Volvo XC40 T5 review: Mother superior



 

Advanced systems allow the Volvo XC40 to keep a watchful eye on your safety at all times

SINGAPORE — The Volvo XC40 is a car that seems to have it all: good looks, a strong brand name, lots of power under the bonnet, and the kind of body that’s hot at the moment. And it’s a new baby, meaning it’s the smallest Volvo Sport Utility Vehicle, and who doesn’t love babies?

Having freshly emerged from Volvo’s developmental womb, the XC40 completes its maker’s SUV lineup. It’s slightly uniquely proportioned with a deliberately short, stubby form: it’s shorter than, say, a Subaru XV, but wider and taller.

Wisely, Volvo seems to have avoided giving the XC40 cutesy looks. Instead, the new baby looks purposeful and chunky, with a broad and boldly upright grille, large headlamps and big wheels (our test car had optional 20-inch alloys, but 18 is the smallest you can go).

The roof is available in either black or white, and either way it gives the car’s side profile a nice bit of contrast, and the slim windows pander to the desire for the kind of sporty-SUV silhouette that the Range Rover Evoque perfected.

While the XC40 is recognisably a Volvo, its bones aren’t yet shared with family member. That’s because it’s built on the new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) that Volvo shares with its owner, China’s Geely. The next S40 and V40 will be spun off the same platform, while Geely will use it for its own models (and possibly some Proton products, now that it owns a chunk of the Malaysian carmaker) to give it the necessary scale to be profitable.

That highlights something worth remembering: it’s misguided to fret about China’s influence on the Swedish, because if CMA shows anything, it’s that Geely hasn’t ruined Volvo, but has in fact rescued it.

Whatever the case, there’s little evidence of cheapskate engineering. The suspension is fancy, with double wishbones up front and a multi-link rear, and the T5 variant that serves as the lone model for now has a 250 horsepower turbo engine that drives all four wheels.

Expect less powerful (and cheaper) 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbos to join the range eventually, though Volvo distributor Wearnes Automotive won’t say when.

The rivals that spring to mind are BMW’s X1 and the Volkswagen Tiguan, but the Volvo has a longer wheelbase than either, at 2,702mm. Accordingly, there’s quite a bit of legroom inside, although the boot is smaller than those of the German duo. That’s not to say it’s small, as it goes from 460 litres with the rear seats up to 1,336 when you fold them. If you need more space than that, maybe you simply have too much stuff.

The rear seats don’t slide or recline, which is another reason for BMW or VW to blow a raspberry at the XC40, but it doesn’t matter, since it doesn’t feel claustrophobic in the back of the Volvo, in spite of how the windowline sweeps up to meet the roof.

If anything, the Volvo’s cabin is a nice place to be. It’s full of thoughtful design features such as deep door pockets and a small trash bin, as well as wireless charging pad for your smartphone, if it’s compatible. Opinions were mixed in the office about our test car’s orange carpeting, for predictable reasons: it was easy on the eye but looked a pain to keep clean.

The cabin layout prompted similar debate at CarBuyer HQ, too. Some of us love the tidiness, the clean lines and the fine materials, but the 12.3 touchscreen that’s responsible for the slick looking dashboard also drew flak for being fiddly to use. It’s responsive and bright, but it’s also laden with menus and layers that make certain things fussy; the climate controls will make you wish for more physical knobs or switches, for sure.

The one control system you’ll wish for some improvement the most is probably the steering. There’s precious little feel from the helm, and the experience is so deadening that it almost masks the Volvo’s built-in balance and general poise around corners.

The engine, too, is a disappointment. It’s not that the Volvo is slow, for it reaches 100km/h in 6.4 seconds, but there’s a difference between “fast” and “exciting”, and it feels like the XC40’s engineers haven’t quite grasped it. It doesn’t help that the engine itself has a voice like robot frog and a tendency to vibrate through the floor. Between that and the sedated steering, the Volvo just isn’t much fun to be behind the wheel of.

While you expect more from the engine department from something that aims to be a premium car, at least the equipment levels won’t disappoint, especially when it comes to safety gear. The XC40 essentially has an eye, and it keeps it peeled for danger. Swerve into oncoming traffic and it’ll nudge you back into your lane, which is handy for Malaysia’s smaller roads. Threaten to roll off the tarmac and into a ditch, and again, it’ll save you (and itself) from yourself. Reverse out of a parking spot, and it will brake itself to prevent you from backing out into cross traffic.

The Volvo even keeps a lookout for large animals, pedestrians and cyclists, applying the brakes if any of them want to restyle the front of your XC40 for you; given that two of those three can sue, the feature is probably more useful than you think.

It’s not all grim safety stuff, though. The Volvo has a brilliant sound system that’s remarkably clear and, to use fluffy audiophile language, has terrific soundstaging. That’s just as well, because at S$200,000 with Certificate Of Entitlement, the XC40 is an expensive car for the size.

You can lop fifteen grand off the price if you skip the R-Design styling add-ons, but since this is a car that wants to sell on the strength of its looks, that might be a bit self-defeating; you would get more car (and more fun) by choosing a Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 R-Line, with a bit of spare change to take home, so it seems likely that style is a main decision driver for the XC40 customer.

Our guess is that the XC40 won’t sell in meaningful numbers until the smaller engined variants arrive, and knock even more off the price. But perhaps we’ll be wrong, and the T5 will put a dent in all those X1 and Tiguan sales. Only a fool doesn’t expect a baby to cost lots of money, anyway.

NEED TO KNOW Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design
Engine 1,969cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 250hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1,800-4,800rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100km/h 6.4 seconds         
Fuel efficiency 7.7L/100km
Price S$200,000 including Certificate Of Entitlement
Agent Wearnes Automotive
Available Now

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.