Johannesburg - It was in 2015 that the XC90 started the fresh new winds blowing through Volvo, where the Swedish firm began taking on the Germans directly in terms of technology and cabin quality.
Since then Volvo has been churning out new models like ice creams at a toddler’s party, and the S90 and S60 sedans, along with the XC60, V90 Cross Country and XC40 SUVs, have all continued the good work.
It’s the XC40 compact SUV on test here, which hit South African streets in April and goes toe-to-toe with premium adventure vehicles such as the Jaguar E-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLA and VW Tiguan, among others.
Instantly recognisable as part of Volvo’s ‘new’ family with its Thor’s Hammer daytime running lights, the XC40 exudes an air of SUV toughness with its large upright grille, muscular haunches and raised ground clearance. The range-topping R Design version on test here is spruced-up with an eye-catching design pack that includes 19 inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, black styling highlights including the roof rails, and dual exhaust pipes. No shrinking violet, this.
There’s some great attention to detail, including a tiny Swedish rubber flag located on the front fender. Although it’s Volvo’s smallest SUV, the XC40 packs a lot of space into its 4.4 metre length. It offers a roomy cabin with plenty of seating space for four adults, and that 460-litre boot also takes a big stack of luggage, with rear seats that flip down to extend it to 1336 litres.
The XC90 ushered in a new era of interior design for Volvo and the XC40 continues the theme with a cabin that oozes class. In this flagship R Design version, the swanky sophistication is taken a step further with items such as like suede/Nubuck leather seats, and leather on the gearshift paddles and gearknob.
Swedish minimalism reigns supreme in the neat and uncluttered interior. Apart from a few quick-access buttons on the dash and steering wheel, all the infotainment is bundled into a large 23cm tablet-like touchscreen which is one of the more user-friendly systems I’ve experienced. Finding stuff on the menu is straightforward, and Bluetooth-pairing your phone to the car doesn’t require a degree in computer science. There’s also a digital instrument cluster that changes colour and graphics according to which driving mode is selected.
For now the XC40 is available in SA with a choice of two trim levels (sporty R-Design and elegant Momentum), two engines (D4 diesel or T5 petrol), and all-wheel drive on all models. Top-of-the-range Inscription derivatives, as well as the entry-level T3 front-wheel drive model, will arrive later in 2018.
I drove the T5 version with a two-litre turbopetrol four wielding 185kW and 350Nm. These boy-racer outputs make for a car with spirited acceleration - especially in the Dynamic mode (there are also Eco, Normal and Offroad settings), and the ability to quickly shoot past long trucks. Turbo lag is barely evident and the slick-shifting eight-speed auto gearbox nicely exploits the car’s broad power band.
Volvo claims a feisty 0-100km/h time of just 6.4 seconds and a 230km/h top speed. Our test car averaged 10.9 litres per 100km which is fair economy for the performance, if a lot thirstier than the optimistic factory-claimed 7.2 litres. For lower fuel bills the D4 diesel will be a better option.
Driving the XC40 is a refined experience, and there’s no intrusive wind or road noise, but the T5’s ride quality is a mixed bag. The suspension struck a great balance between sharp handling and delivering a comfy ride, but the low-profile 19” tyres felt somewhat choppy on bumpy roads.
All XC40s come well stocked with features that include navigation, two-zone climate control including a cooled glovebox, a high-end audio system, and automatic wipers. Standard too in the R-Design are electrically powered front seats, an inductive (cable-free) smartphone charger, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility for the audio.
Safety being a Volvo obsession, the standard fare includes a full complement of airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, a City Safety emergency auto braking system, and a lane keeping aid. Our test car also came with the optional Pilot Assist which gives the car semi-autonomous driving ability.
By automatically speeding up and slowing down to keep a consistent gap to the car in front, and self-steering to stay in a (clearly marked) lane, the XC40 does the mental ‘heavy lifting’ for you in busy traffic and reduces your stress levels. Other fitted options were a 360 degree camera that gives a bird’s eye view on the screen (pictured above) to help with parking, and a powered tailgate.
The D4 and D5 come standard with Volvo’s permanent all-wheel drive system, along with hill start assist.This gives them some gravel road ability, along with the generous 211mm ground clearance and front skid plate. The XC40 T5 R Design is yours for R649 700 without options, and includes a five year or 100 000km warranty and maintenance plan, with includes roadside assistance.
With the title of 2018 European Car of the Year under its belt, the classy new XC40 continues Volvo’s rejuvenation in a more compact and affordable package. It’s well priced too, against some less powerful rivals.