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Volvo XC40 T5 Momentum Geartronic AWD…A cooler way to join the SUV stampede

Nicely-trimmed cabin incorporates Volvo’s massive central touch screen

PREMIUM compact SUVs are becoming two-a-penny these days which rather contradicts that descriptor “premium,” but what’s happened is that conventional three-box saloons have been falling out of favour, so manufacturers have in turn been falling over themselves to create a product range that takes advantage of an unstoppable trend. By adding a few flash fittings to justify that “premium” moniker, selling prices can be raised and profit margins stretched as buyers seem prepared to shell out a bit more to stand out from the crowd.

Volvo has been a little late onto the market, but the company hasn’t been sleeping on the job as its first contender, the XC90, proved. That represented a case of starting at the top and Volvo has since added more attainable XC60 and XC40 models to its armoury.

On this occasion, it’s the XC40 T5 Momentum AWD we’re about to take for a ride. Unshackle the Volvo nomenclature and that means it’s an “entry level” trim – in relative terms – but with a top level 2.0 4-cylinder turbo petrol motor which harbours 185kW and 350Nm to ensure that all the weighty, smart bits on board don’t slow the Volvo down.

But before we head for the hills, allow me to make an observation. It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, just as one man’s meat is another man’s poison.  In a way they mean the same thing but for sure, subjectivity is an element of both, so when the manager of gardening services at my complex announced himself in awe of this Volvo’s looks, I was just a tad surprised.

Don’t get me wrong – the XC40 certainly turns more heads than most but it’s not a shape that has hundreds of onlookers foaming at the mouth with desire. To my eyes, the profile is a little spoiled by heavy, vison-impairing C-pillars, but more importantly, it is a shape that is hugely influenced by paint colour.

The XC40 looks simply smashing in Bursting Blue and almost as alluring in silver, but the test unit was painted in an unbecoming orangey-red topped off with a white roof. Not my cup of tea at all and neither were the heavy-handed 5-spoke alloy wheels. It just didn’t look Swedish if you know what I mean, and by the same token, neither did the all-black interior.

What sets Volvos apart from rivals is the design detail. It’s hard to put a finger on it but Scandinavian offerings seem to be a little more funky and style-led than what you find from other European competitors. Lighter paintwork and paler interiors seem to gel to me and while many might love pervasive black interiors, the monotone element simply flattens the ambience, and that’s how it was with this test unit.

All my waffle is essentially about aesthetics but that doesn’t in any way mean that the functionality or quality of the fittings employed, or design thereof, is of poor quality. Exterior finish is good with glossy but quite orange-peely paint and acceptably tight and even panel gaps, albeit the doors don’t shut with an expensive thunk.

Body panels are heavily-sculpted to create a distinctive shape

Shiny bits are restricted to the front grille, roof rails and badging while the rear lamps are typical Volvo affairs in that they reach right up the sides of the tailgate. Frontal lighting is effected courtesy of LED lamps and the large door mirrors fold in when doors are remotely locked. Check out the photos to make up your own mind about the looks …. and that paint colour!

More recent Volvos have made a name for themselves for their interior plushness and the use of a massive display screen which means that switchgear is sparse. While the monotonous blackness of this unit’s interior spoiled the ambience for me, the splashes of self-patterned aluminium together with lots of white stitching and a high quality off-white roof lining helped as did the flock lining of the door pockets. Strangely, the cubby-hole is not flock-lined.

So too did the reasonably liberal use of soft-touch surfacing and the fact that the inner window frames are fully trimmed, a rare touch in this price range. The aforementioned leather-faced (front) seats both feature electric adjustment with the driver enjoying dual-memory positions but please be aware that this car featured lots of options which you can learn about on

The bolstering is generous but despite this, the driver’s seat, while offering a decent posture, is not overly-supportive. Those in the rear don’t exactly bask in space but the relatively long wheelbase does liberate adequate leg/foot room. Let’s say two adults will be very happy even if the floor is a bit close to the seat cushion. And luggage space is competitive at 460/1336 litres in a beautifully finished load area that’s easily extendable. Having said that, I thought the grade of carpet used in the cabin does not match up to the high finishing standards evident elsewhere, and the use of a biscuit spare wheel is an oddity for a vehicle capable of leaving tar roads.

