2020 Volvo XC40 review: Still a safe, stylish choice

Small SUV, big character.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The Volvo XC40 has only been on sale for two years, but it didn’t take long for this plucky Swedish crossover to earn favor through a blend of solid driving dynamics and a focus on democratized technology that isn’t limited by trim. Some small tweaks make their way into the Volvo XC40 for 2020, but this new model year reminds me why I liked this SUV in the first place, small warts and all.

LikeLively stylingSafety tech aboundsFun to drive

Don’t LikeOrange carpet ages poorlyMiddling fuel economyLimited cargo capacity

People-pleasing design

I look at the Volvo XC40 with the same sort of “aww, shucks” wide eyes that I typically reserve for puppies. The crossover’s design remains one of my favorites, with a ton of character coming from the standard “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlights and the chunky C-pillar that plays well with my tester’s two-tone, black-and-white getup. The R-Design trim throws a bit more style in the mix by way of larger 19-inch wheels (20s, as seen on my tester, are optional), black mirror caps and other subtle sporty additions.

This specific XC40 packs what might be the most interesting way to spend $100 on a new car: orange carpets. The $100 Lava Carpet option covers the lower half of the interior in bright orange material, which makes for quite the statement. However, after taking possession of this car and its 3,000-ish-mile odometer reading, I have concerns about longevity. The carpet has become fuzzier as cleaning materials and cloths have run over its surfaces, looking a little janky as dark fibers from other sources intermingle with the orange for a sort of perma-dirty look. Its soft-side-of-Velcro makeup also means that crap will constantly integrate into the carpet. In retrospect, something that better hides daily abuse might be a good idea.

That being said, the rest of the XC40’s interior straight-up rocks. Its style brings Volvo’s premium bent to an affordable segment; extensive use of plastics aside, build quality is above average, and I’m a big fan of the unique stippled trim just below the beltline. The steering wheel has the right amount of chunk, and its leather feels soft and expensive. The R-Design-specific suede seat inserts add an extra dose of posh — throw decent head- and legroom into the mix, and occupants will be plenty content with long drives in this little guy. Girthy C-pillar aside, the cabin’s low-ish beltline offers good visibility.

Some compact SUVs maximize interior volume at the cost of storage, but the diminutive XC40 maintains some impressive stuff-stacking prowess. The front row is privy to all manner of storage options; there’s the wireless-charger-hiding center console cubby, some small pockets on the side of the center tunnel and a capacious hidey-hole under the armrest. The door pockets are impressively large, too. The only sour spot of storage comes from the trunk, which at 20.7 cubic feet is behind competitors like the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, but it’s ahead of the forthcoming 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class.

Spunky, but not very efficient

All three trims of 2020 Volvo XC40 have two powertrain options: The base T4 setup combines front-wheel drive and a 187-horsepower, 221-pound-foot four-cylinder gas engine, while the uprated T5 adds two driven wheels and bumps output to 248 hp and 258 lb-ft. My tester is equipped with the latter setup, and I can assure you there is never a want for more forward motion. The XC40 is happy to utilize its turbocharged torque at every availability, although the engine sound is agricultural in nature and not what I’d call pleasing under heavier loads. Reinforcing the powertrain’s smoothness is an eight-speed automatic transmission that swaps cogs cleanly in the background without sending any harshness into the cabin.

Concerns about the orange carpet’s longevity aside, the Volvo XC40’s interior quality is top notch.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The XC40’s R-Design trim carries a couple upgrades that directly affect the car’s handling. The first is a stiffer suspension, which is standard, although that can be upgraded to a set of adaptive dampers for $1,000. Equipped with solely the stiff stuff, as my tester is, I can tell you that the ride is a bit livelier than other XC40 variants, especially when the dampers operate in conjunction with the $800, 20-inch wheel option. I wouldn’t call it crashy, because it’s still incredibly well composed over Metro Detroit’s pockmarked roadways, but it isn’t as supple as the other, more luxury-oriented trims. Despite its window sticker, cabin noise is on the luxurious side of quiet, with the engine barely making a peep at lower revs without much wind or road noise, either.

