2019 Volvo XC40 First Drive: Small, Stylish Swede [Review]

[Photo: Volvo]

Look, everyone – it’s a new luxury compact crossover! Does this one have the chops to cut it in a fiercely competitive segment?

You know, I think I’ve used the word “crossover” more than I have any other in the past several months. It can’t be avoided, really – the segment has exploded these past several years. Since TFL is based in Colorado, as well, we tend to get more of this type of vehicle than any other in our fleet. As manufacturers shift more emphasis away from ordinary sedans, crossovers are becoming more common than ever on our roads. Now, we have another: the all-new 2019 Volvo XC40.

It’s a contender in the evermore crowded entry-level luxury crossover segment. Competing against the likes of the BMW X1, Audi Q3, Infiniti QX30Mercedes-Benz GLA, and the new Jaguar E-Pace, it doesn’t exactly have the field to itself. So it needs to stand out in order to truly make a difference. On the surface, Volvo hasn’t sought to majorly disrupt the status quo. Although there is an electric version coming, there’s no space-age trickery with its powertrain. There are no funky doors or weird, idiosyncratic touches to its interior. By most measures, it’s just an ordinary crossover…or is it? What has Volvo done to make the XC40 stand out?

2019 Volvo XC40
[Photo: Volvo]

The Volvo XC40’s styling is expressive, if a little controversial

You know what they say – first impressions count for a lot. Before you get inside, before you experience how it drives, before you hear it, the first thing that hits you is how a car looks. Volvo’s gone down a different path with the XC40 versus its larger XC60 and XC90 siblings. It uses a slightly different architecture – dubbed “CMA” (Compact Modular Architecture). Not only that, but Volvo’s unashamedly marketing this car at younger drivers, who may appreciate edgier styling cues.

There are some familiar elements in the XC40’s design, of course. The signature “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlights, for a start. The XC40’s roof line is met by a straight belt line that kinks upward at the rear doors to emphasize the floating roof. That element is exceptionally clear when you look at a Volvo XC40 with a two-tone paint scheme, like the one pictured above. On style, it looks bold and expressive against the elegant, more conservative design of its larger siblings.

Performance is fun and predictable, but there is one fly in the ointment

The 2019 Volvo XC40 is hitting our shores first in T5 form. What does that mean? We get a 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine with 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. According to Volvo, that’s enough to motivate the XC40 to 60 in 6.2 seconds. That’s right on with the BMW X1, and among the quickest in its class. Particularly in its Dynamic drive mode, which sharpens up throttle response and holds gears higher into the rev range, it’s thrust was pretty impressive.

The ride was particularly well controlled on the rural, narrow back roads outside Austin, Texas as well. The car snapped through its eight gears smoothly. Its all-wheel drive system can split the torque 50/50 as well, which makes the handling nice and predictable through the corners. If you’re looking for sharper performance, I’d recommend going for the R-Design trim, which adds paddle shifters and stiffer suspension. I drove both the R-Design and the Momentum, and while the latter is by no means terrible, you can tell its geared more toward comfort. As such, there was more body roll in the corners.

There is one caveat, however: the XC40 is heavy. At just over 3,600 pounds, it’s a couple hundred pounds heavier than its competition. The power helps make up for that, as does the well-weighted and precise steering. However, it can feel a bit cumbersome when you’re really pushing it. That weight also blunts fuel economy. While EPA figures aren’t available yet, I averaged no better than 23 MPG in mixed driving conditions, according to the car’s trip computer.

The 2019 Volvo XC40 has many great features, and an annoying one

Let’s kick off the XC40’s features with the interior. Technophiles rejoice, as the 2018 Volvo XC40 is packed with useful tech features. On the steering wheel, there are buttons to control the adaptive cruise control and cycle through menus in the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Then there’s the Sensus Connect infotainment system. You can’t help but notice the XC40 is a bit light on buttons, which helps achieve a minimalist design. Most of the entertainment features have moved to the 9.0-inch touchscreen, as have controls for the car itself.

If you want to access the traction control or override the auto stop/start, for instance, you need to swipe left from the central screen. There’s an eight-speaker, 250-watt stereo system as standard. Although, for $1,375 on the Momentum, you can upgrade to a 600-watt, 13-speaker Harman/Kardon system. The more powerful system offered up smooth, clear sound without excessive vibration, thanks to Volvo’s move to position the speakers under the dash rather than in the doors.

