Review: Volvo XC40

Readers of motoring commentaries will know that Volvo’s fortunes are surging upwards thanks to some inspired designs and the (Chinese) money to put them on the roads of the world.

The XC40 is a smart, sharp shape from the family face to large boomerang tail lights wrapping around the flanks

With Renault’s Romanian Dacia and China’s MG, Volvo shares the distinction of the biggest percentage sales increases for major brands this year in the UK.

Volvo’s model range is ever larger and wider, with prices starting at just under £23,000 for its “cheapest” car, the V40 estate. Remember that price: it may seem a bargain. The booming seller is the XC40 entry SUV, from £29,000 or £299 a month on contract hire. Prices rise to north of £70,000 for Volvo’s largest XC90 SUV.

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Volvo has very publicly signalled an end for diesel engines in all its new ranges. Also in the Volvo obsolete bin are five and six-cylinder engines. The option is now three or four cylinders, with turbocharging to give the required performance and plug-in hybrids to meet eco targets. The US-built S60 is the first to ditch diesel. Instead, buyers must have either petrol or electric/petrol hybrid engines. Full electric will follow.

Tested here is the XC40, with a 2-litre four-cylinder T4 petrol engine and the eight-speed automatic gearbox which is standard with this engine. The only current petrol XC40 with manual gears is the 161bhp 1.5 litre T3. The T4 delivers 187bhp and is rated at 33 to 36mpg and 154 to 158g of CO2 depending on wheel size and trim. The T3 is a bit kinder at the pumps, the all-wheel-drive 244bhp T5 much less so but you’ll need diesel power to reach mpg in the high 40s. The hybrid is rated at 38 to 43g CO2 and 112 to 141mpg, but that is based on a fully-charged battery from the mains: don’t expect anything like that after the charge is depleted. It arrives next year from £40,905 but a price entry T2 model is also coming: your dealer may tell you more.

With most XC40s costing more than £30,000 you are also in the market for a Range Rover Evoque and lots of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz models.

Design is what is selling Volvos faster than ever before and the XC40 is a smart, sharp shape from the family face to large boomerang tail lights wrapping around the flanks. The elegant interior is bright and the concave panels over the gloves box and on the doors echo the front grille. It seats four in comfort with room for a central rear passenger. Cabin width is a generous 57 inches The rear seats are fixed, so there’s no chance to vary boot space with passenger space.

I couldn’t fault the T4 on performance. It’s an eager mover, endorsing its official 0-60mph time of 8.1 seconds. I’d actually wanted to try the T3, which at around nine seconds for the 0-60 sprint is quick enough and I may have achieved mpg in the high 30s, even 40mpg, but even that’s not good. It was booked up, as were the diesel models. This latter fact reflects the media hanging on to the allure of diesel economy. I can relate to that.

The T4 was needy at the pumps, regularly giving a mere 33mpg – and that was by shying away from even brisk driving and being lightly loaded. The best was 35.6mpg on a long run. As a bizarre comparison the super-fast 336bhp Z4 M40i roadster returned similar economy. Mercedes-Benz’s larger 7-seat GLB from £34,200 with a 161bhp 1.3 petrol turbo engine is rated at 47mpg. Another comparison, the very powerful AWD Toyota RAV4 hybrid is in the XC40 price band and gave me 41 to 49mpg. Game over?

You’ll take your own views on fuel costs. Maybe the XC40 is what we need to force a reduction in unnecessary journeys. The T4 is pleasant to use – helped by the plentiful power of course and the faultless automatic gear change.

Its powerful engine makes engaging sporty noises and this may get tiresome on long hill climbs. The ride refinement is superior to cheaper SUV alternatives, similar to emerging premium models like the Peugeot 3008 which, like the XC40, has been applauded by the European Car of the Year awards, with the XC40 succeeding the 3008 for 2018. Jaguar’s electric I-Pace is the current holder.

Volvo has collected enough accolades for a lifetime, including Japan’s car of the year title and Women’s World gong for the XC40 and World Car of the Year for the XC60.

Verdict: Pricey and thirsty but there’s a bulging order book for this smart family car.