Volvo's newest vehicle, the 5-passenger XC40, enters an increasingly crowded field of premium subcompact crossovers. Competitors include the Audi Q3, BMX X1, Cadillac XT4, Jaguar E-Pace, Infiniti QX30, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and Mercedes-Benz GLA. The XC40 is available only as a 4-door wagon with front- or all-wheel drive.
As with other Volvo models, XC40 trim levels include Momentum, R-Design and Inscription. Each of those trims can be had with either a T4 or T5 suffix. The T4 comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 187 horsepower and front-wheel drive. The T5 sports all-wheel drive and gets an "enhanced" version of the T4 engine that makes 248 horsepower. Both come with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
All trims feature LED headlights and taillights, leather upholstery, power adjustable driver seat, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Also standard are active lane control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and rearview camera. Volvo's semi-autonomous self-driving system, called Pilot Assist, is part of a $1,400 premium package that adds active lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.
Prices start at $34,345 for the Momentum T4 and climb to more than $42,000 for the Inscription T5 with all-wheel drive. In addition, Volvo has also added a new option for those looking to purchase an XC40 -- subscription. Think of it as leasing on steroids. Called Volvo Care, for a single monthly payment, subscribers get a vehicle, premium insurance, service and maintenance, 15K annual mileage allowance and a 24/7 concierge. In addition, Volvo offers the option to upgrade to a new vehicle every 12 months. Monthly subscription prices start as low as $700.
The T5's turbocharged 4-cylinder engine makes an impressive 248 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque. That enough motivation to push the XC40 from 0-60 MPH in about 6 seconds -- making it one of the quickest vehicles in the class. The engine and transmission work well together to provide smooth and progressive acceleration and solid passing response.
The all-wheel-drive system in the T5 does not have a low range and is not intended for extreme off-road use. However, with more than eight inches of ground clearance and minimal front and rear overhangs, the XC40 can be quite capable off road. In addition, the AWD system can shift 50 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels on demand.
The XC40 T5 is EPA rated at 23 MPG city and 31 MPG highway. It requires premium-grade gasoline for best performance and economy. It should be noted that the T4's engine gets slightly better EPA numbers of 23/33 MPG and runs fine on regular-grade gasoline. Real-world fuel economy depends greatly on driving conditions. With a light load and plenty of highway cruising, it is possible to average close to 30 MPG overall. However, it's likely that most owners will see between 23 and 25 MPG.
Most of the vehicles in this class offer a firm but controlled ride and the XC40 is no exception. However, the XC leans toward the comfort spectrum across the model line. Momentum models ride with good comfort and enough bump absorption to smooth Chicago's frost-beaten roads. Stepping up to the R-Design or Inscription brings 19- or 20-inch wheels and a significantly more controlled but firm-bordering-on-harsh ride.
Thanks to nicely weighted steering, minimal body lean and grippy tires, all models feel athletic from behind the wheel. The XC40 is more SUV than most competitors, though, so no one will ever confuse it with a sports sedan. Brakes have good stopping power and an easy-to-modulate pedal. Interior noise levels are noticeably lower than many competitors, but the engine doesn't have a very smooth note in hard acceleration.
For most vehicles in this class, interior space it at a premium. That's not the case with the XC as there is plenty of room up front and above average rear-seat space. Four adults can ride in comfort and the tallish build and wide doors make entry/exit a snap. The front seats are especially comfortable and supportive. The only ergonomic downfalls are a smallish rear window and tiny quarter windows that hinder outward visibility.
The interior design lines up with the current minimalist Volvo ethic. Driver's face a programmable digital instrument cluster and most controls are lumped into a large touchscreen interface. Materials are appropriate for the class and the overall feeling is modern. Volvo adds some thoughtful touches as well like a removable waste bin and wireless charger in the center console.
Volvo's traditional suite of safety features are all available (for a price) on the XC40. The most interesting is Pilot Assist, which is designed to provide a semblance of autonomy in highway driving. It seems to work better in the larger XC60, but can be a boon to long-distance freeway driving if conditions permit. The infotainment system is one of the slickest in the business and is nicely organized for quick use. Android Auto and Apple Car Play are nicely integrated and augment, rather than replace, the center screen's functionality.
Cargo space is about class norm at 20.7 cubic feet. That's enough for a shopping trip or a long weekend. Fold the rear seats and cargo capacity increases to about 47 cubic feet. Interior storage is ample with lots of open and covered bins throughout.
Bottom Line -- On its merits, the Volvo XC40 is an instant hit in the premium subcompact crossover class. Throw in an absurdly low base price of $33K and it's even more appealing. Most will be hard pressed to even find and XC40 at that price point, but the nicely appointed R-Design starts at $36,200. Strengths include a powerful engine, roomy interior and loads of safety and tech features. On the downside, the coarse engine, poor rear visibility and modest fuel economy keep the XC from being a top pick. Also, the XC40 is only slightly less expensive than the more spacious and refined Volvo XC60. The subscription service offers a nice option to those that truly want a no-hassle ownership experience, albeit at a premium.