We get behind the wheel of the Volvo XC40 – the 2018 European Car of the Year. Does it live up to the hype?
What is it?
The XC40 is the newest and smallest member of Volvo’s SUV family, slotting in below the XC60 and XC90.
Priced from £27,905 – £40,055, its premium rivals include the BMW X1, Range Rover Evoque, Audi Q3, Mazda CX-5, DS 7 Crossback and Jaguar E-Pace.
As well as its Car of the Year title, the XC40 was also crowned What Car? Car of the Year 2018 and Best Family SUV.
The XC40 perfectly demonstrates that there is scope for distinctive design, even within the constraints of the SUV sector where ruggedness, high ride height, short overhangs and the need for spacious interiors all present interesting challenges.
Chunky, yet stylish, it clearly shares some DNA with its larger siblings, but it’s very much the cheeky little brother.
There are three main trim levels – Momentum, R-Design and Inscription – and they’re all generously equipped, though we’d say R-Design is the sweet spot.
Even the entry-level version has a 9.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with full connectivity, a slick 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster ahead of the driver, sat nav, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Volvo On Call remote control and emergency assistance system is also standard. It allows you to activate various functions of your car from your smartphone or smartwatch, including starting the engine remotely to heat or cool the cabin and sending a destination directly to the sat nav – both before you start your engine.
Volvo’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive technology can be specified. It assists with the steering and controls the braking and acceleration required to keep the car safely in its lane and at the desired cruising speed or at a set distance from any vehicle in front. I wasn’t 100% sure about the system when I first tried it on other recent Volvos, but it’s excellent now, if slightly uncanny.
The whole car is well built, there’s an overall solid feel and inside it’s stylish with plenty of soft-touch surfaces.
The driving position is suitably high with excellent visibility, there’s ample space up front and behind for adults, though the fifth passenger will have to straddle the transmission tunnel.
Boot space is good too, stretching from 460 litres to 1,336 litres if you fold down the back seats.
There’s a clever touch in the boot because the floor folds to divide up the space – great for stopping shopping bags sliding around, for instance.
Among the multitude of safety systems on board, there’s City Safety, Volvo’s automatic emergency braking (AEB) system which can detect pedestrians, cyclists and large animals, plus Oncoming Lane Mitigation, which warns you if you move out of your lane into the path of an oncoming vehicle and helps steer you safely back into your lane.
Initially there’s a choice of four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel and petrol engines of various power outputs, with Volvo first three-cylinder (a 1.5-litre petrol) to follow, while plug-in hybrid and 100% electric versions will come in the future.
I tried the 188bhp D4 (diesel) and 244bhp (petrol T5) which both came with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. There are also various drive modes – Comfort, Eco, Off road, Dynamic and Individual.
The D4 diesel can hit 62mph from standstill in 7.9 seconds and tops out at 130mph. On paper it’s capable of 55mpg, while CO2 emissions are 135g/km.
The range-topping T5 is the fastest XC40 with a 0-62mph time of just 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 140mph. However, fuel economy takes a hit (39mpg) and CO2 emissions rise to 168g/km.
Manual transmission and front-wheel drive versions will also be available.
How does it drive?
In short – very well. The XC40 possesses some of the best driving dynamics you’ll find in an SUV – not just its class.
With sharp, nicely weighted steering, a comfortable ride, loads of grip and plenty of composure in corners, it ticks all the right boxes.
So whether you’re cruising the motorways, commuting through town, on the school run, or enjoying a spirited drive on more challenging roads, the XC40 will deliver.
Both the engines I tried have more than enough grunt for everyday driving, and for the most part, both are refined, though the diesel makes itself known more often than not.
The Volvo XC40 is quite simply one of the best SUVs money can buy. As if its bold looks, engaging driving dynamics and high build quality aren’t enough – it’s also generously equipped, comfortable and extremely safe.