Understanding the tremendous growth in consumer interest in Volvo demands a cool head and Iain Robertson hopes that by testing its most popular model, in its most ordered form, is the right route to follow, as it proved to be a surprising cocktail.
Breaking records is not something with which Volvo is that familiar. It is a brand that is unafraid of establishing standards, that much is sure. Yet, while its reported rivals are having a rough ride at present, a near unprecedented demand for its various models, not just in the UK new car scene but also worldwide, suggests that its conservatism is now the force by which it can be reckoned.
Yet, determining which model you want involves carrying out fairly intense research. The current XC40 fits the mid-size family car role to perfection. It possesses the SUV appearance that almost everybody seems to like, allied in R-Design Pro form to an adrenalised and sportier level. Personally, I am not an SUV fan but I could live happily with an XC40. It is right-sized and fits the tighter public parking spaces that we are forced to accept these days in city centres.
When sitting down with the available information at your fingertips, the product brochure, accessories catalogue and price list, to be frank, I feel little more than confusion. Having adopted a partially Germanic methodology to its product marketing, which is led by a teasing entry-level value into pricier tick-box options, Volvo does try to simplify the task by packaging its various goodies into convenient groups. The test car, for instance, while price listed (prior to dealer discounts being applied) at £34,620 in D3 AWD R-Design Pro automatic form, also carries a further £6,225 in options.
The Xenium Pack (sunroof, surround-view parking camera and automatic parallel and perpendicular parking) costs £1,600. The Intellisafe Pro Pack (heaps of safety items, auto-fold and auto-dim door mirrors) is £1,500, while the Convenience Pack (power-fold back seats, flexible boot floor, luggage net and below driver’s seat storage) is just £350. However, individual options include the Harman Kardon stereo upgrade (£550), wireless mobile-phone charger pad (£175), keyless-entry and hands-free tailgate open/close (£350), power tailgate (£375), power passenger seat (£300), smartphone integration (£300), spare wheel (£150) and metallic paint (£575). Phew! In this respect, while I never consider Volvo to be a rival to the Teutonic Threesome of Audi, BMW and Merc, it mirrors their pricing schedules. I can only presume it to be the case, because (important) corporate buyers feel the need to compare and contrast ‘like for like’.
In an automotive world that desires personalisation, while the XC40 tested is comprehensively equipped, there is always more to consider, especially when you note that a base-level, front-driven XC40 is price-tagged at just £27,610. It is very easy to state that ‘money is not the object’, when spending £13,235 more, around half its invoice value, on the car of personal choice. Yet, when personal, or business monthly lease rates cushion the financial blow somewhat, monetary value drops down the priorities’ list.
While diesel is being dropped slowly from Volvo’s model listing, it remains in moderate demand by both private and business consumers and the 2.0-litre, 150bhp, turbo-diesel version of Volvo’s ingenious modular engine delivers a 0-60mph dash in around 10.0s, with a top speed of 124mph, driving all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. Of course, it tips the scales at around 1.7-tonnes, so it is no lightweight, which does affect its overall performance envelope. This is the ‘median’ model, appreciated by owners for its 56.5mpg fuel economy and low-tax 132g/km CO2 emissions, aided by AdBlue injection from its own 14.5-litres tank.
Although I would have loved to have been more positive, driving this XC40 is broadly rewarding but not perfect. Although its performance is not exactly ‘firecracker’, the power delivery is smooth and fluent on-road and its engine is quietly efficacious. Yet, its ride quality is mildly disturbed by the handsome 20.0-inch diameter R-Design alloy wheels and low-profile tyres, even in ‘Comfort’ of the five reconfigurable chassis settings. On damaged back doubles that are all too common these days, the amount of head-sway and suspension ‘crashes’ encountered by occupants verges on annoying. Good looks can have downsides and would make me consider a smaller diameter road wheel and higher-profile tyre combination. However, the turn-in is crisp and grip levels are high. The 4x4 system prioritises its torque distribution to when and where it is needed, which serves to create outstanding stability at any speed.
Having concentrated for years on orthopaedically correct seat development, Volvo produces one of the best driving positions of them all. Support is provided in all the right places and the range of adjustability, including thigh pads, is simply enormous, which helps to reduce driver fatigue substantially. I spent four hours at the car’s controls on a drive from my Lincolnshire home to a location close to Windsor and felt as fresh as a daisy, despite having to cope with traffic snarl-ups and indecisive plodders.
The high quality of all fittings is wonderful. Volvo manages to embody an executive ‘feel’ and unique tactility and refinement to all of its switchgear, which lifts its image markedly above any of its purported rivals. The feelgood factor is immense. Yet, above all, the impression of being wrapped in a cosy safety embrace is what makes even a mid-range Volvo a compelling option.
Externally, in the unusual but agreeable Fusion Red paintwork of the test car, the XC40 looks rather splendid. It blends the current Volvo face effortlessly into its chunky appearance, which is cleverly disguised by the sharply sculpted scallops in the car’s sides, while its typical Volvo high-rise tail-lamp structures flank the clean tailgate design. The XC40 looks much perkier than its XC60 and XC90 bigger brethren, which adds to its street appeal.
Ironically, one of Volvo’s trim levels is called Momentum and it is momentum that Volvo must exhibit to continue its inexorable rise up the sales charts. At this end of the business car market, Volvo can claim price parity with its showroom rivals but, fortunately, it can also boast stronger residual values too, which helps the overall proposition.