Volvo XC40 review - Engines, performance and drive
The XC40 majors on comfort and refinement instead of driving entertainment, and it does so rather well
The XC90 and XC60 are both based on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, but the XC40 is the first model from the Swedish brand to sit on the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) underpinnings. This uses MacPherson strut suspension at the front and a multi-link rear axle, which means the new Volvo matches its German rivals for chassis technology under the skin. However, if you’re looking for dynamic sparkle and hot hatchback-rivalling agility down a country road, you’ll be better off elsewhere.
For everyone else, though, the XC40 strikes a nice balance between composure and comfort. It can get caught out on pockmarked city streets, particularly at low speeds and on the optional larger wheels – but provided you stick with the original items, you’re likely to find the baby Volvo a pretty relaxing place to spend time. This isn’t just down to ride quality, of course, because the engines do a good job of fading into the background too.
The engine does its best work between 1,500rpm and 3,000rpm, and the eight-speed auto is keen to shift up just before the higher of those figures. It’s nicely judged, really, because that’s also the point where the motor really identifies itself as a diesel, through a harsher note and increased volume.
Car group tests
- Alfa Romeo Tonale vs Volvo XC40: 2023 twin test review
- Volvo XC40 vs Jaguar E-Pace: 2022 twin test review
- BMW iX3 vs Hyundai Ioniq 5 vs Volvo XC40 Recharge: 2021 group test review
- Volvo XC40 Recharge Plus: long-term test review
- Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 R-Design: long-term test review
It’s worth remembering, though, that should you want to get more involved in the gearshifting process, not every version is available with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. And this restriction is compounded by the fact that the stubby gear selector between the front seats actually has a lateral shift pattern – pull it towards the driver to shift down, and push it towards the passenger to shift up. It’s a bizarre layout that will take even the most adaptable of drivers a long time to get used to.
Even on those optional wheels, at high speeds the XC40 does a good job of soaking up road imperfections. You’ll occasionally notice a slight floating effect, but it never strays to the point of making you seasick. Its trickiest moments come at low speeds around town, where you might find the car troubled by deep potholes. Then again, we’d expect a standard model on 18-inch wheels to demonstrate a bit more compliance in this regard.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect such a generally wafty small SUV to be boat-like in corners, but in fact, the XC40 stays composed, even when required to perform a sudden, rapid change of direction. The steering adds to the experience - not because it’s blessed with any great deal of feedback, but rather because it’s nicely weighted and pleasingly direct. Playing around with the car’s Drive Mode selector and switching it into Dynamic actually has a negative effect, in fact, because it adds heft to the steering instead of any discernible extra communication.
Ultimate models fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels feel firm on typically torn UK roads. The chassis deals with more flowing undulations well, but sharper bumps shock the chassis, whereas a BMW X1 smothers imperfections a little more adeptly.
However, light steering and a well-judged chassis set-up means that the Volvo does at least respond well to inputs. It’s not as involving or as quick to change direction as the BMW, but for a tall SUV with a relatively short wheelbase, it offers a decent level of composure.
0-62mph acceleration and top speed
The XC40 is offered with a variety of mild-hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure-electric powertrains. The range starts with the front-wheel drive, mild-hybrid B3 four-cylinder petrol, producing 161bhp. It manages the 0-62mph dash in 8.6 seconds, while stepping up to the 194bhp B4 version trims a full second off the sprint time.
The 258bhp Recharge plug-in hybrid T5 model is powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder mated to an electric motor. It’s an impressive unit – with all that battery assistance, the three-cylinder motor feels like it lives a relatively unstrained life, but it’s capable of a proper turn of pace. Volvo’s claimed 7.3-second 0-62mph time points to solid performance, owing to the strong reserves of torque the XC40 Recharge can muster, and it does it with so much refinement too.
The cheaper Recharge T4 plug-in hybrid version produces 208bhp and gives away 1.2 seconds to its more powerful sibling in the sprint to 62mph.
Buyers looking for all-electric power have either a Single or Twin Motor option to choose from. The former produces 235bhp, all of which is sent to the rear wheels, and takes 7.4 seconds to reach 62mph from a standstill, while the latter pumps out 402bhp and races to 62mph in just 4.7 seconds.
In this review
- 1Volvo XC40 reviewThe Volvo XC40 is a comfortable and stylish small SUV that has some pleasing practical touches and a lot of Swedish cool
- 2Engines, performance and drive - currently readingThe XC40 majors on comfort and refinement instead of driving entertainment, and it does so rather well
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsPure petrol power offers average fuel economy, while the XC40 Recharge plug-in hybrid and pure-electric models will attract business users
- 4Interior, design and technologyBags of Swedish cool, with a clean, uncluttered design that still manages to incorporate some useful practical touches
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceA well-judged amount of cabin space and some neat features to help maximise boot space make the XC40 more than practical enough
- 6Reliability and SafetyProven engines should help to keep the XC40 reliable, while there's bags of top-notch Volvo safety kit on board, too