Adorable might sound like a word a youngster’s grandmother would use before planting a smacker on their lips, but its synonyms including ‘captivating’ all apply to the XC40, for which a lazy Russian doll ethos hasn’t been relied on aside from Volvo’s family Thor’s Hammer daytime lights, strong but unaggressive grille and wraparound L-shaped taillights. From two-tone paint jobs, sharply-raked rear windows, rugged arch mouldings and the trim name etched into the C-pillar, to its boxy silhouette, squat stance, evocative skid plate, stylised exhaust surrounds and even a Swedish flag delightfully incorporated via a rubber label on the front wing, Volvo’s studio has done wonders in giving the XC40 a youthful image. Its utilitarian but ultra-cool shape has a whiff of G-Wagen about it. Enough said.
Anyone who’s long been salivating at the prospect of owning or leasing an XC90 that’s been reduced by a photocopier into a more manageable and affordable package will instantly be satiated by the newcomer’s equally minimalist cabin with the brand’s coveted 12.3-inch tablet-like touchscreen and chic chrome air vents that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bentley. Volvo’s former fuddy-duddy image has long been consigned to the history books by its forebears but the XC40 takes things to a whole new level of cool, options even including Lava Orange carpets and other upholstery, or pews finished in soft Oxide Red leather.
Admitted aimed primarily at luring millennials and hipster types over to the Swedish brand, a week observing people’s reactions to the XC40 affirmed that even Dennis Skinner would probably be smitten with it, though. The concave aluminium door trim called Cutting Edge with tasteful integral LED lighting has a 3D-like look about it, while the frameless rear-view mirror is another example of thoughtful Swedish craftsmanship. Thoroughly modern, sophisticated, ‘connected’ and rammed full of safety systems plus semi-autonomous technology, it’s got and does everything, although having to use the touchscreen to adjust the temperature still feels like an ironically flawed approach.
Volvo has long been one of the brands synonymous with supremely comfortable seats and the XC40 perpetuates the mantra, the R Design variant’s front chairs adeptly balancing sporty supportiveness with long-distance posterior wellbeing. Three adults could fit across the XC40’s rear bench at a push although the flat centre seat is better suited to more petite people who will have the transmission tunnel to straddle. The trim’s leather/nubuck coalition may not be to everyone’s taste if full leather is the preferred order of the day, but the added grip certainly helps occupants more fully enjoy the car’s sporty aspirations. Delightfully, the seating position is akin to a proper 4×4 rather than a jacked-up hatchback.
Practicality used to be utterly dominated by SKODA with its Simply Clever programme, but the equally caring and thoughtful XC40 features drawers under the front seats, a removable rubbish bin in the main cubby, a bag hook, a card holder, deceptively sizeable door bins plus a smartphone area that can be specified with wireless inductive charging.
Of course, no car is perfect and although space in the front and rear of Volvo’s baby SUV is very generous indeed, the steeply-raked angle of the rear window somewhat impedes the view out. Some people may prefer proper pockets instead of nets on the seat-backs, while the glovebox is on the small side, and glancing down while entering the car leads one’s eyes to an assortment of unsightly under-seat electrical boxes and cables. The XC40’s 460-litre boot falls short of a number of perceived rivals but at least Volvo hasn’t misleadingly massaged the headline figures, unlike some brands whose models’ rear seats slide forwards to maximise boot space to the extent that rear passengers are forced to catch a bus. It’s somewhat disappointing that the otherwise very practical XC40’s rear seats don’t slide, but to facilitate trips to Sweden’s famous furniture store, at least there’s no loading lip to hurdle, and the boot’s square dimensions plus faux floor make it feel practical in the real world. Save for this small number of criticisms, the interior of Volvo’s compact SUV debutante deserves dollops of praise.
While diesel is being treated like a pariah by the media, it remains a popular fuel for private and business motorists alike, the test car coming with the four-cylinder D4 190PS unit at its heart, which sits above the lesser-spotted D3. Mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox and underpinned by all-wheel drive, the XC40’s all-season credentials in this guise will appeal to plenty – and with 400Nm torque on offer, it can match comparable rivals in terms of performance. Modern Volvo engines have an ironically charming quality to them, their potency fairly mediocre, their efficiency never getting one’s jaw dropping and a muted diesel thrum audible at all times, yet they somehow exude a lovable and warm manner almost like an automotive hug, which makes them oddly alluring. The XC40’s reassuringly large wing mirrors and sizeable alloys mean that wind and road noise replace the D4’s affable background chatter at A-road and motorway speeds, but it’s somehow entirely forgivable.
Some of this is thanks to the XC40 R-Design’s wonderfully supple ride quality that enables it to seemingly glide over hefty craters and over aggressively high speed-bumps like they’re of no consequence, making it ideal for the UK’s poor roads. Throttle lag is very evident in Eco mode, while Dynamic sharpens things up but not enough to dazzle. Left in Comfort mode, though, Volvo’s baby SUV is an addictive little fellow to drive. It may not be as agile as a BMW in terms of suspension poise and communicative steering but neither is its ride as firmly harsh on 21-inch rims, acquitting itself very respectably indeed against Audi, Mercedes and other brand’s perceived and actual rivals.
The Swedes have admirably published WLTP figures before other manufacturers and although the XC40 D4 R-Design AWD’s average fuel consumption unsurprisingly fell well short of the original NEDC figure of 55.4mpg, it matched what is anticipated as the real-world figure, finishing the week of 300ish mixed miles’ driving on 40.2mpg. With the test car’s 21” wheels pushing CO2 emissions to a nevertheless respectable 133g/km, company car fleets will most likely gravitate towards the D3, while the OTR price including options snuck over the £40,000 threshold, meaning some private buyers may also think twice about such a fully-specified D4 R-Design due to the new road tax system. Plenty won’t bat an eyelid, though, as the XC40 is such a desirable and capable car, priced comparably alongside premium alternatives.
As Sweden’s first ever baby SUV, the XC40 with its discretely gorgeous exterior styling and minimalist contemporary interior leaves no stone unturned. Nice work, Volvo.