If you want to grab people's attention, you gotta have a hook.
Volvo's first entry into the luxury subcompact niche, the 2019 XC40, has a bunch of 'em. In the rear luggage compartment are a pair, there are places to hang clothes, but the one that seems to most catch everyone's attention is the one right on the glove box—the perfect place to hang a sack of takeout food, headphones, running shoes, ballet flats, boxing gloves.
Critics rave about what is nothing more than a petite piece of plastic cleverly applied. This is perhaps because it serves as a metaphor for this vehicle: a genius of a little SUV.
Volvo researchers discovered proper storage is essential in a small SUV. With ample interior space for both passengers and storage, smart daily-use features such as large door pockets, integrated bag hooks and a customizable cargo area help organize things.
Wireless mobile phone charging and Bluetooth connectivity with the standard 9-inch touchscreen reduces the clutter of cables and connectors. A dedicated cell phone storage space frees up cup holders for things like cups. An air-ventilated woofer located behind the dashboard allows for more storage in the door panels without sacrificing stereo sound in the cabin.
And that's just the beginning. Equipped properly, this car knows how to keep you in your lane, to adapt to changes in speed of vehicles ahead of you, to hit the brakes if you are about to hit a pedestrian, bicycle or large animal, to watch for side traffic when you back out (and hit the brakes if needed), and to bend the headlights in the direction your turning. It even knows to open the rear hatch when you approach with both hands full.
Touch a button and it gives you a 360-degree view to assist in parking. Oh, and it will park itself—parallel and perpendicular. Take that, Mr. Driver's License Examiner.
The product of Swedish engineers and designers, backed by the deep pockets and manufacturing legerdemain of Volvo's Chinese parent, Geely, the XC40 is targeted for young buyers on three continents.
Production began last November and right out of the chute it turned heads and was selected as the 2018 European Car of the Year.
On this side of the Atlantic, the consensus among critics is that the XC40 immediately goes to the head of a sophisticated class that includes the BMW X1, Infiniti QX30, Mercedes GLA-Class, Jaguar F-Pace, Lexus NX, and Range Rover Evoque.
Prices start around $30,000 and top out in the mid-50s. We think the sweet spot in the XC40 three-model lineup is the mid-range R-design. Opt for the more powerful of two available engines and all-wheel drive will add about $2,000. Check the boxes on a couple of essential packages will give you one of the smartest cars, best-driving and safest cars on the planet at just a shade less than $40,000.
Or $750 a month for two years under Volvo's creative subscription package. That allows for no-haggle buying for a price that includes insurance and maintenance. At the end of two years you either buy the car or turn it in and get another one. Though Volvo will use a dealer for delivery, the buyer deals directly with the manufacturer, who stores cars for the program on lots in the East and West coasts.
The program is launching now with the XC40, but other models will soon follow.
The XC40 is small, but its 106.4-inch wheelbase and 3,713-lb curb weight are a skoosh longer and heavier than the class averages. That's one reason why its ride is not only better than most vehicles its size and is competitive with its big brothers, the XC90 and XC60.
It all starts with the chassis and the XC40 is the first Volvo built on the company's compact modular architecture, which blends strength with lightweight steel. The result is a car that is nimble in the parking lots and steady as a rock on the highway.
The XC40 is as fun-to-drive as its BMW counterpart, but with a more powerful engine it lets the Beamer eat its dust.
Riding on 19-inch Michelin all-season radials, the XC40's linear handling makes it a joy to drive. A rack-assisted electro mechanical steering system with speed-dependent assistance maintains confident feedback at all speed.
The thing is quiet inside, too.
Most XC40s come with a 248-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder mated to eight-speed automatic transmission. Those models get the T5 designation.
Detuned T4 models, due this summer, will crank out 184 horses from a 2.0-L four. A sophisticated, turbocharged diesel model is available elsewhere, but not in North America
The larger engine is quicker off the line than everything but the Mercedes GLA250, which does a quarter mile in about 14.5 seconds. The Volvo covers the ground in 14.8. Top speed on the XC40 is a governed 140 mph.
We didn't have the guts to reach that on our river bottoms circuit, but the car felt alert, precise, responsive and connected in the three-digit range.
Shifts are crisp, quiet and controlled. Two overdrives (.809 and .673) help boost combined fuel efficiency to an EPA estimated 31 mpg highway, 29 city on 95-98 octane fuel. It holds 14.2 gallons of fuel and range is a little better than 400 miles.
Since being taken over by Geely, Volvo has focused on melding form, function and aesthetics in its interior. The XC40 is simply the latest version.
Airy inside, the cabin is roomier than the competition and speaks of Scandinavian design and functionality. The string of Volvo DNA that calls for well-bolstered seats is evident in the latest creation. Interior materials are of high quality. Fit and finish are well on par with other luxury vehicles.
Bottom Line: Volvo just set the bar for first-rate cute-utes.