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The 2019 XC40 SUV/crossover drops Volvo into the fastest growing slice of the luxury-brand sales pie. That’s the easy part. The harder part is making a little SUV/crossover thing a Volvo, and making Volvo a relevant brand to younger buyers driving the sale of such vehicles—buyers who will still be purchasing some sort of new car three or four decades after old-time, boomer-generation Volvo loyalists are dead.

Based on a bit of wheel time in the new XC40, Volvo’s solution seems fairly straightforward: Start by getting the basics right, in a space-efficient package that can be considered high-value as luxury brands go, and throw in a Scandinavian design aesthetic. And lots of safety features. And introduce some new retailing tricks. I can’t speak for 30- or 35-year-olds, but to this late boomer it seems Volvo has dropped itself squarely among the best little luxury-brand SUV/crossover things going.

At 174 inches in length, on a wheelbase of 106.4, the XC40 is an inch or two larger by most exterior dimensions than the Audi Q3, BMW X1 or Mercedes GLA–vehicles Volvo considers the XC40’s primary competitors. Those incremental dimensional increases translate to a bit more interior volume, and cargo space, and they inch the XC40 closer to compact-class SUVs like the Q5, X3 and GLC.



XC40 I1


The XC40 is the first vehicle built on Volvo’s new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). Like the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) under the recently launched S90, XC90 and XC60, CMA can be adjusted in any direction or dimension except the distance between the front axle and dash crossbeam (crucial for crash protection, and home to much of the powertrain). It can accommodate four-cylinder engines (currently Volvo’s only internal combustion power source up to the 90 series) and forthcoming three-cylinders. Most significantly, CMA gives a relatively small-volume company like Volvo the necessary economies of scale to more quickly expand its product lineup, and to more easily migrate systems and features downward from the larger SPA platform.

Volvo is pitching the XC40 as the ultimate urban vehicle, based largely on its safety features and space maximization. Yet the XC40 presents more like a conventional SUV than some of its competitors, and certainly more than new XC60. Lead designer Ian Kettle says he was driven by the idea of a “tough little robot” and the core Scandinavian design themes of “functionality, simplicity and cleanliness of line.”

Whatever that means, the XC40 looks fresh but not radically strange. Its separates itself from other Volvos with the shape of its “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lights and a concave, rather than convex, grille. It has a rare clamshell hood and no conventional shoulder under the window line. The light-catching crease between its wheel wells is actually a trapezoid, and the body is wider in back than in front. The standard Momentum trim offers a white or body-matching roof, while the upgrade R-Design gets a black roof. The first 4000 XC40s will be built with a little vinyl Swedish flag at the top of each front fender, sort of like the tag on a pair of jeans.



XC40 I2


The only engine available at launch with be Volvo’s modular 2.0-liter four at T5 grade—the most potent variant short of the super/turbocharged T6. With 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the XC40 T5 has a substantial hp edge on the Q3, X1 and GLA (200, 228 and 208 hp, respectively) and basically matches the larger Q5, X3 and GLC (252, 248, 241).

The transmission is Volvo’s Aisin-sourced eight-speed torque-converter automatic. It gives the XC40 as many forward ratios as any of its competitors, and more than most. The Borg Warner all-wheel-drive system can split power 50 front/50 rear as necessary, but it shuts off the rear axle whenever possible during steady-throttle operation to maximize fuel economy, as is the current fashion.

The XC40 is suspended with struts in front and a four-link arrangement with coil springs and an anti-roll bar in back. The R-Design gets firmer springs and dampers, with mono-tube shocks in back. Volvo’s Four Corner adaptive suspension will be offered as an option sometime during the XC40’s first year. A drive-mode switch adjusts steering effort, transmission control, throttle response and AWD bias in pre-set increments or according to individual preference. The largest wheels offered from the factory measure 20 inches in diameter.



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Inside, designers focused on maximizing space. There are no speakers in the doors, for example. They’ve been moved to the dash or pillars, with the space they might have occupied filled by expanded, lined door bins. There’s a removable trash bin in the console, a drawer under the driver’s seat, slots for cards and phones, bag hooks in the passenger footwell for takeout and Volvo’s first wireless charge pad. The control interface is centered on Volvo’s vertically-oriented, large-tablet-size Sensus touch screen, with relatively few mechanical switches.

