First drive: 2018 Volvo XC40 in Italy
Volvo is on a roll at the moment. Since it was taken over by Geely back in 2010, some skeptics thought it was the beginning of the end for the semi-premium Swedish car manufacturer. But since the launch of the XC90, Volvo has come back on the radar in a big way as a properly premium brand. After launching the impressive XC60 recently, the Swedes have taken on a new segment, the lucrative Compact SUV market, with the launch of the all-new Volvo XC40, currently dominated by the Germans.
Having flown into Milan to test-drive the XC40, we were first shown the car in their impressive new Volvo Studio. The Volvo Studio Milano is a place where people can walk in, have a coffee, discuss the brand and its history, and have a closer look at some of the latest models on offer by the brand. And if they feel like buying one, an appointment is booked at the local dealer for a test drive.
Looking at the XC40, straight away you notice the front, with those signature “Thor’s hammer” headlight design. Designed for a younger demographic, Volvo decided to have a little fun. There is the clamshell hood design, with a small rubbery Swedish flag sticking out from the side. Looking at the side profile, the shoulder line suddenly angles upwards on the rear door and straightens again on the C-pillar. And the rear gets big L-shaped lights.
The interior was interesting as well, which had the big screen on the centre console. There is a bit of a learning curve, but we got a hang of the important controls after a while. Like many new cars, the fan control on the touchscreen continues to be a nuisance, so we just kept the fan on Auto. The carpet padding on the doors, instead of using leather, was a bit off from the rest of the upholstery, but it definitely looks better than leaving it bare plastic.
Having a go in the diesel model first, the XC40 D4, which we won’t be getting in the GCC, had a turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine producing 190 hp and 400 Nm of torque. The throttle response was instant, and the D4 had a good initial kick in acceleration which was certainly helpful while driving through traffic on the city roads of Milan.
We had a pop at the XC40 T5 petrol model then, which is what will be initially offered here in the GCC. Under the hood, it packs a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine, which churns out 245 hp and 350 Nm of torque. While not as torquey as the diesel, it still had decent acceleration and overtaking on the highways was a breeze, with the smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission tuned well to be in the right gear at different speeds. At full throttle, the buzz of the 4-pot did become obvious at high rpm but it wasn’t a bother.
The ride quality is superb and felt better than the Audi Q2. It seems Volvo emphasised on comfort, and correctly so for this segment. There is a sport mode which stiffens up the optional adaptive suspension for spirited driving. Wind noise creeps up inside at speeds above 100 kph. We can’t really talk about handling as we just took a few turns at moderate speeds, feeling some hints of body roll, but the XC40 wasn’t really tuned for racetrack-style driving.
Volvo has made the right move by entering the premium compact SUV market, having strengthened their credentials with the popular XC60 and the XC90. At a price on par with its well-established rivals, it offers a comfortable ride and more standard options than its competitors, while looking quite pretty at the same time.
For prices and specs, visit the Volvo XC40 buyer guide.
Photos by Volvo.