In its element, at the pulse of the city, the Volvo XC40 is a beautiful creature to behold. Strolling around the heart of the metropolis, this Swedish SUV stands out, obviously for its rarity but more so for its beauty.
Of late, Volvo has been penning vehicles that fit very much with the times without erasing that sense of iron-clad solidity that its logo suggests while managing to stave off calculated coldness in the process. And in the XC40, Volvo looks to have hit the peak in SUV design to become of the best-looking premium compact SUV that money can buy.
You get all the hallmarks of Scandinavian design on the exterior and the interior. Large clean surfaces dominate the outside with simple, yet bold lines and deliberate curves provide the highlights. Our Malaysian-spec XC40 comes with R-Design grille, which looks rightfully aggressive without looking inappropriately mean.
It goes without saying that the interior is also Scandinavian through and though – simple in its layout, functional in use and sleek in its style just as all of the new generation Volvo vehicles are. You control most of the SUV’s functions from the portrait-oriented touchscreen mounted in the centre, leaving only very essential buttons such as hazard light, de-misters and volume control outside.
Needless to say, the interior is more comfortable than it looks. Front seats are adequately bolstered, the lumbar supports follow the curvature of your spine and can be infinitely adjusted if the default isn’t to your liking.
The interior is spacious, airy and premium. And sporty too, thanks to the R-Design ornamentations peppered tastefully to not make it shouty. From the list of R-Design equipment in here, one stands out. The R-Design Cutting Edge Décor Inlay, which is the curved panel that cuts horizontally across the dashboard. In daylight, it adds lustre to what would otherwise be a plain interior. It gets better at night when the interior mood lighting hits the aluminium inlays to make it appear holographic, which is really cool.
More impressive is how Volvo has managed to slot in plenty of storage option in the XC40. This is the result of constant pavement-pounding around the world to find out how people use the interior of vehicles to store things. This leads to useful features like a removable and washable plastic bin near the armrest, a small hook in the glove box that can be unfolded to hook things up to 2kg, and a hidden box under the driver’s seat. Space is optimised by completely throwing out the door speakers so that you can slot in a 13-inch laptop easily.
Taking up the responsibilities of the now-gone door speakers is a purpose-designed, world’s first air-ventilated dashboard-mounted sub-woofer. While it may be that I am no audiophile, I do appreciate that the reproduced sound isn’t hollow, or flat, or pounds with too much bass. If that isn’t a big enough plus for you, then consider this — you no longer have to tolerate door rattles every time the music goes boof-boof-boof…
In truth, there isn’t much that can put rattles in the doors of the solidly-built XC40 despite being equipped with the stiffer spring and dampers of the Sport Chassis. A firm ride is expected from this, but the XC40 will never crash and tumble even when a wheel dips into a deepish hole. The situation, in the cabin, remains calm, collected and comfortable.
That is until you decide to drive it like a hot hatch on B-roads when body starts rolling gently and predictably. You’ll feel it more if you’re coming from the hard suspension setup of German makes, yet the XC40 remains stiffer than some of the Japanese offerings.
The Sport Chassis also makes the steering a touch more sensitive to inputs and feel keenly weighted to the current speed. Not all of the road gets through the steering but what ends up on your fingertips gives you enough information for the next course of action.
There’s enough power in the belly to etch out a quick escape out of corners and indeed, have enough to propel the XC40 to 100kph from zero in 6.4 seconds. The T5 2.0-litre turbocharged engine generates 252hp and 350Nm of torque, which is enough to pull this 1,704kg SUV without delay.
Side note: the XC40 is only available with a combustion engine, but given Volvo’s quest to electrify all their vehicles, it is just a matter of time when the T8 arrives.
Power gets routed to all four wheels through a fast and smooth shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. You should, however, anticipate for a half-second delay with the power delivery when you smack that accelerator to the floor to overtake the vehicle in front, the transmission needs time to kick down a ratio or two. Having said that, the XC40 requires a deft balance of its handling and power to reveal an SUV that’s actually fun to drive.
You can also expect power delivery to be temporarily halted if you somehow manage to rouse traction control. Look, it isn’t a Volvo if the safety net is closer than you think. The XC40 is packed with the same level of accident prevention features of the larger XC90 and XC60. Should an accident becomes unavoidable, the XC40 is fully equipped to reduce injury as best as it can.
The XC40 comes into a segment that’s well populated by the likes of the GLA, X1 and the Tiguan, each with their own strengths. One may feel more premium than the other, while one may drive better than the other. It’s a game of give-and-take, but no one can win them all.
The XC40 carves out its own distinct niche with usable power, handsome exterior and a well-planned interior that will please anyone that has to carry a laptop, a large bottle of water and a coffee mug to work every day; and two bicycles on the weekend. Want to spend money wisely on a vehicle, the XC40 makes a beautiful candidate.
Specification: Volvo XC40 T5
Engine 1969cc, 4 cylinders, 16 valves, turbocharged | Transmission 8-speed automatic, AWD | Power & Torque 252hp@5,500rpm / 350Nm@1,800 - 4,800rpm | Performance 6.4s 0-100kph, 230kph max speed, 7.7l/100km, 176g/km CO2 | Price RM255,888, on-the-road without insurance | Score 9/10