Volvo XC40 is a smart briefcase on wheels

Date:22 November 2021 Tags:, , , , ,
/ By Waldo Rendell /

What am I looking at?

At this moment, Volvo is unable to sell you a traditional medium-sized sedan, and that once-unimaginable situation is unlikely to change. That’s not only because demand for that body-style is declining… It’s also because Volvo’s all-electric understudy, Polestar, seems to have that sector covered. Our local market, therefore, relies heavily on a three-pronged Volvo XC SUV range. At the base sits the XC40, recently refreshed with a new T4 variant that at least on paper seems to be the final piece of the Swedish maker’s jigsaw puzzle.

Logically, the new model sits between the three-cylinder T3 and the more-racy T5, and the prices for these vary by about R50 000 in either direction.

In the metal

There isn’t a lot to differentiate the T4 from its siblings, except for that very discreet badge on the boot lid. In fact, Volvo South Africa’s official press material on the XC40 T4 variant is about as thorough as this opening paragraph.

Nevertheless, the Inscription model we have on test isn’t showing any wrinkles. It still looks sophisticated, with taut lines giving it a lean and muscular stance. It’s a boxy little number riding on big, low-profile rubber, but because it’s front-wheel drive, the chiseled appearance isn’t compromised by superfluous off-road cladding. The SUV shape is therefore purely to give the driver the best view possible, while compact overhangs see it fitting easily into regular parking spots without blaring the park-distance sensors.

Whereas so many other brands have been guilty of holding back certain elements for their more premium models, the XC40’s abbreviated size doesn’t result in fewer toys or cheaper materials.

Get in

If you’ve sat in one Volvo in the last five years, you’ve sat in them all – although I suspect the XC40’s customers are new to the brand and will instantly be charmed by the design. Admittedly, our test model was fitted with nearly R100 000 worth of extras that mainly emphasise the autonomous driving and audio system.

A large portrait screen that responds to the same gestures as a smartphone remains the focal point. Fortunately it doesn’t feel overly digital, as it’s surrounded by eye-catching tactile finishes pronounced by metal bezels that look (and feel) upmarket. If you’re going to spend more than an hour in a car, these are the seats you’ll want – your bones, joints and muscles melt into them. Although the rear windows are cropped by the roofline, there’s decent space for rear passengers and a boot that can offer similar loading volume to a normal hatchback.

Drive and tech

The cabin is a soft and soothing oasis that filters out a lot of unnecessary feedback or harshness kicked up by the road, or other users. As a result you arrive at your destination feeling like you’ve just had a Swedish massage. But should you start feeling a little too relaxed, Volvo’s army of artificial intelligence features is only a few milliseconds away from preventing any mishaps … sometimes rather harshly, as I discovered when the cross-traffic alert suddenly jammed on the brakes during a gentle reversing manoeuvre.

The XC40 mirrors a lot of technology from Volvo’s bigger offerings, often bundled as packages. The R23 000 Driver Assist Package on this model includes blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert and pilot assist with adaptive cruise control. Standard features are keyless entry, inductive charging, front and rear cameras with park assist and a power tailgate.

Volvo’s 2.0-litre engine, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as colourful. It’s not particularly sporty and you won’t find shift paddles or multiple driving modes that unlock new layers of enjoyment near the red line. But the lazy revving nature matches the rest of the package in a very disarming way. We can’t accuse it of being sluggish, though, thanks to a claimed 0–100 km/h time of 8.4 seconds, which is about two seconds faster, or slower, when compared to the T3 and T5 models that bookend it.

Final words

Potential buyers who were skeptical of a three-cylinder engine in a posh SUV will at least feel reassured by the T4’s extra cylinder and the safer overtaking power it provides, even if a more-powerful Volvo has never been the Swedish company’s main focus. Others might feel the T4’s higher price edges it a little too close to the bigger XC60.


Model: Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 140 kW
Torque: 300 Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Price as tested: R807 500
Build quality and feeling of safety
Contemporary design
Deceptively practical for a small family
Bland engine character
Steep price that overlaps XC60

Read about other wheels-related stories, here.
Photography: Motorpress
This is exclusively an online article, which did not feature in the print edition of Popular Mechanics.

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