Volvo XC40: This beautiful beast is far from a baby

This  Swedish SUV contender more than holds its own in this company and possibly even shades most of them.
Volvo XC40: This beautiful beast is far from a baby

The Volvo XC40 finds itself in the position of fighting its corner in the premium crossover segment, and even having to fend off some of the so-called non-premium contenders.

VOLVO XC40

Rating

★★★★☆

Price

€37,797 - €62,277 as tested

Engine

Hybrid — with a 1.5 litre turbocharged triple
and an electric motor.

Spec

Top spec tested — damn impressive.

Verdict

Has nothing to fear from premium rivals.

Swimming in shark-infested waters can often mean ending up as shark-ingested dinner.

Such is the case with certain cars in certain market segments and this week’s tester, the Volvo XC40 – even in the T5 Twin Engine Inscription Pro specification version we tried – is very much a case in point, breast-stroking as it is in waters populated by be-finned opposition in the shape of such as the Mercedes GLC, the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3.

And it’s not just the German haifisch that are circling as you’ve also got opponents like the Range Rover Evoque, the Jaguar E-Pace, the DS 7 Crossback and the Lexus UX to contend with, so unless you’ve got a bit of mettle about you, you’ll become the centrepiece of a feeding frenzy.

The baby Volvo SUV finds itself exactly in that position, fighting its corner in the premium crossover segment and even having to fend off some of the so-called non-premium contenders such as the excellent VW Tiguan. But the bottom line here is that the Swedish contender more than holds its own in this company and possibly even shades most of them.

Without doubt Volvo has made the most of the massive investment made in it by the Chinese Geely Auto brand. Starting 10 years ago, the Chinese began pouring gazillions into Torslanda (and subsequently into Chinese sites) and what we have seen since Ford sold it off has been nothing short of miraculous.

Fear at the time of the Ford sale of Volvo was that the company would fall between many stools because the Chinese paymasters would not allow it breathe the air of Swedish unconventionality it was used to inhaling and would end up making cars which nobody liked or wanted. Worse again, they were going to rob all the tech stuff.

Assuredly this has not been the case (whatever about borrowing the tech stuff from Ford) as the new owners took what was an unexpected and previously untrodden path by leaving Volvo do what Volvo does best – making cars that plenty of people like and want. 

Volvo XC40: The Inscription Pro spec layers on the goodies
Volvo XC40: The Inscription Pro spec layers on the goodies

Sure, they may have produced many machines down the years that were known more for their comfort and safety than any stylistic merit, but having been given enough oxygen to express their design chops, the company has breathed easily.

Under Ford it has been allowed start that process – never really having had the financial muscle to do it prior to that, when it depended on ‘flying brick’ designs for so long because it could not afford to be adventurous – and we saw the first fruits with such as the phenomenally successful XC90.

The Chinese then have allowed Volvo to breathe and express itself as a premium manufacturer and the company and its employees have repaid that faith very many times over in the course of just ten short years.

Not alone have the company’s SUVs, the XC90 and XC60, both been phenomenally successful, but it seems anything else Volvo touches is now gold dust. The S and V40, the S and V60 and the S and V90 saloons and estates have also shown the Swedes to be right at the top of their game.

Unveiled just three short years ago, the baby of the company’s SUV line-up has proven incredibly popular. Here in Ireland right now the car stands at what might seem like an unimpressive 64th in the sales charts. But Volvo has sold some 381 of them this year, up 81 on the same period last year and in a pandemic economy where sales of everything else are shrinking, a 27% increase in sales is not to be sneezed at.

And the latest wheeze Volvo has come up with aimed at selling even more XC40s is the PHEV route and to this end it has produced this ‘twin engined’ beast which we test this week. Now, as we highlighted some weeks ago when reviewing the XC60 Twin Engine Polestar model, the car does not, in fact, have two engines.

Rather it has a turbocharged 1.5 litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine which is mated with a 60kW electric motor to produce a machine with a combined total output of 252 bhp which, you’d have to admit is pretty impressive.

That it will sprint to 100 kph from a standing start in 7.3 seconds and has a top speed of 205 kph, is also decent enough. The main selling point, however, is the hybrid nature of the car and in a world in which the population is slowly realising what they are actually doing to the planet, such a thing is now both popular and profitable.

It does not seem to matter that the electric end of things here is pretty shabby, as it is with most hybrids, whoever makes them. This one has a WLTP consumption figure of 2.4 l/100 km (117.7 mpg) and to hardy old nailers like myself that sounds almost preposterous.

And of course, it is. Realistically you will get something of the order of 45/50 mpg from this thing on a good day and with the wind at your tail and you will also get 46 km of fuel-less motoring from your engine. For many this is workable on a commute basis, but if you’re covering large distances on a daily basis the only real advantage is the tax benefits you can accrue on purchase and in BIK.

Volvo XC40: Not cheap, but resolutely premium.
Volvo XC40: Not cheap, but resolutely premium.

Potential purchasers will weigh all that up themselves when it comes to doling out the cash. But, whatever about the ‘greenness’ of the product, the one thing those potentials will also want to factor in are the sharp looks of the XC40, the levels of comfort, the superb build quality and the excellence of the infotainment/connectivity systems.

The boot might not be the biggest in class and particularly leggy passengers might find the rear seats a little on the tight side, but other than that the car has few flaws. This is a car aimed more at the assured driver rather than the sporty one.

Performance is good, if not astonishing and the ride quality and handling are aimed at providing comfort and poise rather than outright thrills. It is a truly nice car to drive, but not necessarily a terribly exciting one. Worth noting too is that this model come with front wheel drive only and there is no 4x4 option.

One slight problem I found was that the brakes were hard to get used to. Like those on the similarly hybrid XC60 we tried recently, they were resolutely without any feel and took a while to get used to. 

Whether this has to do with the regenerative nature of the brake system’s design, is open to question, but that lack of feel is certainly a ‘thing’ here.

This is not a cheap car, but it is resolutely a premium beast which has a beautiful design – inside and out – and which is awfully nice to drive. The Inscription Pro spec layers on the goodies too, just to add to the whole feeling of security for people looking for just that in their next purchase.

So, instead of fearing the sharks swimming in the waters with it, the Volvo XC40 PHEV demonstrates that it has a bite of its own and is not to be at all underestimated.

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