Volvo’s resurgence as a modern prestige brand shows no signs of slowing, and its latest product, the XC40 compact SUV continues that trend playing up to the youthful and edgy trends that drive its fast-growing segment.
In order to grab the attention of its target audience the XC40 is packed with flash gadgetry and smart storage solutions, and aggressively designed to appeal the kinds of buyers who might otherwise be turned off by the more conservative approach of the larger XC60 and XC90.
To go with the the fresh styling the XC40 also sits on a new chassis, Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture (or CMA for short) co-developed with Volvo’s Chinese parent company Geely, and set to underpin a range of new models across a variety of brands.
When the XC40 arrives in Australia in the second quarter of 2018 that strong design identity and high-tech appeal will be pivotal in creating a good first impression against other trend-riding compact SUV’s including the Audi Q2, the BMW X2, and Jaguar E-Pace.
Vehicle Style: Prestige small SUV
Price: $42,000-$49,000 (estimated) plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel, 182kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: TBC
Volvo and youth-appeal haven’t always been associated values, but with the XC40 the brand is aiming to attract cashed-up 25-40 year-olds, hence the angular lines, a muscular grille and octagonal cut-outs in the lower body side used to create a distinct visual identity.
If one colour is just too sedate for your tastes, funkier two-tone paint schemes are available following the latest small SUV trend.
Though it may be compact next to the XC60 and XC90, the XC40 retains bona fide SUV proportions. The cabin is as roomy as you’d expect any modern sports utility to be and the driving position is high-set for a commanding view of the road ahead.
While it’s not the last word in luxury, an unfussed Nordic vibe blankets the interior, and it’s in here that the XC40 flexes its innovation muscles, starting with a heap of canny storage solutions: a laptop holder beneath the seat, a removable centre console to help dispose of rubbish and some fold-out bag hooks.
The doors are lined with felt to stop water bottles and the like causing unnecessary rattles. The boot floor performs some clever origami, folding up to create extra storage areas.
This kind of stuff isn't necessarily sexy, but it is thoughtful - the essence of Scandinavian design - designed to appeal to the kinds of buyers that already have offices lined with space-efficient Ikea furniture and topped off with whimsical Kikki K stationery.
Tech also features strongly with details including a wireless charging pad for smartphones, a unique air-ventilated woofer located behind the dashboard, 360-degree parking camera and a semi-autonomous pilot assist system that works at up to 130km/h in highway conditions.
ON THE ROAD
With all of this whiz-bangery on parade, it’s a pity the XC40’s driving dynamics don’t quite reach the same level of excitement.
This is a typically sensible Volvo; a tail-wagging Labrador that wants to lick your face rather than the Rottweiler who just might bite it.
We drove the first two variants coming to Australia next year, the D4 twin-turbo diesel 2.0-litre (140kW/400Nm; Momentum), and the T5 turbocharged 2.0-litre (182kW/350Nm; R-Design), both equipped with all-wheel drive.
Prices are expected to start in the early-$40k region for the diesel, rising another $5k-7k for the petrol.
We’re told the T5 comes with a more advanced damping set-up, but the difference is so subtle that buyers may struggle to pick the change.
On both cars, the chassis is tidy and soft-riding in most conditions. Gear shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission are smooth enough. The steering is nicely weighted.
The car acted nimbly as we weaved through rush-hour city traffic on the streets of Barcelona at the XC40’s international launch - the kind of environment most XC40’s are likely to be contained to.
Volvo continues to stride ahead, an energised company with ambitious growth targets, and a product plan aimed perfectly to capture the attention of trend-leading influencers and those who wish to be just like them.
The XC40 is bristling with everything it needs; a big dose of style and up-to-the-minute technology that should help it secure a position on the prestige small SUV sales charts, but genuine driving charm takes a back seat.
As buyer demands continue to change, and online engagement takes over from driver engagement, that’s a canny move on Volvo’s behalf and one sure to ensure the ongoing rapid growth of the brand.
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