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2017 Volvo XC40 review, test drive

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What is it?
A milestone vehicle of sorts for Volvo, as with it, Volvo now has an SUV for every series of car they make. This is an important step as SUVs are all the rage right now. Volvo’s baby SUV is set to arrive here around mid-2018, and when it does, it will square off against three German rivals, BMW’s X1, Mercedes’ GLA and Audi’s Q3; its other competitor, the Jaguar E-Pace is yet to arrive here.

The XC40 is also a milestone for the Swedish carmaker as it’s the first Volvo built on the company’s new compact modular architecture (CMA) platform, co-developed with owners Geely. This platform will also underpin the future ’40 series’ cars as well as vehicles from Lynk & Co – Geely’s new automotive brand positioned between itself and Volvo. CMA is also designed to support hybrids and fully electrified vehicles, and of course being a Volvo, the XC40 and cars on this platform will also benefit from a raft of safety and driver assistance like the Blind Spot Information and Cross Traffic Alert system offered on its larger siblings.

What’s it like on the outside?
The XC40’s style is refreshingly unique. It’s still a Volvo, thanks to signature design elements like the Thor’s Hammer headlights, the boomerang-like tail-light arrangement and the seatbelt motif on the grille, but British designer Ian Kettle said he wanted the XC40 to look like a tough little robot and has chiseled a chunky and edgy style. It looks simply brilliant, and the straight lines and squared-off design lend a more youthful and funky style, setting the XC40 apart from its larger stable mates. In an era where many luxury SUVs and cars look like different-sized interpretations of each other, this, to me, is a welcome move.

The nose is dominated by a large rectangular grille and the headlight signature elements. The side has a sharply upswept window line at the D-pillar that neatly leads into the base of the rear spoiler. A cool little detail is the Swedish flag rubber tab nestled under the bonnet.

The SUV rides quite high and there’s a choice of stylish rims sizes ranging from 17 to 21 inches; expect India to get the 18- inchers. The design should go down well in our market where buyers prefer large wheels, a high ground clearance and that traditional upright SUV stance.

What’s it like on the inside?
The insides are stylish too and the details lavished on every little component are like works of art. It’s so welcome on a car in this segment, quite unlike what you’d typically find in its competitors, and more in tune with the style-abundant interiors of a Mini. Bits like the swoopy door handles, frameless inner rear-view mirror, the Orrefors crystal gear lever, the retro AC vents and even the adjustment knobs are meticulously and beautifully styled. The steering wheel boss is squarish, which looks pretty neat along with the squared central dash area housing the touchscreen and air vents. All of this is well built and practical too. The vents can be individually shut and you’ll find yourself looking for reasons to use the knob simply for the quality and satisfying ‘click’ it operates with; it’s almost therapeutic, like popping bubble wrap.

What’s commendable is that even on its smallest SUV, the portrait-oriented touchscreen is the same large 9.0-inch Sensus unit found on Volvo’s flagship SUV, the XC90. It’s crisp and clear and also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The vertical screen may not look right to some, but it has its advantages; it feels more natural scrolling vertically than swiping, and in navigation mode, you get to see more of the road ahead.

Passenger space is adequate, and while we didn’t get a chance to seat five, it’s obvious that the XC40 is best used as four-seater. At the rear, the seat for the middle passenger is raised and narrow, and the central tunnel eats into the legroom, making this space comfortable for shorter city drives only. Space around the driver is quite sufficient and the seats are comfy too; we drove for about four hours and didn’t feel fatigued at all.

The country that gave the world Ikea should know a thing to two about space management, and Volvo has given this much thought in its new SUV. The designers haven’t placed the speakers in the doors, thus freeing up room for storage; the doors bins are large and can easily swallow bottles, magazines or even a laptop. The sub-woofer is mounted in the dashboard and is an air-vented unit (our colleagues over at What HiFi? say these are more power and space efficient). The sound system is by Harman Kardon and it sounds great. Other storage areas are large sized too, for example, the box under the armrest can hold a full-sized tissue box. Both the front seats get an under-seat tray, there are a few retractable shopping hooks, a dedicated phone storage space with an inductive charging pad and a small bin for waste paper. With the rear seats folded, boot space goes from 460 to 1,336 litres, and there’s also underfloor storage area in the boot that’s at 73 litres, with the spare tyre in place.

What’s it like to drive?
When launched here, the XC40 will have a choice of two engines – a 190hp, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel (D4) and a 247hp, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol (T5), and we got to test both the versions. The engines are mated to eight-speed automatic gearboxes and, impressively, get all-wheel drive as standard. There is also a 150hp, 2.0-litre diesel (D3) with front-wheel drive that could come in at a later stage.

Driving in Barcelona, we had a chance to sample the cars through city streets, highways and a bit of the hills too. The diesel isn’t a very lively performer but power delivery is nice and linear with no flat spots throughout the rev range. Cruising along at 100kph, the engine comfortably clocks 1,500rpm, but diesel clatter is quite audible and present across the rev range. The petrol engine is a livelier performer, but it feels rather coarse, lacking the kind of silky smoothness you’d be expecting. Performance, however, does satisfy. Dynamic and Comfort mode are sufficiently lively and it’s only the Eco mode that feels sedate; while this was well suited to the slow, orderly traffic in Spain, for the cut-and-thrust madness of our streets you’d probably want to use ‘Dynamic’.

Volvo offer two chassis setups on the XC40 – a standard ‘Dynamic’ suspension setup, and a sharper handling ‘Sport’ setup which will be offered on the R-Design trim which is a sporty avatar that gets bits like a blacked-out roof and aluminium inlays in the cabin. Both are entertaining to drive, although body roll is present but it’s not to the point of being alarming or even uncomfortable. We didn’t get to drive both the setups over twisty sections, but the ‘Sport’ suspension with its firmer dampers did seem to offer a sharper feel. And what’s brilliant is that it does not compromise the ride quality. It, however, will be interesting to see how it fares on our roads.

Should I buy one?
Live a fun life? Then yes, you should. The XC40 handles well, is powered by decent engines and has plenty of great kit. Also given what we look for in SUVs, the tall height and long length only add to its appeal. And then there’s the super cool styling which will really tug at your heart strings. Of course, if your head also has a say, then the practical interiors, and the promise of good fuel efficiency will help. And what could work in its favour is keen pricing. Volvo has only recently started assembling cars in India, but the facility in Karnataka is setup to produce cars on the carmaker’s Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA), and the XC40’s Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) means it will remain imported – for now at least. However, true to Volvo’s form, expect a well-loaded car with competitive pricing, something in the range of Rs 37-42 lakh. It isn’t perfect though, space for five will be tight and Volvo’s dealer spread remains sparse across India. But for every other reason the XC40 will have you thinking, life indeed begins at 40.

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