The tricky thing when trying to establish your brand as a player in the luxury stratosphere is pushing yourself past merely premium accoutrement. This is what confronts marketers from marques such as Acura, Buick, Genesis, Infiniti, and Volvo when proving bona fides against established German luxury.
Volvo has long produced sturdy premium vehicles with just enough elegance to justify the higher purchase price over a loaded vehicle from a mainstream brand. But now we’re seeing vehicles from Gothenburg like the S90 and V90 (and from what we hear, the redesigned XC90 coming next year) that place Volvo firmly on the luxury shopping list against the dominant German brands.
Enter the XC40, a spritely subcompact SUV that allows Volvo to step back into its premium-mentality comfort zone. But the Germans have been swimming downmarket and brought the fight for budget-luxury shoppers to Volvo’s door with vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, and BMW X1. So who builds the better product—a longtime premium automaker playing in its well-established sandbox, or the true luxury brands looking to expand their presence?
Base XC40 MSRPs start as low as $34,795. But we got ours loaded up with goodies that stickered out at an as-tested $44,890. What did that extra 10 grand get us?
The “T5” code means a 2.0-liter direct-injection, turbocharged four-banger that cranks out 248 hp and 258 lb-ft (up from 187 and 221 in the base T4), mated to an eight-speed Geartronic torque-converter automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The suspension is a front MacPherson strut and rear multilink setup, riding on 19-inch aluminum wheels. The R-Design boasts a “sport chassis” setup, which has stiffer shocks and springs than the standard “dynamic” setup. We decided not to spring for the Four-C active chassis setup.
Climbing inside, occupants are greeted by Volvo’s always-comfy power heated seats with power lumbar and mechanical thigh-support extension, all crafted in Nappa leather.
What else does R-Design get you? Some upgrades in materials, such as a laminated moonroof, a different front grille design, leather steering wheel and gear-shift knob, Volvo-branded tread plates in the front door sills, and snazzier gas and brake pedals. There are some practical add-ons, as well, such as keyless locks, a hands-free tailgate (wiggle your foot under the bumper), integrated roof rails, dual-zone climate control, and HomeLink garage door controls.
The driver sees a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that also has quick-view displays from the trip computer, map, or radio. The center waterfall has Volvo’s ubiquitous 9.0-inch Sensus Connect infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. It also serves as a Wi-Fi hot spot. Front and rear occupants in front and back each get two USB ports. A trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio blasts through the 650-watt, 13-speaker Harman Kardon stereo.
Our XC40 also comes with the $1,300 Advanced package, which provides a 360-degree surround-view camera, 12-volt outlet in the cargo area, inductive smart phone charging, adaptive cruise control, and high-pressure headlight cleaning (probably more necessary in Swedish winters than in Los Angeles). Still, I’d say that’s a well-priced set of features.
As for safety, the Swedish automaker wants to ensure that longstanding connection is still foremost in buyers’ minds. Starting with LED headlights and foglights (both sets of lights “corner” with steering inputs), the XC40 adds the usual blind-spot and lane departure warnings but then brings post-collision automatic braking, as well as the City Safety system that can detect bicyclists or pedestrians day or night.
If the XC40 detects that you are crossing the centerline into the path of an oncoming vehicle, it will swerve you back into your proper lane. It also will alert you if your driving inputs appear fatigued compared to the path of the road and will use the maps function to suggest a nearby place to stop. And of course, there are airbags galore.
And while not technically a safety item per se, this XC40 comes with front and rear park assist. Many automakers’ systems talk a good game in this arena but tend to do poorly when real-world execution is required; we’ll see how the Volvo matches up.
The XC40 comes with complimentary factory scheduled maintenance that covers the first three services (10,000, 20,000, and 30,000 miles) at no charge, as long as you come in within the first three years or 36,000 miles of service.
Even though the health scare has us taking great care with where we drive, we still expect to get plenty of use from the XC40. In fact, as soon as we took the keys, we were off to our vacation home in Paso Robles wine country. Details to come.
|2021 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD (R-Design)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$44,890|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/248-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,807 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||174.2 x 73.3 x 65.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.7 sec @ 93.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||111 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.4 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/30/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/112 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.78 lb/mile|