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Small SUV with larger-than-life traits

Aug 30 2018 14:17
Glenda Williams

Not that long ago Volvo cars were…well, not that pretty. But they were always ahead of the pack in terms of safety. And that has not changed.  

What has changed is that Volvos have become more handsome and stylish, and the carmaker’s new design language is broadening the brand’s appeal.  

Its new-look compact SUV is stylish yet trendy, and safe but animated. Contemporary two-tone colouring – like that of the test car – is always going to get a second look. 

But it is what holds the look that counts.  

The all-wheel-drive Volvo XC40 has real presence, with a bold exterior. It has a wide body, large wheels, and a commanding concave grille centered between the narrow-eyed gaze of its standard LED headlights.  

Interior design

The XC40’s interior is beautifully crafted. Leather, chrome and aluminium elements are combined with typical understated Swedish elegance and refined simplicity that belies this compact SUV’s high-tech offerings.  

Volvo's small, luxury SUV has everything one expects from a premium car and then some.   

Similar to its big brother, the XC90, the XC40’s Sensus infotainment and connectivity command post dominate the dashboard. 

The large tablet-like vertically-oriented touchscreen is extremely user friendly, but is prone to leaving finger marks.  

Apart from an abundance of infotainment features such as a high-performance sound system, Bluetooth, USB, navigation and roadside information, the XC40 also boasts figure-hugging comfort seats with power adjustable lumbar support, leather steering wheel and leather and chrome gear lever.  

It might be Volvo’s baby SUV, but it has lots of clever storage and interior space. 

You can fit a full-sized laptop in the front door panels now that the speakers are in the dashboard, and a commodious cabin means superb rear legroom and headroom similar to that offered in a mid-sized SUV.   

The XC40 comes with a huge boot by compact car standards. A hatch through the middle of the rear seats allows for the transportation of snow skis. 

For South Africans who have very little need of these, it means longer items do not have to wobble about in the wind on the roof racks.  

The bespoke test model came with a host of fitted options that included a sunroof, 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, a power tailgate (a flick of the foot under the rear bumper), park assist pilot, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, inductive charging for smartphones and heated seats. 

It also came with the driver support pack that included Intellisafe Assist (Adaptive Cruise Control and Pilot Assist, as well as a Blind Spot information system).   

There are some technological advancements – electronic handbrakes come to mind – of which I am not a fan, but a blind spot monitoring system is not one of them. 

Vehicle pillars are much chunkier than the skinny versions of yesteryear and the field of vision has become more impaired as a result, so blind spot monitoring is a huge safety boon.  

Safety first

Volvo has built its reputation on safety. Nearly 60 years ago, in 1959, Volvo developed the three-point inertia safety belt. But instead of profiting from the life-saving invention, they opened up the patent for everyone to use. 

That invention is considered to be one of the most important contributions to safety in motoring.  

There have been no short cuts when it comes to safety on the Volvo XC40, which has been named European Car of the Year. It has also received a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP, joining its larger siblings in the 60 and 90 series as one of the safest cars on the roads.   

Far too long to list, some of the XC40’s safety offerings include City Safety that detects pedestrians, cyclists and large animals and incorporates autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping aid and rear park assist. 

Also standard is navigation pro, road sign information, voice control and a host of safety airbags including front, side and curtain airbags.    

Road savvy

Under the bonnet nestles a turbocharged two-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. So, while it can be as conventional a drive as the next car, that somewhat wicked glint in the narrowed eyes of the fascia affords a hint of this car’s less conservative character. 

Spirited and surefooted, the XC40 offers a more vibrant drive than one would normally expect from a compact SUV. 

Yes, it is exceedingly well-mannered, but given some rein and encouragement it is happy to show off its more exuberant side.   

Before tackling the fun bits though, peak-hour traffic needed to be negotiated.

An ideal opportunity to test the car’s semi-autonomous features – no easy task for one that likes to be in control of what the car does. Still, in the spirit of the test, I set the following distance from the car ahead and activated the pilot assist system.   

The vehicle in front changed multiple times as impatient motorists kept changing lanes, but the XC40 did not falter. 

It adjusted its speed and distance accordingly with each new entry ahead. 

I drove about 20km in peak highway traffic without touching the brake or accelerator. Quite a feat for a control freak.   

Despite the need to keep a hand on the wheel for safety reasons, as well as to keep the pilot assist system active, there was also very little need to steer during the entire trip. 

All told the XC40’s semi-autonomous features work exceptionally well.   

It’s partly self-driving capabilities proven, it was on to finding out how spirited a drive was on offer.  

The XC40 is very responsive. Nimble and animated, even in the more conservative Eco and Comfort drive modes, switching to Dynamic drive mode boosts throttle response and gearing changes to liven performance even more.   

The ride quality is superb; slightly firmer than anticipated but that is a good thing because it comes with better handling and no loss of comfort.   

Built on Volvo’s new compact modular architecture, it comes with a superbly damped lightweight aluminium suspension that allows for excellent stability and control as well as comfort, even on corrugated gravel in the offroad drive mode.   

Neither overdamped (composed at high speeds but not tuned to comfort so eina over humps) nor underdamped (comfort at low speed but wallowing at high speed) the XC40’s ride is just right.  

Road feedback is good, steering is direct and well-weighted and the SUV is pretty agile around corners too.  

The test model was fitted with optional high-level LED headlights that include active bending lights that turn with the steering. What a blessing when driving in unfamiliar badly-lit areas at night!   

Two versions are currently on offer locally; the T5 petrol model tested, as well as the torque-infused all-wheel-drive D4 diesel. 

In around September the XC40 will have a more inexpensive option, one that comes in under R500 000. That comes in the form of a front-wheel drive 1.5-litre T3 manual petrol variant.  

This Volvo XC40 comes with a price point likely to give competitors like the Audi Q3, BMW X2, Jaguar E-Pace and Mercedes-Benz GLA a real run for their money.

This article originally appeared in the 30 August edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

volvo xc40  |  suv  |  motoring
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