The 2020 XC40 does suffer from middling fuel economy, but it’s not like Volvo is the only automaker struggling with this. With AWD and the larger engine, the XC40 achieves an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway, which is… well, just OK. But things aren’t much greener on the other side of the fence: The 2020 Audi Q3 is even worse at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, and the 2020 Cadillac XT4 AWD is about even at 22 city and 29 highway. The BMW X1 beats them all, however barely, with an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

Sprightlier Sensus, standard safety

If you ask a person to give you one word that describes what they know about Volvo, you’ll probably hear some derivative of “safety.” Volvo’s done well to earn that correlation, and the company has also done well to democratize its safety tech across much of its lineup. It’s not surprising, then, that the XC40 lineup comes standard with a number of driver-assist systems like automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and road sign recognition.

For an extra $1,400, my tester rocks the Advance Package, which also adds Volvo’s Pilot Assist system. This combines full-speed adaptive cruise control and active steering assist to hold a vehicle in its lane on the highway while the driver holds the wheel and monitors ahead. It’s a fantastic suite in my experience; speed adjustments are smooth, and the car doesn’t bounce back and forth in the lane. The lane-keeping assist can be a little heavy-handed at times, as can the forward collision warning, but I’m willing to accept that extra annoyance since, obviously, it does way more good than harm in the end.

Sensus Connect is mighty capable, but it’s also pretty darn dense.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

And then there’s Sensus Connect. Volvo’s infotainment system, which is impressively offered as standard on every single car it produces, is also impressive in how polarizing opinions of it can be. Truly, Sensus does offer some impressive kit, starting with the 9-inch portrait screen layout, which is simply massive. That gives Volvo a lot of real estate, but it makes use of it by adding two menus that are just a hot mess of options and apps. It takes a fair bit of time to get your bearings, and it’s not easy to manipulate while driving no matter how familiar you are with Sensus, so the sheer variety of features do get drowned out a bit by a convoluted menu arrangement. That said, I love the four-pane home screen that lets me hop between the oft-used bits, and I also appreciate the embedded Spotify app that uses the XC40’s 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot to connect to my account and bring over all my preferred music. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, too, as they should be in this day and age.

Look at any number of Volvo reviews and you’ll see mixed messaging about the infotainment’s responsiveness. This tester has provided me with preternaturally fast system boot times, piping satellite radio into the cabin before the screen even fully comes up, and the whole shebang only takes several seconds to get going in earnest. This is in direct contrast to other new Volvos, even those with improved processors, which can be laggy, frustrating affairs. I have yet to find rhyme or reason as to which systems are predictably faster than others.

How I’d spec it

Rarely do I recommend a base trim, but it’s warranted on the XC40, as it still packs a ton of tech and standard creature comforts. However, I also recommend picking up the T5 powertrain with four driven wheels and more power, which brings the starting price to $36,345 after destination (a $2,000 upcharge over T4). Sticking with a free paint color and the standard cloth-and-leatherette interior, that leaves the packages. $600 adds automatic climate control and a folding cargo floor, while $750 heats both the seats and the steering wheel. I’ll also add the $1,750 Advanced Package for Pilot Assist, as well as the $1,900 Premium Package, which adds blind-spot monitoring, keyless entry, parking sensors and wireless device charging. That’ll net you a pretty well-loaded XC40 for $41,695, a far cry from the $46,995 on my R-Design tester’s window sticker.

Down to brass tacks

Unsurprisingly, choices abound when it comes to entry-lux compact crossovers. The XC40 plays alongside a refreshed Q3 that offers a more rectilinear (but equally well-crafted) interior, slightly softer driving dynamics and better infotainment tech. The BMW X1 is sharper, and I’m excited to see how the upcoming 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class fares against all this new competition, too.

The 2020 Volvo XC40 sort of lives in the just-right porridge of the segment. It’s not too luxurious as to cost a fortune, and it’s not so sporty that opting for the R-Design trim will leave you uncomfortable. It’s loaded with standard features at a decent price point, and it’s got some of the best styling in its competitive set. Whether you want to subscribe to it or not, the XC40 is a solid purchase.


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