Welcome to SA's most comprehensive test of the new XC40. Which is best, petrol or diesel? We sample the XC40 D4 AWD Momentum Geartronic and the XC40 T5 AWD R-Design Geartronic...
Whether it’s the invention of the three-point seatbelt in 1959 or its long line of sensible boxes bristling with airbags and Isofix points, safety has long been the word most associated with Volvo. In recent years, however, the Swedish carmaker has boldly repackaged itself as a fashionable, aspirational brand producing some of the most striking and capable vehicles currently on the road.
It's understandable, though, that, despite its bold new persona, the tenet of safety remains at Volvo’s core. Only in this case, it’s the perceived safety associated with dabbling in a market with a ravenous appetite for premium midsize crossovers.
For the XC40, moving into this segment is something of a mixed blessing. The ground is fertile for sales success but, at the same time, your newcomer will often bear the weight of responsibility for being a branch lynchpin. Bearing this in mind, Volvo simply had to get this one right, so we sampled the XC40 in D4 turbodiesel Momentum and turbopetrol-engined T5 R-Design guises to see just how safe a bet its newcomer will be.
X marks a new spot
The XC40 is the first Volvo to be underpinned by the CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform co-developed with parent company, Geely. It will form the foundations of a trio of 40-series, including V40 estate and hatchback models, as well as a number of upcoming Geely variants.
Dimensions aside, the main difference between CMA and its larger SPA cousin (the platform serving the 60- and 90-series cars) is the structural provision for a MacPherson front-suspension setup, as opposed to the larger cars’ double-wishbone arrangement. According to XC40 programme chief, Johan Taws, the platform slightly prioritises rear-passenger room over outright boot space. Taws claims this configuration is influenced by vehicle-ownership trends in China, with a car this size being partly financed by parents who will then be sitting in the rear being driven by the owner.
We’ll touch upon how these adoptions acquit themselves in the XC40 a bit later in this piece. But of greater importance in the clientele’s eyes has to be the shell that sits atop this new architecture.
Unboxing the box
Volvo has cleverly imbued the often curvaceous crossover-design idiom with a dose of squared-off solidity that neatly aligns with its larger stablemates. There’s a boxy, SUV-like utility to its bones that melds well with such Volvo staples as the upright, concave grille, Thor’s hammer headlamps and LED-trimmed taillamps that climb up the C-pillar. There are also some neat surprise-and-delight touches, such as the Swedish flag tag that peeks out from the bonnet crease like a designer garment label. It all culminates in what’s one of the best-looking cars in its segment, with a visual appeal capable of spanning both the class and gender gamut.
In the white car’s R-Line guise, the XC40 sports a plethora of gloss-black trim accents, including a contrasting black roof and 20-inch alloy wheels. Although not as overtly sporty, Momentum specification forms an upmarket canvas upon which an impressive choice of hues and trims can be applied.
The interior is similarly colour-configurable and, in the case of R-Design models, features such extras as leather/suede combination upholstery and numerous metallic trim elements. It feels solid and beautifully finished, although not all will enjoy the carpeted door inserts.
Cars in this particular segment often major in style at the expense of practicality, but the XC40’s packaging makes it a genuinely family-friendly proposition. Although our measurements showed rear kneeroom to be rather modest, the flat seats and a well-proportioned footwell conspire with generous glazing and headroom to make accommodations aft feel airy. The wide-opening doors and sizeable apertures also make loading kids and child seats a piece of cake, while the 320-litre boot (1 168 litres with the 60:40-split rear seatbacks folded) is among the most spacious in its class.
Light drinker and heavy hitter
With 140 kW and 400 N.m on tap, the D4’s 2,0-litre turbodiesel feels punchy and plays along with an eight-speed ‘box that, although somewhat leisurely in its actions, is smooth. It also accounts for a segment-typical 9,10-second 0-100-km/h sprint time. Mechanical refinement is a mixed bag; although quiet once speeds level out, any hard acceleration on the way has the D4’s unit sounding a bit clattery.