The XC40 is a Volvo (boxy, but good), so it comes standard with nearly the full range of safety features offered in more expensive Volvos. These start with Run-Off Road Mitigation, which is intended to keep the XC40 from leaving the roadway, or to minimize the associated vertical loads and spinal injuries if it does leave the roadway. It includes deformable, energy-absorbing structure in the seat bottoms. The standard features include City Safety with Large Animal, Cyclist and Pedestrian Detection and Automatic Emergency Braking, lane departure protection and Driver Alert intervention. Volvo’s remaining safety systems—including a 360-degree camera and Cross Traffic Alert with brake support—are optional. So is Volvo’s Pilot Assist self-driving feature.  

The XC40 may also be the first car you can loan to a friend without sharing the key. The Car Sharing option works through the Volvo app and allows the owner to leave the XC40 at a station or in a parking garage for someone else to use, for as long as the owner determines. The app keeps track of the XC40’s location and miles driven.



2018 Volvo XC40 Interior Photo 2

Volvo announced the 2018 XC40 today in Milan


XC40 production has started at the Volvo factory in Ghent, Belgium. Demos will reach U.S. dealerships in March, with sales starting in the second quarter of 2018. At $36,195, including the $995 destination charge, the XC40 T5 AWD Momentum comes standard with LED headlights, a digital gauge cluster, leather seats, power tailgate, 18-inch wheels and four years of Volvo on Call telematics. In addition to suspension tuning and appearance spiffs, the $37,700 R-Design adds a power passenger seat, auto-dimming mirror, onboard navigation and a hands-free tailgate,

An XC40 T4 ($33,200) should arrive by summer with 185 horsepower and front-wheel drive. The only other 40 series variant Volvo has confirmed is a battery-electric version, no further details on what or when. Given the point of the CMA architecture, we can probably expect a few more.

Then there’s Volvo’s new subscription service, which starts with launch of the XC40 and initially applies only to this car. It’s no accident that Care by Volvo begins with a car geared toward a generation that made subscription services like Netflix, Spotify and the iPhone Upgrade Program a way of life. Care by Volvo customers get the XC40 T5 AWD for 15,000 miles a year, all maintenance and perishables like wiper blades and tires, full concierge support and full insurance coverage from Liberty Mutual with a $500 deductible for one monthly fee–$600 for an optioned Momentum, $700 for an R-Design—with an opportunity to change cars after a year. 



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Customers make the deal online, but take delivery within two days to a week at a dealership, depending on location (Volvo has wisely tried to keep dealerships in the loop, through support and maintenance). Volvo has set aside separate inventory for the Care program and takes most of the risk, which includes the impact a flood of subscription returns might have on resale values or new XC40 demand. Volvo says the primary driver behind Care is convenience, as opposed to value, but the value does not seem horribly out of whack. A standard three-year, 15,000-mile Momentum lease will run about $410 per month with the down payment amortized. So a standard lessee has $190 per month to pay for insurance and maintenance to beat the Care by Volvo price.

However it sells its cars, Volvo has gone from one of the oldest lineups among luxury brands to one of the youngest in the span of two years (thank you, parent Geely). With launch of the XC40, it has three global vehicles that cover the spectrum of booming luxury SUV sales.

Execution

The biggest gripe after a couple hours in the XC40’s driver’s seat might have been Volvo’s designated drive location. Meandering roads along Spain’s Mediterranean coast can be exhilarating if traffic is light, but they’re not nearly as good as a pound across I-80 through the Pennsylvania Wilds in the dead of winter—at least not when it comes to evaluating ride quality, build quality or driver fatigue.



XC40 I3


Short of such brutalization, nothing about the XC40 feels lightweight or tinny, and it’s quick (blindingly so to someone whose introduction to Volvo was an ‘80s-era 200 series). The 2.0-liter T5 also powers the big ol’ XC90, lest we forget. In the XC40 it’s almost mighty. There’s an abundance of grunt for the daily grind, and enough rev strength to make a manual-shift rush down a lightly traveled two-lane worth the trouble. The T5 is one of the stronger 2.0Ts going, and who doesn’t make a 2.0T these days? Where others can underwhelm thanks to occasional palpitations or rough edges, the T5 is just strong, smooth and quieter than many.

