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In-depth reviews

Volvo XC40 review - Engines, performance and drive

The XC40 majors on comfort and refinement instead of entertainment, but it makes a decent fist of delivering this

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.

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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. We’ve spent most of our time with the D4 187bhp diesel, which has more than enough shove for a car of the XC40’s size and weight - to the point where it actually feels pretty brisk.

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.

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It’s worth remembering, though, that should you want to get more involved in the gearshifting process, you’ll only be able to spec steering wheel-mounted shift paddles on R-Design editions of the car. 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 Momentum on 18-inch wheels to demonstrate a bit more compliance in this regard.

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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.

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R-Design models 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, the light steering and more focused chassis set-up in R-Design trim mean 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.

Engines

The XC40 has a mix of hybrid, turbocharged petrol and turbodiesel engine options – with some petrol models having been refreshed in 2019 to offer more power and improved economy. The range starts with the T2 three-cylinder petrol, producing 127bhp. The 161bhp T3 (up from 154bhp previously) is now available with both manual and automatic gearboxes. All T3 models are front-wheel drive.

Step up to the T4 and T5 (187bhp and 244bhp) and you’re restricted to Volvo’s eight-speed auto transmission; the former can be had with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, while the non-hybridised T5 is all-wheel drive only.

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The Recharge plug-in hybrid T5 model is powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder mated to an electric motor. We were recently able to drive this model at Volvo's HQ in Gothenburg and first impressions were good - Volvo promises a good combination of performance and economy, with a 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds and a WLTP-certified average economy figure of 141mpg.

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An all-electric Recharge model will be available for customers later in 2020 and makes use of two electric motors powered by a 78kWh battery. Volvo claims the Recharge gets 402bhp, with a 0-62mph time of 4.9 seconds and a full battery which should provide a 248-mile range.

The diesel line-up offers a bit more choice, because the 148bhp D3 is available with either front- or all-wheel drive, and the manual or auto gearbox. The 188bhp D4 is all-wheel drive and auto only, however.

The D4 is a likeable unit. It pulls strongly from 1,500rpm, and its peak torque of 400Nm is more than enough to haul a car of the XC40’s size out of trouble pretty quickly. The engine note becomes coarse if you decide to rev it out, but frankly, it’s already doing enough at 3,000rpm for you to shift up anyway. And it won’t have become intrusive by that stage.

When we tested the D4 against the BMW X1 with a similar power output, the XC40 trailed the X1 in our performance tests. The deficit to the BMW in the sprint from 0-60mph was six tenths; it took 8.2 secondsPart of that is down to the Volvo’s more sluggish transmission, which is slower to change, but at least the box is smooth when cruising. Yet it’s also due to the heavier, 1,698kg kerbweight. 

The combination meant that the XC40’s in-gear acceleration wasn’t as quick, but it wasn’t desperately slow, taking 6.0 seconds between 50 and 70mph in fifth gear. Given the Volvo turns lower revs at 70mph, it’s no surprise. This helps motorway refinement, although put your foot down in town and the D4 engine does drone. 

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    1.5 T2 Momentum Core 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £24,100

Most Economical

  • Name
    1.5 T5 Recharge PHEV R DESIGN 5dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £40,250

Fastest

  • Name
    2.0 B5P R DESIGN 5dr AWD Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £36,225
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