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Words by Aninda Sardar
The Swedes couldn’t have timed it better with their first ever attempt at a compact SUV. BMW’s new X1 is a sea change from the previous car and Audi is all set to introduce the Q2, which is completely different from the Q3. The Range Rover Evoque is already different from everything else around it and offers a wonderful alternative to those looking for a premium compact SUV. In fact, the only premium compact SUV that is not due for change is the Mercedes-Benz GLA Class. Quite frankly, the premium compact SUV end of the Indian automotive market has never been more dynamic. Into this changing scenario comes Volvo’s new XC40.
About eight years ago, Volvo, once seen as a manufacturer only interested in safe cars, reinvented itself. No, it didn’t move away from its core competence of making the safest vehicles in the world. But itdid add other things in the cauldron. Style. Dynamics. Panache. Crucially, desirability. And then, the Swedes dialled it up a notch with the introduction of the all-new XC90 SUV about three years ago.
From design to driving dynamics, the new XC90 looked fresh, felt fresh and drove with renewed vigour. The upward movement on the desirability scale started by the big SUV continued with the introduction of the new XC60 in December 2017. And now, poised in the wings for its Indian debut is Volvo’s first ever premium compact SUV, the XC40.
Everything. You see, Volvo has never had a premium compact SUV in its portfolio ever before. This is also the first time in the history of the Swedish manufacturer that it will offer a choice of three SUVs to customers worldwide. The XC40 is the first of the vehicles to be built on Volvo’s new modular vehicle architecture, which the company calls CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) and has been co-developed with parent company Geely.
This is a big move towards greater flexibility of development and scale of production since a modular architecture will allow Volvo, Geely and Lynk & Co – a Geely automotive brand positioned between itself and Volvo – to use the same modules to produce different vehicles. In fact, all future 40 series Volvos including fully electric ones will have this CMA as their underpinnings.
The XC40 gets two engine options for now. The petrol version is powered by Volvo’s T5 four-cylinder turbocharged 1969cc unit while the diesel gets the D4 2-litre twin-turbo unit. In both cases, transmission is via an 8-speed automatic. The XC40 also benefits from the now de rigeuer drive modes. Five of them in fact – Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Off Road and Individual.
In terms of suspension, the front gets a McPherson strut while the rear gets a multi-link axle. The front and rear axles can be tuned for dynamic driving. This is the XC40’s standard setting. The optional Sport tuning ensures more controlled body movements by using stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. The top-of-the-line Four C setting, also optional, uses electronically controlled dampers.
Steering is an electro-mechanical rack and pinion unit that has been optimised by Volvo for use in all weather conditions, including winter. Volvo of course is refering to a snow-bound Sweden when it says winter. While the system can be personalised to suit individual driving preferences, the standard speed dependent system ensures ease of driving in both tight parking spaces as well as out on the open highways.
Strangely enough the Swedes seem to be speaking German these days for the new XC40 looks like a younger brother of the new XC60, which in turn looks like the younger brother of the mammoth XC90 with its Thor’s hammer headlamp design, that large grille and overall proportions and musculature. Asked about it, the Swedes are quick with their repartees. Family face, design language and so on pop up like kiosks on a beach in peak tourist season. We’ve seen it before. Several times. And yet, Volvo has managed to create subtle differences between the faces of its three SUV siblings. Just enough to make the XC40 a wee bit more youthful and playful in its demeanour. As a result, the XC40 does not look identical to the other two. It merely resembles its bigger brothers. Strongly, but it’s still only a resemblance and not a case of congruence. In any case, the XC40 cuts a desirable silhouette and looks good.
On the inside again, the XC40 is packed with pretty much all the goodies you’d see in the bigger Volvo SUVs – the XC90 and the new XC60. The cabin feels nice and airy and is overall a lovely place to be in. Dashboard layout and that huge tab like control panel feel familiar and Swedish design elements like the sculpted starter button and jewel like knobs feel rich, exactly like it does in the XC90, XC60 and the S90 sedan. It’s pretty spacious too. So you can easily fit in five adults without too much of a squeeze. And the seats are super comfortable too. Something that seems to have become a Volvo trait since the new XC90.
On the go
Negotiating through the Spanish traffic, the XC40’s compact dimensions, it’s just over 4m long and 2m wide, make it easy to manoeuvre through tight gaps or narrow lanes. That speed dependent steering feels light and easy to use as we dart through gaps in traffic at European roundabouts where giving way to people from the left who have right of way is the norm and not the exception. Out on the highway, it weighs up nicely in tandem with the speedo. Of course, like all new steering units imbued with electronic gimmickry, it’s not the richest in feedback but it’s reasonably accurate.
Once out on the Spanish autopista the engines, both petrol and diesel, reveal themselves as willing companions to a desire for quick driving. This is largely due to the torque that has been spread out nicely over the engines’ rev ranges. While in the case of the diesel engine, where the peak torque of 400Nm kicks in at 1750rpm and stays till 2500, this is expected, the petrol engine’s torque spread is what is amazing. The 350Nm of max torque comes in as early as 1800 revs and stays with you all the way through to 4800! This torquey nature of the engines means that even pottering at city speeds or runs between traffic lights are accomplished without much effort. The petrol however is quicker to rev and if you’re interested in spirited driving, feels more rewarding with its perky response to the right foot.
Even out on the twists and turns of the mountains, the engines are more than willing to keep up with one’s antics.It is here however that the transmission, again in both cases, begin to show chinks. Quick shifts take a moment longer than ideal. This is somewhat cured by sticking the thing in manual mode but even then it’s nowhere near as quick as the double clutch ‘box of one German maker.
The other aspect that gets highlighted is that thanks to the SUV’s focus on comfort, and it is extremely comfortable at all sorts of speeds over all kinds of roads, dynamics do take a hit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if the XC40 is incapable of taking a turn but there’s a healthy dose of understeer when you want to turn quickly at a decent clip. This is an SUV and there is a good bit of body roll too. Nothing uncomfortable but enough to remind you that you aren’t driving a shorty. Thankfully, the dampers work very well to reduce the body roll, preventing the vehicle from wallowing.
The Volvo XC40 will bring in a whole host of safety features. So expect things like City Safety package that will ensure maximum safety for occupants, pedestrians, cyclists and large animal detection. Expect technologies that will mitigate risks in case of being faced with oncoming traffic in your lane – an all too frequent occurance in our country. Besides it gets Volvo’s unique semi-autonomous technologies that steers the vehicle at speeds up to 130kmph when the vehicle senses no input from the driver (don’t think this will come in handy in India even if you can buy it).
It will also get 18-inch wheels, that 9-inch infotainment tab, a 12.3-inch TFT colour instrument panel and more. There is also an innovative cover for the boot floor that can be folded up to create a separator inside the boot that will help better organise things.It’s a lovely comfortable compact SUV that will transport a family of four (or five) from anywhere to anywhere with a high degree of plushness for fit and finish is very good.
Volvo’s launch plans for India aren’t really fixed yet but what was made clear is that both the petrol and the diesel will arrive, and in all probabilities the launch of the vehicle will not be with the entry-level trim but the range-topping vehicle with all bells and whistles. Knowing Volvo, the company will probably pursue an aggressive pricing strategy to be able to offer great value and therefore help it bite into the premium compact SUV pie by offering you, its customer, a great alternative in that segment.