It has been a good year for Volvo, rolling nicely under apparently benevolent Chinese ownership after being dumped as unfinished business by Ford. The car here, the XC40, has won the coveted European Car of the Year award. Volvo’s chief, Håkan Samuelsson, was voted world car person of the year. Both titles were announced last week at the Geneva Motor Show.
The 67-year-old has overseen a renewal of the cars, producing seven desirable Volvos in four years of record growth. Last year sales reached 571,577 and the operating profit rose 27.7 per cent. UK sales breached 46,000. From next year all new Volvo models will have an electric motor.
Before this revival Volvo was soldiering along. Saab, always the other Swedish car maker, had closed, defeating the efforts of its own American owners, GM, to make it work using Opel/Vauxhall patterns. Last year GM sold those two brands to its French rival, Peugeot.
Against this background, Chinese Volvo is ticking over nicely. The catalyst is the XC range of SUVs, models which, with or without all-wheel-drive, embody style, practicality and a feeling of well, more oomph, a rung higher than a mere family hatchback. An SUV is the “now” car for the owner affluent enough to rise above the hatches and saloons most of us buy. With three-year drive and return hire deals the monthly payment step to XC land can be an affordable switch from the familiar household hack. You can get a new XC40 for a £3,348 deposit and £279 a month.
That COTY award is Volvo’s first win in 55 years in the contest. Some would have already given a gong to the XC40’s bigger kin, the XC90, the game-changer in Volvo’s fortunes. It is meant to go to the best car of the year, regardless of price, though premium brands rarely win and there have been curious decisions. The jury of 60 journalists are from 23 countries across Europe. The XC40 had a clear lead over its rivals. It’s the most interesting shortlist for some time so the win was a biggy.
The XC40 got 24 votes to score 325 points. Seat’s Ibiza was second with 242. BMW’s 5 series was third with 226. The other finalists were the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi A8, Citroën C3 Aircross and Kia Stinger. Last year the prize went to another SUV, the Peugeot 3008.
On the streets the XC40 is up against strong sellers in Audi’s Q3, the BMW X1, Range Rover Evoque and the new Jaguar E-PACE, Mercedes GLA and the ultra chic DS7 Crossback.
For £27,905 you can have the 150ps 1.5-litre T3 three-cylinder petrol Momentum model with front-wheel drive and manual gears. It is rated at 42.8mpg and 152g. The diesel entry model is the 150ps 2-litre D3 at £28,985 – and 58.9mpg and 127g. The cheapest petrol automatic (pending a T3 auto) is an all-wheel-drive 190ps T4 at £32,055. Diesel automatic prices open at £30,555 for a D3. Diesel AWD prices begin at £30,405 for a D3, or £31,955 with automatic gears.
All the engines bar the T3 are four-cylinder, 1,969cc turbos, peaking with the 247ps (243.5bhp) petrol T5 automatic AWD at £37,305. In the naming, D denotes diesel, T is petrol. All engines are made by Volvo in Sweden. The car is built in Belgium. Gearboxes are six speed manual or eight speed automatic.
The car’s soft off-roader ability is supported by front and rear skid plates, ground clearance of eight inches and wading depth of 19 inches. The towing capacity is a plucky 2,100kg.
Customer deliveries are starting with the fully-kitted First Edition of D4 and T5 AWD automatics at £39,305 and £40,055. This is serious money for a Ford Focus-size car without a German prestige badge. Whatever, the allocation has almost sold out.
Volvo thinks it has joined the elite club, and cites a high level of equipment and safety measures to support its price scales. The cheaper models follow into summer. The best seller is expected to be the D3 R-Design (from £30,815) and Volvo reckons 75 per cent of all sales will be diesel – though the drastic dive in diesel sales argues against this.
Short drives in the two First Edition models endorsed Volvo’s chutzpah. Steering is positive and the Pirelli P-Zero tyres on 18-inch wheels soaked up most of the ruts. Volvo’s factory data for the D4 tested is 55.4mpg and 139g, with a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds. Our reading on a conservatively driven lowland circuit near Glasgow was 36mpg. The T5 model is rated at 39.2mpg, 188g and 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds. Our reading was 30mpg.
Verdict: Success seems assured. Get your order in.