By now, most people will be familiar with the aforementioned Volvo central display screen so the shock and awe factor is somewhat dissipated. In this application, the full works had been incorporated, meaning nav and all, and once the operating functionality is grasped, it’s quite fun to operate but still demands visual attention. In order to switch off the auto stop/start function, it’s necessary to swipe to a second screen and then find the application – a simple button is, shall we say, simpler, but I did like the air con temperature control which is presented in bar form and requires nothing more than a touch to set the desired temperature.

Heavy rear pillars do not help over-the-shoulder visibility

The primary instrument cluster is composed of a large and clear virtual display and is viewed through a lovely leather-bound wheel that’s home to all manner of functions ranging from Bluetooth to cruise to mode and so on. Other niceties included Harmon Kardon sound, keyless stop/start/entry, a phone charging pad, parking sensors, bending lights, lane-keep assist and loads of standard-fit safety features Again, in light of the fact that modern Volvos are very customisable, a visit to the firm’s website is a must but in this instance, I can tell you the optional R-Design pack on board includes those leather seats, auto-folding mirrors, different alloy wheels, gloss-black trim, tinted glass and leather-bound steering wheel and gear knob.

Now it’s time to head for those hills, something this Volvo can do with alacrity given that AWD is on-board along with decent ground clearance. The XC40 is built around a chassis architecture dubbed CMA, a relatively simple execution that’s apparently also used by Geely in China but not by the bigger Volvo models. In truth, it matters not what nomenclature the hidden bits carry as the XC40, for the most part, drives and handles with an assuredness that’s pleasing for a high-riding structure.

The optional 235/50R19 rubber on this unit didn’t spoil the ride too much as the profile is relatively generous but at low speeds, sharp imperfections and small potholes can create some disturbance in the cabin. In most circumstances, once moving at speed, this Volvo exhibits a pleasant suppleness that doesn’t impinge on control, nor on directional stability.

Wafting composure perhaps sums up the overall feel to which can be added pleasing levels of refinement, especially in terms of wind noise suppression. Engine noise too is well isolated except when the punchy turbo four is asked to work hard and takes on a mildly gruff note. For the record, 0-100 is despatched in 6.4s and top speed is listed at 230km/h. Over a week of varied use, which did include a fair bit of urban driving, the Volvo returned a mildly disappointing 11.9l/100km.

Long wheelbase liberates decent rear legroom

Given the motor’s generous power and torque outputs, it can easily cope with the fairly high gearing employed within the beautifully responsive 8-speed auto. The resultant low rate of revolutions on the open road makes for a most restful experience and should see thirst drop to around the 8.0l/100km mark.

Having said that, be aware that the XC40 AWD is equipped with a Drive Mode selector which offers Eco, Comfort, Off-road and Dynamic settings. I used Comfort for the most part and avoided Dynamic as its most obvious effect was to endow the otherwise pleasant steering with a rather leaden feel around the straight-ahead position. The brakes, complete with automatic emergency system, proved to be spot on, offering reassuring bite and a complete lack of snatchiness at low speeds.

In summary, it’s not hard to work out why theXC40 has earned a boat-load of awards for itself. It’s not so much the assured driving characteristics that stand out as much as the design execution. It’s visually and tangibly different from more established brands and offers buyers an incredibly variable array of options and trim designs Having said that, standard equipment levels are generous which makes base prices more attractive than at first might seem to be the case. The XC40 makes a really good case for itself to attract more buyers into Volvo showrooms. The next problem to overcome is that age-old perception issue that makes this brand a little more difficult to sell on than is the case with many of its rivals. Time will tell but time also heals.