NEW CAR REVIEW: 2019 VOLVO XC40 - FIRST DRIVE BY STEVE PURDY
2019 VOLVO XC40
FIRST DRIVE REVIEW
By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
One thing we can say about Volvo: they do a masterful job of putting on a launch event. We're just back from Austin, Texas for a preview of their new compact crossover, or SUV if you prefer, called XC40. Our job here is to explore this new vehicle, understand its place in the market and share our impressions with all with you, our loyal readers.
The front- or all-wheel drive XC40 is every bit a sibling of the award-winning XC90 (won just about every Car of the Year award when it came out) and midsize XC60. Small crossovers constitute the fastest growing segment of the automotive market and we're pleased to see Volvo competing.
I've been a fan of the brand since I had a 1965 Volvo P1800S sports car some decades ago. My mechanical mistress, I called her. (I'll share that story another time.) While Volvos today don't have quite the hard-to-describe, unique personality and ambiance of those days, it is clear they've put vast effort and resources into making a line of vehicles - sedans, wagons and SUVs - that project a unique aesthetic and match most competitors in performance and ambiance.
Though the Volvo brand is now owned by Chinese mega-company Geely, they've left the Swedes and their international teams free to develop this extensive line of high-end vehicles. Geely's deep pockets ($12-billion invested so far) has allowed them the resources alluded to above. Plus some of that investment is in the U.S. They're nearly ready for production of the XC60 at a new factory in Charleston, South Carolina.
Now - back to the XC40.
In terms of styling, we see the XC40 carrying on the Volvo design language, including the graceful, slightly-aggressive stance of its larger siblings. Stylish wheel choices up to 19-inches, short overhangs, artful details and a classic two-box profile put this among the best in class for aesthetic appeal, in this reviewer's entirely subjective opinion. The inspired Volvo designers include trim details, fashionable colors and graceful, but not garish, sculpting that remind me of Scandinavian interior design. Large, stylish, complex taillights are mounted high on the C-pillar, like the other XCs. Volvo offers some amazing new colors - 16 choices altogether. The favorite among many of the journalists was the soft “Amazon Blue” with creamy white top.
Our introduction to the XC40 involved a circuit around Austin visiting a variety of craftspeople who helped the Volvo folks flesh out the story of its design philosophy.
Kart Wheel Studio, a custom furniture business, produced a one-off, design-intensive, modern desk with elements of Scandinavian simplicity and mimicking some details of the XC40. The design goal is on uncluttering one's life, elements prioritized by Volvo's interior designers.
Volvo includes thoughtful elements like bag hangers, creative storage spaces and a wireless device charging pad. Some shapes of both the desk and the XC40 interiors suggest Art Deco, others suggest Mid-Century Modern. Both the desk and the interior exude thoughtfulness and impeccable quality.
A large, A large, reasonably intuitive, vertically-oriented, multi-function screen dominates the center stack where we see minimal knobs and buttons. This means the learning curve for a new owner will be substantial but once acclimated it should feel modern and functional. The fully digital instrument cluster with tach, speedo and information displays measures a substantial 12.3 inches diagonally. Steering wheel controls and other details are mostly conventional and easily managed. Vertically-oriented HVAC vents add to the artistic ambiance.
Next, M. Ato, proprietor/designer at a high-end, downtown clothing shop called League of Rebels, talked about the use of quality materials in his business and how that relates to Volvo’s interior materials like standard-for-all-models, boldly-stitched leather, shinny accents and soft-touch plastics. The nuanced materials help create the feel of luxury and practicality so valued by designers and, they expect, Volvo customers. We're told the designers prioritized materials that drivers and passengers are most likely to feel and touch with less concern for other spaces. We found the tactile and aesthetic quality of the interior worthy of such a high-end vehicle.
Finally, we visited Orb Studios where the huge control board had nearly the footprint of one of the Volvos outside. We enjoyed a lesson in acoustics and audio reproduction including a presentation from the Harmon Kardon rep. A well-known band, Alpha Red, was recording a new song during our visit. Harmon Kardon provides the optional, premium, 30-speaker sound system for the XC40. Some of the speakers, we're told, have been relocated to places where they save interior space and improve sound quality. Not being an audiophile I'm not able to offer much of a review of that system but those among our group with more expertise than I were quite impressed.
A big consideration with smaller vehicles like the XC40 for people like me with unconscionable girth and an extensively fused spine is ingress, egress and driver’s seat comfort. All, I’ll say with confidence, are nearly best-in-class. And, speaking of space utilization, wait until you see the creatively configurable, 20.7 cubic-foot cargo space aft of the 60/40 folding rear seat backs. A multi-position folding shelf makes that space even more useful and a security cover flips upside down to nest with the floor. With seatbacks folded you get 47.2 cubic-feet. Even with a space-saver spare tire nestled below to lower panel we have plenty of space for our stuff.
From there it was off to ply the twisty roads of the famous Texas Hill Country west of Austin, where we were able to give the XC40 its head, as the ranchers of the neighborhood might say. We had both all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive versions to experience and showed them no mercy. Handling and performance, while not sports car-like, were quite good. Suspension is of conventional design and nicely tuned for a balance between comfort and handling. We tried the various driving modes programmed into the transmission and throttle, but did not discern much difference. The chassis feels plenty rigid as we dashed though bumpy cattle-guard gates where the range is open. Otherwise our roads did not offer much challenge.
The beautiful Angus and Hereford cattle browsing along the roadside seemed unimpressed as we stopped for photos using them as backdrop.
The only engine offered for the XC40 is a charming 2.0-liter turbo four with a good 248 horsepower and impressive 258 pound-feet of torque. The slick 8-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and optional paddle shifters gives us good control when we want it and manages itself well when we don't. Mileage numbers will come later but we'll note it requires premium fuel. And, it’s good, they say, for a 0-60 time of just 6.2 seconds and top speed of 140 mph.
The electric shifter takes some getting used to. I'm still not a fan of this trend but I'm getting used to it. At least this one is easy to engage and disengage when we come to a stop in order to prevent a lurch. The stop/start feature is still a bit annoying to us traditionalists as it produces a shudder as it stops and restarts.
With the new XC40 the creative folks at Volvo marketing have come up with a different way to live with one. They refer to this as a "subscription", sort of a hybrid of purchase and lease. You'll initiate a purchase and do most of the paperwork on-line with a dealer making the delivery and providing service without any negation needed. A concierge represents you throughout the process. You'll pay a flat rate of $600 to $700/month on a two-year contract and includes everything but taxes and fuel - that is, maintenance, insurance and other costs normally borne by owners. It's technically an ownership deal rather than a lease but the customer automatically gets a chance to upgrade or downgrade the plan at one year, starting a new contract. The subscription automatically ends at two years. You can, of course, still buy or lease the car in conventional ways.
We're told Volvo already has 20,000 orders for the new XC40 our giving it "much-anticipated" status. Customers will begin taking delivery by summer and all Volvo dealers will have demos by March. Prices begin at just about $33,000. So, if you’re in the market for a very nice, high-end, aesthetically pleasing small crossover, you'll certainly want to take a look at this one.
We'll have a more detailed review of the XC40 after we've had more time with it.
© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved
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