d probably be quite happy to own or lease.
The entry from the Geely-owned Swedish brand is the 2019 Volvo XC40, a tall, nicely-proportioned rig more SUV (sport-utility vehicle) than station wagon. It has room for four full-sized adults and boasts attractive if not particularly interesting styling which is not entirely well-executed. Panel gaps, for instance, are not always tight and uniform.
That said, the XC40 is available with the same driver assist and safety features as pricier Volvos, and the seats are as outstanding as any in the Volvo family. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine in my tester spun up decent power, too. Most important of all, though, the XC40 has an understated but elegant cabin whose highlight is the most modern of touchscreens mounted atop the centre console.
That screen is the signature XC40 element, a connected interface with nice graphics, understandable menus and all the usability of your best smartphone. Only Tesla offers a better screen among today’s carmakers.
Unfortunately, Tesla does not have a small crossover in its lineup and that is beyond odd. Why Tesla doesn’t have an offering in the hottest segment in the car market is a mystery of poor product planning.
There is, I will say, Tesla’s Model 3 compact car EV (electric vehicle), but the car I tested cost $72,000, as equipped. Other manufacturers with proper crossovers in the $40,000-$50,000 range keep trying to get their infotainment interfaces right, but simplicity usually eludes them and, in most cases, the graphics are second-rate.
I would be the first to recommend a road test of the Volvo and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by not only the gadgets, but also the superb driving responses, the quiet ride and smooth engagement of the turbocharged four.
Ah, turbos. They have become commonplace as automakers reach into their bag of tricks to boost fuel economy. Yet common as they are, too many turbos engage violently, making acceleration a herky-jerky, sometimes-nauseating affair.
Not Volvo’s, not here, at least. Road and tire noise are also well-muffled. Too bad the eight-speed automatic can at times be a little indecisive, searching occasionally for the right ratio.
That said, I encourage you to take your time examining the latest crop of upscale crossovers. The list of entries is long and all of them are quite interesting in their own ways. All of them are turbocharged – some more happily than others – with Mercedes-Benz’s GLA the least smooth of the bunch.
The Jaguar E-Pace is the most handsome of the lot, while the GLA is the nimblest, despite the flawed turbo power. Another rig with very good handling is Audi’s Q3, and here it is followed by BMW’s X1.
The Range Rover Evoque is an older design due for a remake next year and seems over-priced, though it’s very stable at higher speeds. The Lexus NX has a dizzying design and choppy handling, but also has the best reliability record. And Infiniti’s QX30 is very much like the GLA, just less interesting and from a weaker brand.
Okay, some background. The XC40 is not just a smaller version of Volvo XC60 and XC90. This sets it apart from the Germans, who generally design crossovers and SUVs that look like the same sausage cut into different sizes.
To make the XC40 stand out, the designers have included very distinct octagonal cutouts on the lower side panels and two-tone paint schemes are commonplace. Nice and nice.
I won’t get too deeply into the corporate weeds here, but suffice to say that the XC40 is a very good example of what happens when a global automaker creates a basic platform that is shared across multiple brands.
The “compact modular architecture” or CMA underpinning the XC40 – four-link steel arms and coils for the suspension — will be shared with Geely-owned Lynk & Co, an upscale Chinese brand. If you know your suspensions, you’ll recognize that what Geely has overseen here is not the ne plus ultra of suspension designs, but it’s competitive and does the job.
I can’t emphasize enough the good work Volvo’s designers did on the inside. The oblong air vents are attractive and functional; textured aluminum garnish strips are top-lit and look sporty and modern in the dashboard — a nice change from the usual wood inlays.
You will find aluminum accents in the doors, too. All around Volvo has included lots of storage, including door bins each capable of holding a laptop. A big armrest also has space for stuff, and there are also clever storage ideas in the cargo area.
In its current resurrection, Volvo wants to create a kind of Millennial-friendly vibe, which you can see in advertising that features attractive younger types staring wisely at their smartphones and such. The idea is simple: you can sell a young person’s car to a Baby Boomer, but you can’t sell an old person’s ride to a Millennial.
The XC40 brings life to that proposition.
Base price: $39,900. As tested: $48,050. Freight, PDI: $2,015.
Engine: 2.0-litre I4, turbocharged (248-hp/258 lbs-ft of torque).
Transmission: eight-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.3 city/7.5 hwy using regular fuel.
Comparables: Jaguar E-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque, Lexus NX and Infiniti QX30.