Volvo XC40

The layman’s review: Volvo XC40 T4 AWD Inscription Pro Automatic

Image credit: Volvo

In 2018, Volvo continued to expand and update its range of SUVs with the XC40, the smallest in its range. What did our inexpert expert think?

Having thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into motor journalism, reviewing the Volvo XC60, parading my self-confessed lack of experience in such things before me, it came as a pleasant surprise to be given a second opportunity to run my layman’s eye over another brand-new vehicle.

This time, Volvo sent me an XC40, which I took on a road trip to the New Forest to give it my considered and inexpert opinion.

Obviously a company doesn’t bring out a car to compete with its existing vehicles, but given the huge similarities between the XC40 and XC60, particularly in terms of the driver interface, I instinctively started looking for differences between the two rather than comparing with other makes and models.

The most obvious difference between the two is the £8-10K variation in price for the top-spec models, like the one I was testing. Cards on the table, if I was forced to choose between the two I would go for the XC60, purely on the grounds that it was a slightly more luxurious ride, but if I was going to have to dip my hand in my own pocket then I doubt I could justify that extra £10K-worth of luxuriousness. Especially as there is absolutely nothing wrong with the comfort of the XC40.

The model I had was the T4 (petrol) AWD Inscription Pro Automatic. Clocking in at £35K, this puts it in direct competition with such SUVs as the Skoda Kodiaq, Peugeot 3008, VW Tiguan, a lower-spec Range Rover Evoke and the Honda CR-V. Meanwhile, the XC60 comes into the price bracket of the more upmarket models such as the Lexus RX, Audi Q5 and the Land Rover Evoke or even Discovery.

Volvo XC40 in the New Forest

Image credit: Tim Fryer

The first thing that strikes you about the XC40, whatever you are comparing it against, is that it looks fantastic. Without losing Volvo’s traditional air of dependability and solid engineering, it has a purposeful and sporty look that, to my eyes, only the Evoke in the same class can compete with. While there is a fairly standard SUV look, the XC40 has a blend of soft curves and the more fashionable hard lines to provide a perfectly balanced machine. My son, who generally scoffs at anything that might appeal to the over 40s, positively drooled when he saw it. As did his girlfriend, who prefers hatchbacks that can be jazzed up.

Inside looks just as good, although not quite the armchair-like experience for the driver as with the XC60. In fact there was one minor gripe. I am one of those lazy drivers who cruises along with my left arm on the armrest and my right resting on the window ledge. In the XC40 this means sitting at a jaunty angle as the right arm is significantly higher than the left. I believe it is something that most car makers are tending towards – having more door than window in order to offer better driver protection. It makes sense, it just doesn’t quite fit in with my slovenly driving style.

The petrol-driven 2.0l engine generates 185hp, which feels pretty lively, and the handling is quite rigid and fun – more of a smaller, sportier driving experience. My test drive replicated the behaviour of an enthusiastic yet civilised human being on the public road and not a petrolhead yob on a test track, so if the XC40 suffers from under or oversteer or roll through corners then I was unaware. The eight-speed automatic gear box seemed as sharp as I needed it to be and as smooth as I wanted it to be.

Volvo XC40 in the New Forest

Image credit: Tim Fryer

Perhaps it is not quite as comfortable on the long drives for someone like me with a dodgy back, but equally nothing to complain about. It is probably worth noting that my family of similarly unskilled car reviewers, unlike me actually found the XC40 more comfortable than the XC60 and that included stints in the adequately spacious rear seats.

Driver information and entertainment in the Volvo XC40 was very familiar after testing the Volvo XC60 as it was virtually the same: sufficiently instinctive and comprehensive.

I’m sure that the fuel economy didn’t get close to the 40mpg combined that Volvo claim and I think if that is a significant factor then there may be better options on the SUV market these days.

Volvo XC40 in the New Forest

Image credit: Tim Fryer

Considering the burgeoning SUV market, full of new models with some fairly ambitious price tags, the XC40 is not as expensive as you would have thought. It’s not a year old yet, mind you, so the second-hand cupboard is currently bare.

It’s a great car to be in. Comfortable, excellent to drive and looks great, albeit that comes from someone who has warmly embraced the rebirth of the cardigan. If the question was would I prefer to have the XC60 or the XC40, then I would take the XC60. If I was given the choice between the XC60 or the XC40 and £10K, then it would be the latter.

More importantly, if I was going to spend £35K on a new SUV, would the XC40 be on the short list? Yes, it certainly would.

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