In the cut-throat world of automotive competition, Volvo not only survives, but thrives. Thanks to financial support yet limited oversight from a Chinese backer, the Swedish automaker continues to remake itself by introducing a series of all-new models. Its latest offering is the 2019 Volvo XC40, a compact luxury SUV.
Volvo remains a small player in a growing and very profitable luxury brand segment. Until recently, we might have questioned whether the brand had the luxury cachet to compete against the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But over the past few years, the marque steadily remade itself by delivering a collection of new or updated sedans, SUVs and wagons.
The Volvo XC40 slots below two other models: the XC60 and XC90. In addition, Volvo intends to supply electrified versions of every model it sells. The XC40 soon will offer a plug-in hybrid variant, blending the best of Volvo design, luxury, performance and efficiency.
Volvo XC40: One of Many New Volvo Models
The Volvo XC40 is the first of several new models based on the company’s small-vehicle architecture, representing a flexible and scalable platform for supplying a broad range of vehicles as well as a variety of powertrains, electrical systems and technology. This means all Volvo products going forward will derive from one of two platforms, a move designed for improved efficiency and greater savings.
At its spring 2018 dealer launch, the 2019 XC40 will roll out with two all-wheel-drive trims: Momentum and R-Design. Front-wheel-drive versions and an Inscription trim will follow. Finally, Volvo will top the line with a plug-in hybrid electric variant.
The 2019 Volvo XC40 is outfitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, generating 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the XC40 supplies a quick start, ample passing power and very good handling.
City and Hill Country Driving
Our daylong test drive was composed of two parts: city driving in Austin with several stops at places of cultural and retail interest, followed by an afternoon of navigating the Texas Hill Country. The latter portion allowed us to put the XC40 through such rigors as splashing through saturated roads crisscrossed by streams, pounding corners and even tackling one delicious switchback.
Of the two models tested, the R-Design supplies a sport chassis with stiffer springs, larger anti-roll bars and enhanced shock absorbers. The Volvo’s all-wheel-drive system delivers up to 50 percent of its torque to the rear wheels when roads are slick or under certain challenging driving conditions — precisely what we enjoyed on our two-hour looping journey west of Austin.
The XC40’s engine is certainly up to the task, providing ample power as needed. It is a relatively quiet engine, too, delivering everything from a low hum to a steady whine. Volvos aren’t known for resembling anything near a raucous note, and the XC40 held firmly to that truth. But if you’re looking for capable handling, the XC40 does not disappoint.
The 2019 XC40 strikes out in new territory, at least for Volvo. The automaker specifically names the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3 as its competitive set. The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Infiniti QX30 and Lexus NX are other models to consider.
A Familiar Design
What’s familiar with the XC40 is its design, particularly its bold grille pressed in by “Thor’s hammer” LED headlamps. Strong shoulders, huge wheel wells and a sweeping roofline — other common Volvo SUV design themes — are present. One difference is apparent in the beltline, which rises sharply to the rear roof pillars at the back door handles. The familiar boomerang tail lamps accent the rear, with a clamshell liftgate and spoiler present.
Inside, the XC40 seats five, as does its competitors — at least on paper. Generous space up front supplies ample maneuvering room for the driver and passenger. The seats are very comfortable and carefully designed to maximize head, shoulder, hip and leg support.
The rear seat offers room for three but is most useful for two. Even then, tall passengers may find legroom restricting, but at least it isn’t as confining as we’ve noted in the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Families with two young children may find the XC40 entirely suitable for their needs. For one or two people, folding down the rear seat expands cargo space from a modest 20.7 cubic feet to a roomy 47.2 cubic feet.
The XC40’s cabin aptly reflects Volvo’s current design language, including the ergonomic placement of all control switches and knobs. Fit and finish is excellent with soft-touch materials, standard leather seats and aluminum inlays present. Volvo makes excellent use of this SUV’s overall small space by designing large storage compartments in the doors, as well as between the front seats. Indeed, the front storage compartment contains a tissue holder and a separate trash receptacle, the latter easily pulled out and emptied when needed.
A Sensus System We Now Embrace
In the past year or so, we’ve seen a welcome transition in Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. Our earlier qualms weren’t so much about how it worked, rather how to make it work. The previous system offered a confusing and complicated display of more than two dozen buttons and knobs. The new arrangement supplies a clean 9-inch touch screen interface with app-like controls and information for the available navigation, audio, phone connectivity, fuel consumption and climate control. Each feature may be controlled by the screen, the steering wheel switches or by voice command. Figure that Volvo heeded owner input when designing the new system.
Other tech features include an eight-speaker audio system, HD Radio, standard Bluetooth connectivity, Wi-Fi hot spot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and a USB port. The available 600-watt, 13-speaker Harman Kardon audio system was our clear favorite, filling the cabin with concert-quality sound. Then there is always Volvo’s long list of standard safety features, supplemented by lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, collision mitigation with braking and automatic high beams. Blind-spot assist and rear cross-alert with braking and semi-autonomous drive are other available features. Lastly, Volvo offers a 360-degree view camera as an upgrade from the standard rearview camera.
For our lengthy test drive, Volvo supplied journalists with copies of the first two trims offered: the T5 Momentum AWD ($35,200) and the T5 R-Design AWD ($38,695). Both prices included a $995 destination charge. When the front-wheel-drive versions of each one debut, they’ll cost $2,000 less. No other prices for subsequent trims are available at the moment.
Something New and Attainable
Calling a vehicle a “game changer” seems trite. But for Volvo, the 2019 XC40 enables this manufacturer to at least change the game internally by offering an attainable gateway to the brand. It is a model that has been missing from the Volvo product line, at least in North America. With a starting price below $35,000, once the front-wheel-drive versions roll out, Volvo delivers a competitive transition point to the brand. From there, shoppers will discover what the current Volvo line is about, going well beyond its legendary safety leadership to deliver a line of vehicles that are stylish, contemporary and competitive.