By Frank S. Washington
AUSTIN, TX, — It has taken eight years and $12 billion and some good old fashioned Scandinavian patience. But Volvo has finally righted the ship and is ready to reassert itself in the premium luxury market. What’s more, those big bucks don’t include the additional billions spent to build assembly plants in China and South Carolina.
Volvo has developed three-cylinder and four-cylinder Drive E engines that deliver power and fuel efficiency, it promises to electrify in some form everything it sells by 2020 and the company has made a heavy commitment to developing autonomous vehicles.
We came here to see and to drive the 2019 Volvo XC40. The last and the smallest of Volvo’s new trio of crossovers. In a market where utility vehicles outsell cars, the XC40 promises to keep more new buyers opting for Volvos; the company already has 20,000 orders for its small crossover and 80 percent of them are new to the brand.
The 2019 XC40 has a design that is intended to set it apart from the bigger XC90 and XC60. It had short overhangs and the wheels were at the corners. However, make no mistake the XC40, with the Iron Mark in the middle of its shark nose grille, looks like a Volvo. There was the clamshell hood, signature LED taillights, hidden tailpipes, under wrapped doors with scalloped light catchers and it had 8.3 inches of ground clearance.
The new Volvo V60, which they showed us through a live stream from Stockholm, looks like a Volvo too. It’s made me realize that Volvo has introduced a bevy of new products and it has managed to give each one of them its own personality.
Volvo is pushing the XC40’s design, it featured several combinations of two-tone paint and there were changes around the C-pillar that lowered the roof. It had what Volvo called innovative storage compartments, mainly a storage tray beneath the driver’s seat and a compartment under the folding cargo floor.
And there were smart technology attributes that set it apart. The gear shifter in the Volvo XC40 was electronic leaving storage space in the tunnel console. The center armrest had a storage compartment underneath. There was a trash bin that could be taken out and emptied, an open storage compartment in front of the gear shifter, wireless phone charging, a 12V outlet and a USB port were placed in the front part of the tunnel console, a guide by USB ports to cleanly direct wires, a card holder on the lower left side of the dashboard, a storage drawer under driver’s seat, large door bins thanks to an air woofer moved to the dashboard and a folding hook on the glove compartment door to hold take-out or small bags.
They removed audio speakers from the doors too and now Volvo says the XC40 has the roomiest door bins on the market. To prove that claim I would have to take a tape measure and use it on every vehicle on the market. But I can say this: I put a banana and a bottle of water in the front passenger door bin and there was plenty of room left.
It also had a full-size donut spare tire. On the technology side, the XC40 had an audio system where the woofers and tweeters were placed around the A-pillar and in the middle of the dash. The system sounded great. We turned it up literally all the way and there was no distortion, especially in the base speakers.
There will also be a car sharing program when the 2019 XC40 goes on sale this spring. Customers can share their car with friends and family via Volvo on Call with new digital key technology. Car sharing is standard on all trims. Using a smartphone app, an XC40 owner can invite trusted friends and family into their digital “circle of trust” – drivers whom the owner authorizes to use the car.
When a member of the “circle of trust” wants to use the car, they can make a request via the Volvo on Call application. The owner can approve this request with a set start and end date and time. The friend will receive a notification that their request has been approved and what window of time they can use the vehicle.
When the start time begins, the friend is shown where the vehicle is located. They can then approach and unlock the door via the app. From there, the friend can drive the car as usual, returning the XC40 at an agreed place and time. After the window of use has passed, the digital key to use the vehicle will expire.
The Volvo XC40 T5 is all-wheel-drive and has a turbocharged 248 horsepower 4 cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque. The T4 is front-wheel-drive; it has a different turbocharger and makes187 horsepower. The four cylinder engine makes 221 pound-feet of torque. They didn’t bring any T4 XC40s here presumably because it doesn’t go on sale until later in the year. Both engines are mated to eight-speed transmissions equipped with start stop.
The 2019 XC40 had a MacPherson front suspension for better handling and a four link rear suspension. The T4 Momentum starts at $33,200. The T5 Momentum starts at $35,200. For the R Design, which always has a black roof, the T4 starts at $35,700 and the T5 R Design is $37,700. Prices for the T4 and the T5 Inscription had not been finalized, nor had the EPA fuel rating. There is a $995 freight charge on all models.
There will be 16 color combinations, standard leather seats and six interior colors. All the trim lines come with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive.
In addition to the normal avenues of acquiring the car, that’s lease or buy, as well as the car share option, you can also subscribe to get an XC40. It is a two year agreement that can be renewed after one year. For one flat monthly fee, all you’ve got to do is purchase your own gas and everything else is covered including insurance. It is a flat rate no matter where you live. We were told it was $600 a month for T5 AWD Momentum and $700 a month for a T5 R-Design. There is a 15,000 mile annual mileage limit. I think Volvo is doing everything it can to entice buyers. The company is snaring a younger demographic.
My driving partner was 6’9” and he did not have a problem getting in the XC40. We made several stops before we got into Texas Hill Country., thus there was plenty of opportunities for him to get in and out. The 2019 XC40 handled the city’s streets well. Sight lines were great. Unfortunately, the car in front of us stopped short and the XC40’s seat belts tighten, it sounded a collision alarm and then it emergency stopped itself — wreck avoided.
We had the T5 R-Design. It was quiet; I appreciate but have never mentioned the frameless rearview mirror in a Volvo review. But it seemed to have more view range. We put the XC40 in dynamic drive mode and there was a hard downshift. It held gears longer and it just seemed to have a little more pep. Volvo said the engine and gearbox calibrated for dynamic driving characteristics quick engine revs, gearbox (shifts), accelerator response, quicker steering and brake responses.
It was a very clean interior. Almost all of it, 90 percent was fashioned from recycled water bottles. We stopped at Kartwheel Studios; Volvo had commissioned them to design a clutter free desk. We listened to a presentation on smart storage design.
From there we went to a League of Rebels to hear M. Ato give us a presentation about fabric and materials for fashion and Volvo designers followed that up with a presentation on texture and function. Although we hadn’t driven far, I had noticed already the materials in our XC40; almost anywhere I put my arm or hand was soft.
It was on to the Orb Recording Studio to learn about the nuances of music recording. We heard from the studio’s sound engineer and then from a recording engineer at Harmon Kardon, the company that designed the XC40’s sound system.
We hit the road again and headed for the hill country. Once we could let the 2019 Volvo XC40 get loose, we noticed that the turbocharger spooled up smoothly. Our test vehicle had a panoramic roof which was a stand-alone $1,200 option. We opened it to test for drag and I didn’t sense any. For a few minutes, my driving partner let loose of the wheel to test the semi-autonomous driving system. The XC40 stayed in the in the lane.
About the only thing we found to quibble about was the power windows. They opened and closed rather slowly. The XC40 got through the two lane undulating twisting roads here without any problems. Braking was sure and most of the road noise stayed outside of the vehicle.
Our test vehicle had four option packages. The R-Design Features included 19-inch R-Design wheels, steering wheel shift paddles, aluminum deco interior inlays and keyless entry with hands free power liftgate. The Premium Package included adaptive cruise control, wireless charging and a semi-autonomous drive system. The Vision Package had blind spot information with cross traffic alert. And the Advanced Package included a 360 degree surround view camera and adaptive headlights. As tested, our XC40 T5 AWD R-Design had a sticker of $45,935.
The 2019 Volvo XC40 is the latest addition to what has become a formidable new lineup in the premium luxury segment of the market. And the Swedish automaker is not done. The Polestar high performance division has new offerings in the pipeline.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com