Volvo XC40 Review
Handsome on the outside and sophisticated on the inside, the Volvo XC40 is a spacious small SUV with smart styling and which is comfortable to drive.
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Sophisticated styling
- Comfortable on the road
- Plenty of room
What's not so good
- Manual gearbox
- Some trim’s not up to scratch
- Fiddly infotainment system
Volvo XC40: what would you like to read next?
The Volvo XC40 is quite a head-turner. Its tough, chunky styling blends typically Scandinavian minimalism with eye-catching cues, such as an optional two-tone paint scheme where the roof contrasts with the rest of the body.
It also blends typical Volvo virtues like comfort and space with the high driving position and in-town manoeuvrability of a small SUV. Unlike small SUVs from other manufacturers, which have a tendency to be a little like scaled-down copies of lager models (the BMW X1 and X3 spring to mind here), the XC40 ploughs its own visual furrow. In fact, it’s distinctly more youthful-looking than its more mature big brother, the XC60 – think of it as funky tee to the XC60’s tailored shirt.
This sense of exuberant individualism continues inside. The XC40’s interior still delivers on the minimalist cool we’ve come to expect from modern Volvos, but in this case, there’s a more contemporary tone. Examples of this include the door trims, armrest and handles, which are made out of a single piece of plastic and have colour-coded felt-lined inlays. This design not only adds a dash of vibrancy to the cabin but also frees up space for larger capacity door bins.
Cleverly thought-out storage solutions are a bit of a theme in the XC40 – the central armrest features a removable section that can work as a small waste paper bin, while the large, well-shaped boot offers a pop-up divider to help hold shopping bags in place. Both front-seat and rear-seat occupants will have plenty of space, too, and as a driver, you’ll find it easy to find an ideal driving position whether you’re small or tall.
The Volvo XC40 is a bit of a cracker. It's a sophisticated SUV with an upmarket feel and the icing on the cake is that it's really easy to live with.
There are some imperfections, though. Poke around a bit and you’ll notice some trim pieces feel of poorer quality than you might find in an Audi Q3. And, while the portrait-style infotainment system may look smart, being a touchscreen, it isn’t as easy to use when you’re driving as the rotary controller you get in a BMW X1.
Speaking of which the BMW is the slightly more fun car to drive. Yet that doesn’t mean the Volvo XC40 leans like a listing ship in the bends – it handles as well as you need an SUV to handle. And it gets the basics spot on. It’s comfy over bumps, effortless in town, and relaxing on the motorway.
Okay, so the engines and gearboxes in the XC40 aren’t quite as good as those in the comparative German models but this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. The entry-level T3 petrol is punchy enough for town use and, if you do lots of miles, the economical D3 diesel is more than up to the job. You don’t really need to pay extra for the more powerful engines, although company car drivers should keep in mind the plug-in hybrid model because it’ll be the cheapest to own.
There are some upgrades worth considering though. The Volvo XC40 is one of the safest new cars on the road as standard, but it is available with extra kit such as blind-spot monitoring. You can also get an advanced cruise control system which will keep you a safe distance from the car in front, will steer to keep you in lane and even work in stop-start motorway traffic.
Of course, all this adds to the price, but the XC40 is still quite competitive for a posh small SUV – but check out our Volvo XC40 deals to see how much you can save on one.
The Volvo XC40’s interior has a classy minimalist design and an eye-catching infotainment screen. Sadly, it’s not the easiest system to use and the XC40 also suffers from patchy build quality
The Volvo XC40’s interior has room for four and an impressive amount of storage space in the doors. The boot isn’t the largest, but it is well designed and packed with features
The XC40’s speakers were moved from the doors to the dashboard to leave space for huge storage pockets
One of the first things you notice when you climb aboard the lofty Volvo XC40 is that it feels like a proper SUV, so you can easily see over hedges and peer over lines of traffic from the comfort of the supportive seats – things the Audi Q2 isn’t quite so good at.
The XC40 feels like a big car then, but you should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel even if you’re small, because the driver’s seat adjusts for height and the steering wheel adjusts up and down, as well as in and out. Another bonus is that both front seats get lumbar adjustment as standard, so you can ease achy backs by beefing up lower back support on long journeys.
Moving up the range buys you extra comfort – Momentum Pro and R-Design Pro models add heated front seats and a driver’s seat that adjusts electrically (and has a memory function to return the seat to your position after someone else has driven the car). Inscription Pro models, meanwhile, add an electrically adjustable passenger seat.
Thankfully, decent rear passenger space comes as standard. The Volvo XC40’s back seats have room for two six-footers – even if two more six-footers are sitting in the front – and you can have them heated for not much extra.
Isofix child-seat mounting points come as standard, though, and the Volvo’s raised body means you don’t have to bend your back when you’re fitting the chair through the car’s reasonably sized back doors.
