The booming small crossover battle is about to get even hotter with Volvo packing a cornucopia of new technical and design ideas into its smallest SUV ever.
In a first for the Swedish marque, the XC40 has pushed Volvo’s brand in to the fight between the BMW X1 and X3, the Audi Q2 and Q3, Mercedes-Benz’s ordinary GLA and Range Rover’s booming Evoque.
The first car to be built off the brand’s new compact modular architecture, it sits beneath the successful XC60 and XC90 models, but is more of a "cousin rather than a sibling", according to Volvo’s vice-president of design, Robin Page.
Despite the widespread hullabaloo surrounding the company’s recent announcement of its future electrified strategy for 2021, the XC40 will only launch with four-cylinder turbodiesel and four-cylinder turbo petrol power, and only in all-wheel drive.
The XC40 will have to wait for electrification, although Volvo’s new car director, Alexander Petrofski, insists it is pre-engineered for both battery-electric power and a plug-in hybrid system.
The model is pre-engineered for a 48V mild-hybrid system for its petrol powerplant, but it’s not getting it just yet. It will also be the first Volvo to use the brand’s new 1.5l, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which will be used in concert with the hybrid system. And, to keep some powder dry for later in the fight, it’s pre-engineered for front-wheel drive.
"The XC40 is our first entry in the small SUV segment, broadening the appeal of the Volvo brand and moving it in a new direction," said Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo’s president and CEO.
"It represents a fresh, creative and distinctive new member of the Volvo line-up."
Due in SA in the second quarter of 2018, even before the arrival of the new XC60 which was launched internationally earlier in 2017, it will slot into the fastest growing segment of the car market.
There’s no denying the car is a critical piece in hitting Volvo’s target of almost doubling world sales to 800,000 cars a year by 2020, but in SA it will be critical that it is priced in the ballpark of its major German and British rivals, which will also include the new Jaguar E-Pace.
Besides joining a new segment, it will be the first Volvo to offer the inductive smartphone chargers the Germans have been offering for years and the first to offer a family and friends car-sharing system.
It’s also crammed with safety features, including City Safe crash prevention that helps at up to 60km/h, Run-Off Road assist to keep the car within its lane and Pilot Assist to Level 2 self-driving in heavy traffic.
It also boasts a Cross Traffic Alert to autonomously brake the car to defend against collisions with unseen cars, bikes or pedestrians when reversing out of car parks.
Petrofski bills it as a world first, though Volkswagen debuted similar technology on the facelift of the last generation Polo in 2014.
The T5 petrol version will be the entry-level car initially and also the lightest, at 1,684kg. The 1,969cc four-cylinder turbo motor will deliver 182kW of power at 5,500r/min, while its 350Nm torque peak begins at 1,800r/min and trails off beyond 4,800r/min.
Volvo claims the T5 is good for 230km/h at its top end, whipping through to 100km/h in only 6.5 seconds. It also posts between 8.3 and 9.0l/100km on the new WLTP real-world fuel economy test, which equates to between 189 and 205g/km of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Over in diesel land, the D4 uses the same 1,969cc capacity, with the same 82mm x 93.2mm bore and stroke measurements as the T5 petrol motor, but uses two turbochargers and boosts the compression ratio from 10.8:1 up to 15.8:1. It brings with it more torque, earlier than the T5, with 400Nm available from 1,750-2,500r/min and tops out with 140kW of power at 4,000r/min, though the heavier engine pushes the weight up to 1,733kg.
Volvo claims it will send the small crossover to 100km/h in 7.9 seconds on its way to 210km/h at its top end. Its WLTP figure is between 6.3 and 7.0l/100km, or 168 to 185g/km of carbon dioxide.
Volvo SA is not able to confirm final model options as yet, but a spokesperson said to expect a full spread of models in the same way as the company has done with other ranges.
At 4,425mm long, the XC40 sits on a 2,034mm wheelbase and it uses an eight-speed Aisen-Warner automatic transmission on both powertrain variants as well as a variable centre differential.
Volvo claims 450mm of wading depth and 211mm of ground clearance to justify its "SUV" status, though its 54l fuel tank would be a limiting factor in real off-road work. It rides on 19-inch tyres, attached to a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear end, though an R specification takes the wheels up to 20 inches.
Its interior is also radically different to anything in the segment, as you’d expect from a design team led by Robin Page, who was in charge of the XC90’s interior design. There is an enormous amount of storage in the cabin and moving the bass speakers into the dashboard has freed up a lot of space in the door pockets, which can swallow large bottles and still have room for tablets or even computers and the collected set of the Lord of the Rings.
There are fold-out hooks alongside the transmission tunnel, a removable rubbish bin within the centre console and a big storage area beneath the armrest.
The interior is highlighted by air vents that are uniquely and unashamedly vertical, a touchscreen setup for the combined nine-inch infotainment and navigation screen and a feeling of space that’s not like anything else in the class.
Volvo has done it again when it comes to unique design, plenty of technology and of course the promise of class-leading safety. It faces strong competition in the segment and both the E-Pace and a new Evoque are on the way, but the XC40 will arrive with more than just its Swedish elegance to be excited about.