The same cannot be said of the T5’s 2,0-litre turbopetrol unit. Its smooth, low-key soundtrack masks outputs of 185 kW and 350 N.m that lend it a warm hatch-bothering 0-100 km/h time of 7,78 seconds. As with the D4, the transmission is smooth but kickdowns are a bit hesitant and response from the paddle shifters is leisurely at best.
The shift-by-wire transmission has something of a quirk in its operation, with every shift first being routed through neutral. Having to tug at the gear lever twice in order to engage drive feels a bit odd, but it’s not a deal-breaker and simply an idiosyncrasy to which you’ll soon adjust.
While it was never going to match the D4’s 6,9 L/100 km fuel consumption figure, the T5 is nonetheless reasonably frugal given its power, returning 8,5 L/100 km on our mixed-use route. Both cars are possessed of impressive stopping power, delivered in a brisk but controlled manner overseen by ABS, EBD and brake-assist systems. The 100-0 km/h stopping exercises revealed there was little separating the two, with the D4 taking 2,87 seconds to come to a halt, while its petrol sibling took just 2,81 seconds.
There’s also precious little separating the two on the dynamic front. Despite the D4 weighing just over 20 kg more than the T5, front-to-rear weight distribution is all but identical and both cars serve up a driving experience that’s typically Volvo: safe, planted and pleasingly measured for cars of this ilk. The steering is fingertip-light and accurate enough in most driving scenarios, but has neither the weight nor the responsiveness of the X2’s or E-Pace’s helms.
Similarly, the XC40’s MacPherson front/multilink rear suspension setup is softer sprung than those of its rivals, but the payoff is a wonderfully pliant ride that the others cannot emulate. The team’s consensus was that, while both cars rode well, the D4 seemed to better weather abrupt changes in road surface. As both test units rolled on fairly low-profile tyres, it’s likely that the stiffer springs forming part of the T5’s R-Design package and the D4’s additional weight plays some role in the diesel’s ability to iron out the ride a touch better.
Although hardly the final word in midsize-crossover handling agility, the XC40 strikes a good balance between engaging and relaxing, with the chassis reining in lateral body roll enough to keep things reassuringly neutral when pushing on.
Although priced in a similar vein to its (largely German) premium-placed rivals, this XC40 is generously equipped with the likes of dual-zone climate control, the function-rich Sensus infotainment system with sat-nav, keyless entry and go, rain sensors and rear parking aid among the standard features on the Momentum model.
Much of the R-Design’s specification is geared towards cosmetic enhancements, with electrically adjusted seats and a wireless charging pad for your phone in the centre console being the most notable exceptions.
As expected from Volvo, the list of safety features is comprehensive, with a full array of airbags, lane-keeping assist and road-sign recognition in the mix. The Intellisafe package (adaptive cruise control and semi-autonomous steering assistance system) can be specced for a reasonable
R20 000, while a choice of nine equipment packs (three for R-Design cars) serving up a variety of extras at bulk prices allows you to tailor your XC40 according to requirements. Add to this maintenance and warranty plans spanning five years/100 000 km and the XC40 is good value.
Given that this segment has accounted for almost a quarter of all BMW and Audi sales in South Africa, it was critical that the XC40 possessed the combination of capability and aspirational gravitas to grab a slice of the lucrative premium crossover pie.
With its chiselled good looks, solid build and an overall execution that melds practicality and comfort with a healthy dose of panache, it's understandable the XC40 has already accounted for close to half of Volvo's local sales since its recent arrival. Word from Volvo SA's MD, Greg Maruszewski, is that the first initial allocation of 350 XC40s was quickly sold and a further 700 ordered for the rest of 2018.
All of the requisites for becoming a strong contender in its field are present and correct for a package that will give its rivals some serious food for thought. Does it have the makings of a segment leader? On its showing here and the CAR team scoring both XC40s in the 80s out of 100, we're confident that's a safe bet.
*From the July 2018 issue of CAR magazine
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Volvo XC40 price and specs here