The XC40’s Aisin-built eight-speed automatic settles mid-pack, in shift control and operation. It’s reasonably well sorted when it comes to response and gear selection, but a bit lumpier than the best torque-converter automatics during aggressive downshifting or fairly quick deceleration. Nonetheless, the XC40’s torque-to-weight ratio and generally rapid response more than make up for any mildly annoying transmission behavior.

The steering is generally light, but not in over-boosted, low-feel style. Sport mode decreases the boost a bit, without the jerkiness you might experience in some other Volvos, but it’s always solid and direct, and it centers itself well. Plug that into the XC40’s compact footprint, with a relatively high seating position, and you’re left with a vehicle that’s light, nimble, and indeed well suited for operating in crowded cities. The firmer suspension calibrations in the XC40 R-Design manage its relatively tall mass and body sway nicely. I Can’t speak to how much softer the Momentum trim might be, because Volvo did not offer one, but the R-Design is so agreeably sorted that it might leave you wondering why anyone needs the late-arriving adaptive suspension–at least on fairly smooth roads. The evaluation might change in Brooklyn or Columbus.



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The XC40 is essentially a front-drive crossover, with a transverse engine and transaxle and a lot of mass forward of the front axle, and it’s no surprise that it wants to understeer a bit when it’s pushed. That applies during a fairly gradual build-up of lateral load, or with overaggressive braking and turn in, and throttle-induced bursts of rear-wheel torque don’t do much about it. The XC40 won’t be well suited for a drifting competition, but it’s hard to believe anyone will care. It’s pleasantly deft and solidly predictable.

And now, you no longer need a Tesla Model S, a Mercedes S Class or some other ultra-expensive land barge to experience the joy of Level 2 autonomy. The Pilot Assist semi-autonomous system introduced last year on larger Volvos is optional on the XC40, and within certain, narrow confines it makes this little SUV/crossover thing fully autonomous. It will maintain traffic spacing and manage speed over a broad range, all the way to a stop, and it will track through gentle bends in the freeway without driver input. The XC40 won’t change lanes by simply activating the left turn signal, as the S-Class will, and its autonomous steering gives up sooner than that in a Benz (with plenty of warning to the driver). But it will get a lot of LA drivers through a lot of their daily commute while they shop for new work clothes on their phones. Just saying.

The XC40s interior is pragmatic, but not boring or anything like austere. Finish quality is as good as anything in this class, and like the outside, the inside looks fresh. I’d like more hard buttons—for the fan, airflow direction and temperature, say—but Volvo’s Sensus interface is fairly easy to get a grip on (more so, presumably, for people who grew up manipulating smart phones and tablets). At least as importantly, there is more useful space here than in some competitors, and especially rear head and legroom compared to a Q3 or GLA. The removable trash bin and folding rear load floor might be gimmicks in some fashion, but they’re legitimately useful nonetheless. The load floor can be triangulated to limit the movement of objects placed in back, or tiered to increase floor space, and the cargo blind/parcel shelf can store underneath the load floor so you don’t have to leave it if you want to take it out.

 



XC40 I4


The XC40 really will make a good urban car, based on the interior space extracted from its fairly small footprint, its maneuverability and its park-ability. Yet nothing about it seems insubstantial or cheap, and it will take you into the countryside with comfortable aplomb and reasonable alacrity, without leaving the engagement that goes with a good drive behind.  

The Verdict

Let’s go out on a limb here. The new XC40 beats its German competitors by most objective measures, unless maybe you need the power of a CLA45 AMG or you have a Teutonic Cross tattooed on your backside. It has more space and more power for the money. It’s a well-finished, versatile automotive appliance that won’t bore anyone’s pants off. Hard to think of a reason this one isn’t a winner, unless the target demographic thinks Volvos belong to their parents’ boxy-but-good world.



XC40 I5




On Sale: March 2018


Base Price: $36,195


Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive


Output: 248 hp @ 5500 rpm, 258 lb-ft from 1800 rpm


Curb Weight: 3740 lbs (estimate)


0-60 MPH: 6.2 sec (mfg)


Fuel Economy: 33 mpg combined (converted from EU combined rating of 7.1 liters per 100 km)(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)


Pros: A fresh face that’s roomy, lively and near the top in power; one-price, one-stop shopping with subscription


Cons: No power or performance upgrades; subscription program could influence resale value



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