No segment in the car industry these days is growing bigger faster than small SUVs. Compact crossovers, cute ‘utes, whatever you want to call them — they’re what the people want these days. Cars are about convenience for most of us, after all, and the pint-size sport-ute blends many conveniences into a single package: convenient entry and exit, convenient sight lines, convenient ground clearance, convenient fuel economy, convenient proportions for parking — all at a convenient price.
Admittedly, the latter is less so the further upmarket you climb, but even premium brands these days are launching forays into the compact crossover market that start, at least, below the average new car transaction price. Volvo’s XC40 is a prime example of the breed: it brings all the qualities you’ve come to expect from the Swedish carmaker, just in a smaller, upright package. It’s safe, it’s attractive — and like all Volvos on sale right now, it’s just a Nice Car.
All the Volvo charm
To build on the above, Volvo very much belongs to the group of carmakers who deliver a fleet of vehicular options differentiated more by size and height than distinctive character. No matter what Volvo you choose — sedan, SUV or station wagon — it’s liable to look and feel much the same as any other. In the case of the XC40, that pays dividends in terms of the features. Safety, of course, is a Volvo hallmark, and this SUV packs plenty of features designed to ensure it, both active and passive. The latter blessedly went untested during my time with the car, though only through the quick action of the former, which seized control of the brakes when a sketchy box truck decided to decelerate rapidly and unexpectedly in front of me on Interstate 95.
Outside, the XC40 is clearly a Volvo, boasting the same square-jawed Swedish good looks as your average Skarsgård — especially in the R-Design trim of my tester, where the Crystal White paint was nicely set off by the contrasting black roof. The interior lives with a little more differentiation, mostly in the name of watching the budget to help the car come in at a rather-affordable base price below $34,000. There’s odd mouse-fur trim here and there; the plastic bits feel a bit less premium than, say, the ones you’d find in a top-shelf XC60 or V90, and while the optional Harmon Kardon stereo offers 13 speakers and various listening modes, it doesn’t pack the same punch as the fancy stereos in other Volvos.
Still, the XC40 boasts an all-digital instrument panel that’s crisp and clear, a tablet-style infotainment display that uses the same efficient layout as other Volvos, comfortable leather seats, and handy little convenience features scattered about. (Why every carmaker doesn’t offer a removable waist bin in the center console is beyond me.)
Oh, and one pro tip: Save yourself $100 and skip the burnt orange-colored Lava Carpet.
The XC40 isn’t much fun to drive, but that’s okay
If you count yourself among those driving enthusiasts who’s been forced into buying a crossover due to circumstance but still want some zippiness in their cute ‘ute, the XC40 ain’t for you. (The Mazda CX-30 beckons from the inexpensive side of the XC40, while the Porsche Macan awaits above it on the price scale.) That said, if you’re among the much larger chunk of SUV buyers who place utility, design and convenience far above driving fun, this Volvo is a fine little machine.
The engine — the more powerful T5 version of the turbocharged inline-four found in AWD versions, versus the 187-hp T4 version in the FWD — sounds coarse and a bit strained when you mat the gas, but it’s plenty peppy enough for around-town driving and highway cruising. Likewise, the handling isn’t likely to inspire the envy of BMW engineers, but it rides well enough on rough pavement that you won’t regret opting for the 20-inch wheels.
Be careful with the shifter, though; unlike most shift-by-wire levers, it forces you to stop at Neutral when shifting from Drive to Reverse or vice versa, adding an extra step to the process. It doesn’t seem like a big idea…until you wind up revving the engine madly to no effect while blocking the street in the middle of a three-point turn.
The XC40 is a good car made better by Volvo’s subscription service
The XC40 was the first vehicle eligible for lease through the Swedish carmaker’s Care by Volvo program, which is designed to make sliding into a car easier than ever. For one single monthly payment, Volvo provides the vehicle (and an allocation for 15,000 miles per year), the insurance, and the maintenance. Plus, like many a cell phone payment plan, while the lease goes for two years, you can change to a different model as early as 12 months in, should your needs change.
The XC40’s Care by Volvo subscription offers just one well-equipped model, the R-Design I drove, and runs buyers $700 per month. That only sounds hefty for a compact crossover until you remember that it folds in the regularly scheduled maintenance and insurance; depending on where you live and what your insurance would otherwise be, you could wind up coming out ahead even before you factor in the convenience of online ordering
(A regular lease, for what it’s worth, would come to about $525 per month; maintenance would be at least $400, probably more, so as long as your insurance winds up being more than $165 per month, the Care plan likely works out as a deal.)
Price as Tested: $46,795
Drivetrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Power: 245 hp, 258 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
Volvo provided this product for review.