Polished 8-speed automatic
Class-leading subscription model
Funky styling bits
Tight rear seating
Extra-cost heated seats
2019 Volvo XC40
The 2018 European Car of the Year, and a breath of fresh air for the Chinese-owned Swedish car company, the 2019 XC40 is Volvo's first-ever compact crossover. Based on the brand's Concept 40.1 and aimed squarely at the youth market, it's underpinned by the new CMA platform that it will share with Geely and Lynk & Co.
Unlike the rest of Volvo's crossover lineup - one that favor formal lines and conservative body panels, the XC40 opts for a more youthful approach to its design. It starts up front, where Volvo's smallest crossover swaps out the convex grilles featured on the XC90 and XC60 for a concave version that sports a pronounced lower lip.
Seen from the side, the design is even more expressive, with an eye-catching beltline that kinks skyward at the quarter window, and deep sculpting breaking up the vertical weight of the door panels. A clear cut line running from the top of the beltline kink to the upper edge of the tail light on the C-pillar marks the dividing point between the lower body and the roof – which, on some trims, can be optioned in a contrasting color.
Lower body cladding ties everything together, extending from the lower front fascia, over the wheel arches, and along the sides to the lower rear fascia.
If you've ever visited a Scandinavian furniture store (possibly the House of Denmark in metro Detroit), or thumbed through the furnishings section of an Ikea catalogue, you'll feel right at home in the XC40. Spare but hardly spartan, the interior is equally inspiring, offering a mix of high-quality materials: real metal trim, sturdy fabrics, and smooth leather.
A 9-inch, portrait-oriented center touchscreen, bracketed by a pair of narrow, vertical air vents, dominates an understated dashboard trimmed with a wide, horizontal, concave aluminum trim strip and bookended by large, vertical outboard air vents. The seats are covered in supple leather, the size of the cargo area is decent but hardly impressive, while clever storage cubbies are found throughout the interior, highlighted by a small flip-top trash container located in front of the center arm rest.
The front seats offer plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom, and are comfortably bolstered. In back, a pass-through behind the center arm rest allows longer objects to be hauled without the need to lower either rear seatback.
But while things are mostly good, the rear seat is small. Two adults or three children back there will be comfortable, but three adults will find a dearth of hip room. And finally, it should be pointed out that we're still trying to wrap our thoughts around the concept of a Swedish vehicle with standard leather seats that requires a $750 option package to heat them.
Under the hood
The XC40 is offered with a pair of turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines. The T4 version, found in front-wheel-drive versions, delivers 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, while the more powerful T5, offered on all-wheel-drive models, produces 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are matched to the same eight-speed automatic, with power delivered quickly but smoothly.
Despite fewer horses, maximum torque in the T4 2.0-liter is available at just 1,400 rpm, compared to 1,800 rpm in the T5, making step-off with the less-powerful engine feel nearly as quick, with manufacturer-claimed zero to sixty times of 8.4 seconds for the T4, and 6.5 seconds for the slightly heavier T5.
Fuel economy numbers range from an EPA-estimated 23 miles per gallon in the city, 31 on the highway, and 26 combined for T5 models using recommended premium fuel, to an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city, 31 highway, and 26 combined for T4 models that only require regular gasoline. Our own observed fuel economy in our T5 tester in suburban driving, managed to best the government's estimate, ringing in at 25.1 miles per gallon.
On the road
Most buyers in the compact crossover segment look for a smooth ride and decent performance – attributes that the XC40 T5 delivers in spades. Handling is poised, the steering is precise, and body motions are well controlled, even over rough pavement and the uneven frost strips common in Michigan this time of year.
The four driving modes - Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, and Off-Road – each offer a different take. Although early upshifts in Eco are to be expected, Comfort doesn't force them, while Dynamic holds them deep into the rev range. With 8.3 inches of ground clearance and a BorgWarner-sourced all-wheel drive system that can shift up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels, switching to Off-Road displays the XC40's decent off-road capabilities.
Typical of turbocharged engines, the 2.0-liter turbo delivers torque early on, stepping off smartly, with the eight-speed transmission offering smooth, well-timed shifts. At freeway speeds the XC40 tracks nicely down the road and it's unaffected by grooved pavement or crosswinds. Exhibiting very little turbo lag, merging into traffic and passing were never a problem. Steering is fairly light, the brakes are easy to modulate, and there's plenty of feedback to the driver through the brake pedal, with a nice initial bite to the pads.
Cabin noise is another one of the XC40 T5's high points. It's especially quiet in city driving, but even at freeway speeds we noticed very little in the way of wind, road, tire or engine noise entering the cabin.
One thing we should address is the XC40's shifter. An electronic lever located on the center console, it requires two pulls backward to put it in drive from park, and two pushes forward to place it in park from drive. Although it takes some getting used to – it can be frustrating to find yourself in neutral when you were hoping for either drive or park – once we got the hang of it, the procedure became second nature.
At the same time, the steering doesn't offer much feedback, while, despite its off-road cred, the lovely 20-inch wheels may cause drivers to think twice about scrambling up gnarly trails.
2019 Volvo XC40 T5 prices
Pricing for the 2019 Volvo XC40, including a $995 destination charge, starts at $34,695 for a T4 Momentum and can climb to over $53,000 for a fully optioned Momentum or R-Design model.
Along with the typical power features, the Momentum trim comes equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, aluminum roof rails, LED headlights and daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, a power-assisted tailgate, automatic climate control, leather-trimmed seats (power driver's with memory), aluminum interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a portrait-oriented 9-inch infotainment touchscreen, and Bluetooth, Spotify, Pandora, Baidu, TuneIn, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay capability.
The list of standard advanced safety features includes pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist. Adaptive cruise control is part of the $900 Premium Package, a 360-degree camera and adaptive headlights are part of the $995 Advanced Package, while front and rear park assist, blind spot information, and rear cross-traffic alert are part of the $1,100 Vision Package.
An innovative feature of the X40 is Volvo's Care by Volvo subscription model. For $700 (Momentum) or $800 (R-Design) a month, subscribers get a T5 AWD that includes insurance, scheduled maintenance, tire and wheel road hazard coverage, up to $1,000 of excess wear and use protection coverage, along with the ability to upgrade to another model after one year.
Our Amazon Blue T5 Momentum featured a base price of $35,200 along with a laundry list of options including the Premium Package ($1,400, Pilot Assist driver assistance system with adaptive cruise control, power front passenger seat, driver's under seat storage, power rear door child locks, foldable cargo floor, 2-zone automatic climate control, wireless phone charging, keyless hands-free tailgate, power folding rear backrest and headrests, interior high-level illumination), Vision Package ($1,100, blind spot information, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, front and rear parking sensors, power retractable outside mirrors, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors), Advanced Package ($995, surround view camera, LED fog lights with cornering function, LED headlights with automatic bending, headlight cleaning system), Multimedia Package ($1,375, navigation, 600-watt Harman Kardon premium sound with 13 speakers), Heated Front Seats & Steering Wheel ($750), Panoramic Sunroof ($1,200), White Contrast exterior roof ($300), Charcoal Headliner ($200), 19-inch black/white alloy wheels ($800).
Along with a $995 destination charge, those items brought the total Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price to $44,315.
The Bottom Line
Despite a few funky styling touches, a lack of standard heated front seats, and a rear seat that offers a great deal of comfort for only two adults, the brilliant little Volvo XC40 brings its Scandinavian design touches to the compact luxury segment, along with a smart 9-inch touchscreen, a smooth ride, and a wide range of standard safety features, making it a top pick and, in T4 Momentum trim, an excellent value in the class.