Long-term report: Getting to grips with Volvo’s baby SUV

James Baggott
·4-min read

There was a time when Volvo was known for boxy estates that would swallow your dog, a grandfather clock and a week’s shopping with room to spare.

But those days have passed and now the Swedish brand is far more recognised for its impressive range of capable SUVs.

While the XC90 and its svelte XC60 sibling have been around a while, the car that has catapulted the brand into mass-market territory is this, the XC40.

Volvo XC40
Distinctive ‘Thor’s Hammer’ lights are extremely noticeable

Volvo has given us the chance to live with one for a few months and while we can’t say travel has been vast over the last few months, it has given us enough chance to get a sense of what the baby brother to the SUV range is like.

The Tonka Toy looks and robust interior styling is certainly designed to be hard-wearing and stand the test of hard family use. And we’ve done just that with some dog carrying and Christmas tree removals recently.

Volvo XC40
The XC40’s compact chunky design looks good on road

I like the fact the interior is incredibly functional. A commanding driving position, and well laid out cabin makes the XC40 very easy to get used to and it’s certainly withstood some tough use. Unfortunately, though, the engine and gearbox combination is crucial and for our long-termer, the choice isn’t ideal.

Our test car is the T3 R-Design model and comes with a tiddly three-cylinder petrol engine. The 1.5-litre unit produces 154bhp which is enough in a car this size around town, but it needs to be worked hard elsewhere.

Volvo XC40
The XC40 is the smallest SUV in Volvo’s line-up

The stop-start system judders the car to a halt and then angrily fires it back into life. This leads to lurching at some junctions and an uncomfortable shake through the car.

The stop-start system is so bad it rattles your teeth and it’s matched with an engine note that’s about as tuneful as a frightened cat.

It’s a shame, really, as the XC40 is a great car otherwise. In other engine specs I’ve tried it has plenty of poke and refinement – it’s just this tiny petrol power plant is not up to scratch. In fact, I’d go as far to say as you’d be wise to give it a rather wide socially distanced swerve.

Volvo XC40
The touchscreen display is clear and easy to read

So moan over, let’s go back to the plus points. The XC40 is incredibly practical. The boot is a decent size, it’s comfortable to drive and the seats are supportive.

The driving position is particularly good, and although the XC40 isn’t the largest of SUVs, the lofty seat height gives a commanding view of the road.

Volvo XC40
The Harmon/Kardon system provides an impressively clear sound

The multimedia system really is class-leading and the touch screen controls for pretty much everything you’d need are a masterclass in how to do things. Stereo, sat-nav, and heating controls are all easy to adjust on the big screen – just watch out for the grubby fingerprints. If you’ve got mild OCD like me, they’ll drive you mad.

On the road, the XC40 soaks up the bumps, as you’d expect from a high travel suspension model. It’s not the most dynamic of cars to drive as a result, but then what do you expect? You’re looking at a soft-roader after all.

Volvo XC40
Volvo’s badge sits prominently at the front

Back to that engine and gearbox combo, though. As I mentioned it needs to be worked hard and while the auto gearbox works fine once you get moving, I find the lurching at low speeds infuriating.

Thanks to lockdowns, tough tiered systems and a new working from home regime, the XC40 has been used infrequently. In fact so little has it moved, that it’s taken me a good few months of ownership to type out this first report. Whether I get used to those annoying traits remains to be seen. Maybe the practical aspects will outweigh the annoyances, but that’s something only time, and a few more miles, will tell.

  • Model: Volvo XC40 T3 R-Design

  • Price as tested: £29,160

  • Engine: 1.5-litre 3cyl petrol

  • Power: 154bhp

  • Torque: 264Nm

  • 0-60mph: 9.4 seconds

  • Top speed: 124mph

  • Fuel economy: 45.6mpg

  • Emissions: 146g/km CO2

  • Mileage: 3,856