So many so-called sports utility vehicles focus on the ‘sport’. Their coupe-ish bodies look sporty and their firm suspension feels sporty. But what they actually are is cramped and uncomfortable. All of which comprises their ‘utility’. The Volvo XC40, though, does things differently.
It’s quite an unusual thing, the XC40. It’s a smallish SUV with a premium badge that completely ignores the ‘sport’ and focusses on the ‘utility’.
That’s not to say it’s utilitarian. Quite the opposite, in fact. The XC40 is a very desirable object. Volvo has very successfully transposed the styling themes of its bigger SUVs down to the XC40. It looks chunky – even funky – yet the proportions are spot on, so it doesn’t look like a squashed XC90. And it’s a manageable size.
The theme continues inside. It looks and feels like a bigger Volvo, just with less metal around you. The central, large-format touchscreen houses the vast majority of the car’s functions, leaving a clean sweep of dashboard. It’s warm and friendly.
The XC40 is extremely useful, as well. There’s loads of thoughtful storage cubbies. Rear seat passengers have tons of space. The rear seats fold down at the touch of a button. And the boot is massive for a car this size, with a false floor that reveals an extra space deep enough to store a case of fizzy drink cans – or muddy shoes.
It’s a lovely thing to drive, too. I racked up over 700 miles during my week with the XC40 – mostly long motorway runs – and I have never been so soothed while driving. The seats are fantastically comfortable, isolation from the outside world is near-total, the stereo is better than the one I have at home, the engine but a distant hum.
If you wish, you can make use of a huge suite of active safety aids, including lane keeping assist, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control. The XC40 is, of course, incredibly safe in a crash, as well.
This one came with the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol T4 engine, which produces 190hp and 221lb/ft of torque. That’s more than enough to haul the XC40 along at a decent clip, though it is hamstrung by an eight-speed automatic gearbox that often can’t decide what gear is needed.
Perhaps the bigger problem, though, is the 30mpg I averaged. Interestingly, the T4 is currently the most popular engine in the XC40 range, a result of the mixed messages around diesel. Personally, I’d rather have the D4 diesel – 190hp, 295lb/ft – which is much more economical, faster and has much lower emissions, including the nasty nitrogen oxides.
Throwing the XC40 down some tight and twisty Yorkshire lanes revealed a very competent chassis. The steering is direct, bodyroll is barely noticeable and the suspension never gets caught out. This R Design model has bigger wheels and firmer suspension than other XC40s, but the ride quality doesn’t suffer for it. Indeed, it’s so compliant as to make a BMW X1 M Sport feel hard and brittle.
But this is not a car for the driving enthusiast. There’s little feedback from the chassis and none at all from the steering, so there’s no real fun to be had.
But I don’t care. I don’t want a smallish SUV to be fun to drive. I want it to be useful. And the XC40 is, much more so than any of its rivals.
Model tested: Volvo XC40 T4 R Design AWD automatic Type: Smallish premium SUV Price: £36,985 Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol Power: 190hp Torque: 221lb/ft Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive Performance: 0-62mph in 8.5secs, top speed 130mph Economy: 40.4mpg combined, Co2 emissions 163g/km Length: 4,425mm Width: 1,863mm Height: 1,658mm Weight: 1,717kg Boot capacity: 432l seats up, 1,308l seats down Towing weight: 2,000kg
By Graham King
Images by Sabrina Wharton-Brown