We’re big fans of the XC40. Does the lustre remain when there’s one fewer cylinder and only two driven wheels?

In 2018, we group-tested Volvo’s new XC40 in D4 AWD and T5 AWD forms, and both wowed the CAR team with their panache, practicality and comfort. In fact, when 2018 drew to a close and we compiled a list of the top-scoring test cars of the year, the T5 and its 82/100 placed a joint ninth and the D4, on 84/100, sneaked into the fourth spot. Then, earlier in 2019, the XC40 made it onto the shortlist for best premium-midsize SUV/crossover in our 2019 Top 12 Best Buys awards.

If there’s one point of criticism we could level at the D4 and T5, it’s that both are offered exclusively with an all-wheel-drive setup, a feature that’s arguably unnecessary in South Africa’s mild weather conditions. The only model in the XC40 range powering solely its front wheels is the entry-level T3. Coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox – or, latterly, with the option of an eight-speed automatic transmission – in Momentum spec it kicks off the XC40 range, a whopping +-R120 000 less than the next rung up, the D4 Momentum.

Tested here is the T3 R-Design, which adds such niceties as inductive smartphone charging, electric adjustment for the front seats, 19-inch alloys, an R-Design visual kit outside and in, and firmer suspension settings. Our test unit sports wheels an inch larger still, as well as a range of interior additions. All in, this example weighs 1 587 kg, which isn’t an insubstantial figure for a 1,5-litre engine to propel.

Thankfully, the unit under the XC40 T3’s bonnet is a fitting match (one tester described the T3 engine as the most refined three-cylinder he’d ever experienced). Boasting outputs of 115 kW at 5 000 r/min and a stout 265 N.m of torque from 1 850 to 3 850 r/min, the Drive-E powertrain makes, ahem, light work of the portly kerb weight. A standing start sprint of 11,15 seconds may not appear all that quick but, in-gear, the T3 is impressive, registering 20 km/h-increment readings not far adrift of those of the D4 (the T5 is quite a bit swifter, as it should be with 185 kW and 350 N.m).

Accessing that readily available performance is a doddle thanks to a slick, mechanically involving manual shifter. Swapping cogs couldn’t be easier or smoother with a well-modulated clutch that bites early and a gearshifter sited within easy reach for short and tall drivers.

Where the manual gearbox can irk, however, is in the length of its ratios. It’s a quirk we’ve seen on many a recent manual test car – Ryan Bubear’s Ford Fiesta 1,5 TDCi long-termer is a prime example – in an attempt to lower fuel consumption, and on the T3 the engine can quickly drop out of its optimal operating range at urban speeds, often necessitating a shift to first gear where second would have been preferable.

There does appear to be consumption-related benefits to the tall ratios, however. On our mixed-use fuel route, the T3 registered 7,30 L/100 km, which is excellent in anyone’s book and should realise a driving range of 740 km on a 54-litre tank of unleaded. Volvo claims 6,20 L/100 km, which for once doesn’t seem wildly unrealistic.

Elsewhere, the T3 driving experience is much the same as pricier derivatives. We’d forego the R-Design kit and larger wheels if ultimate ride comfort is a priority; there’s a smidge too much fidget transmitted to the hushed cabin. Overall, though, it steers cleanly, body control is tight and rolling refinement impressive (wind noise is especially well kept at bay).

Inside, there’s Volvo’s Sensus Connect touchscreen infotainment system arranged in a portrait layout, beautifully wrought surfaces – although a new member of the test team, who hadn’t before driven an XC40, expressed reservations about the carpeting adorning the door pockets – and generous space fore and aft. A word of caution on the last point, though: opt for the extra-cost panoramic sunroof and headroom shrinks by 36 mm, which could mean the difference between taller occupants sitting comfortably, or rubbing their scalps against the padded headliner.



TEST SUMMARY

Why, then, if the XC40 T3 continues the range’s stellar run in the CAR test fleet, does it score a comparatively middling 79/100? Two reasons: the eight-speed automatic transmission is a better match for the XC40’s laidback, fuss-free demeanour; and the R-Design package, visually appealing as it is, compromises the XC40’s famed comfort levels. Our pick is a T3 Momentum auto, which is still substantially cheaper than a D4 or T5, leaving scope for choice options, the most appealing of which is the Premium Pack at R47 750. So equipped, the XC40 is shown in its best light.

ROAD TEST SCORE

XC40 Volvo XC40 T3 R-Design
79 / 100
  • Price: R565,400
  • 0-100 km/h: 9.3
  • Power ([email protected]/min): 120 KW @ 5500
  • Torque ([email protected]/min): 265 N.m @ 1850-3850
  • Top speed: 200
  • Claimed cons. (l/100 km): 6.3 l/100 KM's
  • C02 emissions (g/km): 142 g/KM