As the field of crossovers grows wider and deeper, it's easy to get lost. Most folks can't tell the difference between a 2018 Toyota RAV4 and a 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. Who could blame them, really? And then there's the new Volvo XC40 premium small crossover that came out this year as a 2019 model. In a word, it's fresh. Borrowing the right styling elements from its bigger brothers, the XC90 and the XC60, the XC40 still carves its own path. It's easily the most engaging of the three and more fun than both of them put together. It's also the best crossover we've driven this year.
Don't call the XC40 a shrunken XC60, which actually looks like a shrunken XC90. The smallest of the three Volvo crossovers stands out, even though its pricier siblings look great, as well. It's just that the styling of the XC40 is so original. From the stubby but handsome front end that borrows both the grille and the Thor's Hammer headlights from its siblings to the scalloped body, and all the way to the fin-like C-pillar, the XC40 looks special and turns heads wherever it goes.
The signature Volvo taillights are starkly angled and are prominent from the side view or from the rear. There are some crossovers that seem to run out of style on one or more of the views, but the XC0 looks good from every angle. XC40 head designer Thomas Ingenlath paid serious attention to every detail of the XC40's exterior, and it paid off handsomely.
The base price of the XC40 is just under $34,000, and that's competitive with the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA, and the Audi Q3. None of those is as practical as the XC40, and they don't look as distinctive and playful. The XC40 has more room and is better designed both inside and out. Plus, all of those vehicles just look like smaller versions of their stablemates, making them less unique within the brand lineups.
The best trim level is mid-pack R-Design, which adds navigation, fetching 19-inch diamond-cut aluminum wheels, paddle shifters, a sportier suspension, and both interior and exterior styling upgrades. Add the superb Premium package, and you get truly functional stop-and-go adaptive cruise control with a semi-autonomous driving mode, a folding cargo floor with useful hooks for shopping bags, a Qi wireless charging pad, and a nifty power-folding rear seat. It's like Volvo thought of everything on top of making it beautiful to look at.
“Though the interior of the XC40 borrows a lot from the XC60 and XC90, it manages to create its own flavor that's more youthful, and dare we say more sporty and attractive than its pricier brothers. ”
Though the interior of the XC40 borrows a lot from the XC60 and XC90, it manages to create its own flavor that's more youthful, and dare we say more sporty and attractive than its pricier brothers. It manages to appeal to younger buyers who have some means but don't want to fall into the middle-age category that's more conservative when it comes to styling. The trim bits in the R-Dynamic actually mimic the grille thanks to a metal grid pattern that actually trumps interiors in the bigger Volvo crossovers.
In addition to a brilliant carry-out bag hood that deploys from the glovebox, as well as great storage options for such a small crossover, the one thing that pops the most is the optional Lava Orange carpet. It's one of the most adventurous style elements we've seen and one that doesn't show up in mainstream consumer vehicles. We applaud Volvo for using a simple color change to evoke fun and youthfulness without looking stupid.
The Sensus system is a genius move for Volvo, though it does have some lag issues. The fact that it's a total paradigm shift for the brand means they're thinking differently. The attention to detail is obvious, and legibility is top-notch. The 9-inch screen is the same system found in the XC90 and XC60. The view is vivid, clear, and the font choice is perfect. We do wish there were more redundant physical controls, but at least there's a home button and a large audio knob.
The high-resolution gauge cluster is one of the best in the business, and all data is easy to find while you're driving. The Audi-like navigation between the tachometer and speedometer is fantastic, and none of it looks busy or overcrowded, unlike many other manufacturer's
The driving experience is one of the best aspects of the XC40. The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine delivers either 184 horsepower in the T4 trim or 248 in the T5, which scoots to 60 in a little over six seconds. While that's by no means blistering, it's the body control and steering that make the XC40 feel faster than it is and provides excellent levels of agility and cornering. The XC40 is just a fun crossover to drive no matter where you're going.
Drop the XC40 into Dynamic mode and the excitement ramps up even more. This is what makes it more fun to drive than the competition, and we actually enjoyed helming it more than even the very good XC60. Even the feedback of the steering system is shockingly good, not something found in most crossovers at any price. Plus, the R-Design provides all-wheel drive at no extra charge and can even tow 3,500 pounds, something its competition won't even try to do.
It's the combination of so many things that make the XC40 such a great buy. Style, practicality, comfort, youthfulness, driving fun, and a fresh infotainment system all come together in one of the most ingenious vehicles in the industry. It's our choice for Crossover Of The Year for 2018, and it's worth a serious look for your next buy.