21 March 2018

Review: Volvo XC40

If it hadn't already been announced that the Volvo XC40 is the European Car of the Year 2018, I'd be making a very strong case for it to be, writes Brian Byrne. If I had a vote there, though I don't.

But after my recent week with the car, I'm already going to have to be given some very strong reasons why it shouldn't be close to the top of the Irish COTY 2019, on which I will be voting towards the end of this year.

Am I jumping the gun? Nope. Just laying down a marker for every other contender. This is the one that, so far, I think they're all going to have to beat. That thought said, let's move to the car as experienced.

It looks, well, very distinctive. The latest in a line of new and revamped crossover/SUVs from the iconic Swedish carmaker — now Chinese owned, but that's not proving to be a problem — it is styled in a much edgier fashion than the recent vehicles which have worked to bring Volvo back from the precipice over oblivion it had teetered on.

It may well be the Volvo model that does for the brand what the compact cars gamble in the A- and B-Class did for Mercedes-Benz, bring in new age and lifestyle customers.

It could, indeed, pull in conquests from those same showrooms, and from the BMW ones too where the X1 and X3 crossover models have been siphoning owners from mainstream brands. We'll wait, and watch, with interest.

The interior of the R-Design review car was truly premium, and worthy of any producer in that space. Stylish without being over-styled, top end materials, and direct instrumentation that makes the most of digitised analogue readouts. The central screen offers swipe and stroke gestures for shifting between functions, so if you're used to an iPad, it's easy. Notwithstanding my concerns about screens being more distracting that buttons and knobs, it works pretty well.

Obviously at this grade and price level, the review XC40 came with all the mod cons you could desire, in this case including power-adjustment in both front seats (also heated, naturally, and appreciated in the second snow). All comfortable, and a surprising amount of leg space for the rear seat passengers.

But can I give a big shout out for something which has been in all Volvos for years, and which should be emulated by all makers? It's the little plastic parking ticket holder on the edge of the windshield. Possibly the cheapest part of the car, being only a curved piece of plastic, and yet so useful.

The car came with every possible electronic safety system, including Evasive Manoeuvre Assist and City Safe as standard, but a lot of the sexy stuff only came as part of a range of 'pack' options, which all added up to a tidy sum. More on that later.

The engine was the 190hp D4 diesel, and in this car was linked to an automatic, and it was also the AWD version of the car, again appreciated during that second snow. The package was well put together and the driving experience was as seamless as I was already prepped to expect.

It's a pity that in this highly loaded specification it would be entirely out of reach for a lowly-paid and self-employed journalist. But I could easily do without all of the costly extras for everyday use in normal Irish conditions.

Overall, I had the sense that even the basic car would feel really good, and that's why it is so far this year a hot contender for that ICOTY we'll be voting on in November.

But there's a lot of strong competition too, already here and on the way …

PRICE: From €38,900; Review car €63,425. WHAT I LIKED: Young, edgy looks; interior finish, and unflappable drive. RATING: 5/5.