Since there aren’t speakers in the doors, that opens up a ton of storage space. So much, in fact, that Volvo showed photos with laptops in the door pockets. Personally, I’d never put my laptop in a door pocket, but it’s nice to know there’s enough room to do so. There’s also a fair amount of storage in the center console and under the driver’s seat. Volvo even included a small shelf above the glove box specifically for the owner’s manual to free up some space.

If I had to nitpick – and I do, at least a little bit – my real “features” gripe would be the shifter. There’s a button to put the car in park, and you use the shifter to get the car into Reverse, Neutral, and Drive. Okay, that’s fair enough – no qualms there. However, to get the car into drive, you have to pull back twice on the shifter. You can’t just hold it, and you don’t physically move the shifter into gear. There are no shortcuts, you have to do it twice. That means if you just do it once and hit the throttle, you just sit there revving your engine not going anywhere. I’m sure you’d get used to it, but it can be frustrating the first few times you drive the car.

2019 Volvo XC40
[Photo: Volvo] Then, of course, there’s safety

On the subject of safety

Volvo just wouldn’t be Volvo if there wasn’t any mention of safety. The company has an ambitious goal – that no one will be killed or seriously injured in one of their cars by 2020. To that end, the 2019 Volvo XC40 has all the safety features you’d expect. There’s Collision Avoidance, Lane Keep Assist, and airbags all throughout the cabin.

One interesting safety feature is Volvo’s “Run-off Road Protection”. They contend most fatal off-road accidents involve just one vehicle, where the driver ran off the road, for whatever reason. The XC40 looks out for this scenario, and helps steer the driver back on course if it detects they’re about to leave the road. There’s also the “Pilot Assist” system – a $1,400 option that allows the car to follow others in stop-and-go traffic on roads with well-defined lines without driver input.

The big downside to all this safety is, predictably, visibility. Aside from the thick A-pillars blocking some visibility in the corners – a recurring theme in all modern cars – the upward kink in the C-pillar makes for poor rearward visibility. Good thing the 2019 Volvo XC40 has blind spot monitoring.

TFLcar’s Take

The Volvo XC40 is the youngest child in the company’s crossover family. While the XC90 is the eldest, responsible sibling, the XC40 is more carefree. That shows in its styling, where it takes more indulgences than its larger stablemates, which carry the company’s more traditional, sensible principles.

Volvo’s smallest crossover is lively, and makes excellent use of its interior space. Its bold styling may attract younger buyers that would have otherwise never considered the brand. It’s also available through the “Care by Volvo” subscription program, in addition to traditional purchase and leasing options. The XC40 T5 Momentum ($36,195 and up) and R-Design ($38,695 and up) will be available next month. Cheaper, less powerful T4 versions (Momentum starts at $34,195) are coming this summer.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2019 Volvo XC40 T5 Momentum

On Sale: March 2018
Base MSRP: $36,195
Price as Tested: $44,315
Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4
Drivetrain (Layout): Transversely mounted front engine, all-wheel drive
Horsepower: 248 hp @ 5,500 RPM
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,800 – 4,800 RPM
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Suspension: Front: MacPherson strut w/ coil springs, hydraulic shock absorbers, stabilizer bar

Rear: Independent w/ coil springs, hydraulic shock absorbers, stabilizer bar

Brakes: Power-assisted four-wheel discs w/ ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Tires: Michelin Primacy MXM4 P235/55 R18 all-season
Fuel capacity: 14.2 gallons
Fuel economy (EPA): TBA
Drag Coefficient: 0.34 – 0.37


Wheelbase: 106.4 inches
Length:  174.2 inches
Width: 80.1 inches (including mirrors)
Height:  65.0 inches
Turning Circle: 37.4 feet
Curb Weight: 3,629 pounds
Ground Clearance: 8.3 inches
Cargo volume (incl. under floor storage): Seats up: 20.7 cubic feet

Seats down: 47.2 cubic feet

Approach Angle: 21.7 degrees
Breakover Angle: 21.9 degrees
Departure Angle: 30.4 degrees