You’ll be happy to hear that Volvo has been almost fanatical about providing a number of smaller interior storage spaces.
For example, the Volvo XC40’s front door pockets will swallow the usual bottles of water (several two-litre bottles, actually), but are also big enough for a laptop. To make that possible, large bassy speakers in the doors have been replaced with high-frequency tweeters – the bulk of the sound coming from speakers in the dashboard.
On top of that, the space under the front centre armrest is big enough for a small handbag or, if you want that full-blown minicab feel, a large box of tissues. There’re also a couple of cupholders between the two front seats, a card holder next to the steering wheel and a tray for your phone. Wireless charging is a cheap option across the range.
The Volvo XC40 has a 460-litre boot that’s larger than what you get in the Audi Q2, but slightly it’s smaller than both the Mercedes GLA and the BMW X1.
You’re unlikely to miss those extra litres though, because the XC40’s boot is well designed with a large opening, a square load bay that won’t snag awkward luggage and no boot lip, so heavy objects can be slid into place. A boot that opens and closes hands-free is a relatively cheap option.
With the rear seats down that could amount to rather a lot of shopping – or 1,336 litres worth, to be exact. It means the XC40 can carry a bike with both its wheels attached or carry enough flat-pack furniture to fill a small living room.
The XC40’s more comfortable than plenty of small SUVs but the quickest top-spec petrol models aren’t all that frugal
The XC40’s cabin’s like a sensory deprivation tank – utterly relaxing, although operating the optional automatic gearbox is as intuitive as using your computer’s mouse upside down
The Volvo XC40 is available with a choice of two diesel and three petrol engines. Plus, you’ll also be able to pick between manual and automatic gearboxes and two or four-wheel drive.
The best option is the 150hp D3 diesel. Driven with care, it should return fuel economy of 50mpg. It’s a little noisy under acceleration, but at a cruise you’ll barely hear it ticking over and performance is more comparable to the petrol model than you might think. In fact, it’s good enough that the more expensive and less frugal D4 doesn’t seem worth it.
The T5 petrol is noticeably quicker, though, and is a little bit quieter as you move through the gears. That said, it’ll consume fuel nearly twice as quickly as the diesel, and that goes for the lesser T4 too.
In fact, if you do much of your driving in town and a petrol is attractive to you, don’t be put off by the entry-level three-cylinder T3 model. It’s the cheapest way into a Volvo XC40 but doesn’t lack the punch needed to haul about a family.
If you have good access to charging at home or work and you plan to run an XC40 as a company car, you should seriously consider the T5 plug-in hybrid. It’ll travel around 28 miles on purely electricity fully charged, but also has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine to call upon when that runs out. With 262hp It’s the most powerful XC40, but driven in the right way it’ll be by far the most fuel-efficient and cheapest to run as a company motor.
You can improve fuel economy slightly on non-hybrid models by going for the eight-speed automatic gearbox, rather than the six-speed manual, but its operation is unintuitive (especially the left-right motion for manual mode) and it’s also a little bit slow to respond when you want a burst of acceleration. Still, the baggy six-speed manual isn’t the best, either.
The Volvo XC40 is designed to be very comfortable so has none of the sporty aspirations of models such as the Audi Q2 or BMW X2.
That said, it doesn’t wobble like a blancmange in corners and the benefit of the softer setup is that the suspension absorbs bumps so well you could mistake it for an expensive air-sprung system rather than conventional springs.
Adding adaptive dampers gives you control of how stiff you’d like the suspension, how reactive you’d like the Volvo XC40’s throttle and gearbox and the weight of its steering, but in truth, in such a relaxed SUV it hardly seems worth adding.
Out on the motorway, Volvo’s optional Pilot Assist provides comfort of a different kind, relieving you of the monotonous concentration required for long motorway journeys.
Using a mixture of cameras and sensors, it accelerates, brakes and steers the car for you; all you need to do is set a speed and keep your hands on the steering wheel. It’ll even steer the car through long, sweeping corners without any assistance. Buy Pilot Assist and you also get a blind-spot warning system and rear collision mitigation that’ll help protect your passengers if someone runs into the back of you.
In town, the Volvo XC40’s standard automatic emergency braking can save you from low-speed front-end shunts and the raised driving position gives you a better view out the front of the car than you get in the lower Audi Q2. The only downside comes in the form of two large pillars at the back of the car that obscure your over-the-shoulder visibility.
They’re only a problem when you’re pulling out on the motorway though, because all Volvo XC40s come with reversing sensors that make parking a doddle.
If you really hate squeezing into tight spaces however, it’s worth paying for the – pricey – Xenium Pack that adds a 360-degree camera (it gives you a bird’s eye view of the car’s surroundings) and park assist that’ll reverse park the car for you. The pack also includes a panoramic glass sunroof.