Driven: Volvo XC40, the first premium compact SUV from Volvo

Driven: Volvo XC40, the first premium compact SUV from Volvo

The baby XC from Volvo

Banking on the success of their SUV products, Volvo has brought the XC40 to India to take on the likes of the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque. The segment accounts for nearly 6000 units in India annually and it is the Bavarian manufacturer that holds the trump card here, the BMW X1 being the very first in this segment. With an increasing focus on SUVs Volvo now want to break into this volume segment with a stylish and very premium appeal to the whole package.

Volvo XC40 is the most chiseled of the lot

What started off with the large Volvo XC90, the Swedish design has trickled down on to the Volvo XC40 as well. The wide body clean design ethos is present but the baby XC40 has been targeted for the millennial/young buyer and this bears its own tweaks. The front grille is blacked out with extra bevels at the bottom of the quadrilateral that show its youthful aspirations. The LED headlamps, called Thor’s hammer headlights (Mjolnir for you comic book nerds) too conform with the styling. That is one of the sexiest bits of the whole styling.

Their strategy in India so far has been to introduce the premium trim for their models and it is no different in the Volvo XC40. The Volvo XC40 will be available to the Indian consumer with the ‘R Design’ style. When we drove the car in Barcelona earlier this year, the car looked elegant but this particular trim is going for the more pumped looked. That means you get a host of premium bits and bobs that just elevates the XC40 above the rest. It gets dual tone colour with a black roof as standard with the base colour option of white, blue or red. The wheel design is super cutting edge and unlike anything the Germans have to offer. Even the brushed steel bits on the front as well as the rear bumpers are now blacked out with brushed treatment used for the exhaust. The chrome outline on the front grille has also been converted to bring fully black.

Lava Orange is the new black

The styling package also transcends to the interiors of the Volvo XC40 as you are comforted in Alacantara and leather with white piping. Customers can opt for a full black interior or the funky Lava Orange package which does justice to the term – youthfulness. It is definitely the better visual option between the two and is at no cost extra. The steering wheel is also different here, the ‘R Design’ wheel is chunkier than the regular one, the black leather white piping construction continues here as well.

The dash has this metal-cum-plastic panel that runs through to the door panels as well. It gets the 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system that is as simple and effective to operate as your iPad. There are small ergo issues that one may face in the start but it is more to do with the adapting of the Swedish mindset, breaking the mold of outright German functionality. You can control nearly all aspects of the car from the touchscreen, that supports Apple Car Play and Android Auto. There is a 5W charging pad in the centre console to wirelessly charge your mobile devices.

CMA platform to spawn next gen Volvo cars

Unlike the SPA platform that the bigger XCs are built on, the Volvo XC40 has a new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform that acts like the spine for the car. It is smaller, lighter and will be used for future Volvo cars that will be electrified in some manner, post 2019. This also means that the Volvo XC40 will arrive in India via the CBU route and not CKD as the others XCs. This, the XC40 will be brought down from their manufacturing facility in Belgium and not from Sweden or China.

The chassis is still mainly constructed from high strength steel and is fully aluminum as Volvo believes that steel still provides that additional level of security that they found lacking elsewhere. Major portions of the frame, the passenger tub to be precise, is constructed out of steel while the rest of the frame has traces of aluminum as well as lighter steel sections. This construction has also helped in maintaining high torsional rigidity which would be beneficial for off-road usage, given that Volvo wants the buyer to be more confident to take the car off tarmac.

Diesel propulsion is the way forward currently

Volvo had recently put out a statement that they will cease production of diesel motors. What that means is that the current crop of their vehicles will still possess a diesel heart while future generations will not. As the XC40 was showcased and launched worldwide with a diesel powerplant, the motor will be the flag bearer of operations in India.

The future may hold be petrol or electric but for now we make do with a 2-litre in-line four-cylinder diesel motor which is mated to an Aisin 8-speed auto box with the latest Haldex transfer case for on-demand AWD. It makes 187.4bhp and 400Nm of torque, which is par for the course. The power delivery is super linear and yet exciting enough. The auto box also has a manual operation by means of steering wheel mounted paddleshifters that have got a nice Aalcantara back section, something that separates it from the full metallic flappy paddles available in the market. I do have a small niggle with the transmission. The gear stub, small and classy, takes two movements to slot the car either into drive or reverse from one of these two positions or even from parking. It does take getting used to but I would have definitely preferred the direct slotting. Even the auto-releasing of the electronic parking brake takes twice dabbing of the accelerator pedal as the dash flashes to the driver that it is going to move.

There are four preset driving modes – Eco, Comfort, Off Road and Dynamic – with an ‘Individual’ mode option to customise the steering weight, engine maps and interestingly braking force that one needs to apply to bring the car to a halt. Our test route was primarily the wide and empty ORR highway of Hyderabad and we drove the car in Dynamic mode throughout. The Haldex transfer case has a base 95-5 power transfer but it goes up to 50-50 max to take it off road.

The Volvo XC40 feels extremely planted at all speeds

The stiff chassis with a slightly stiff suspension makes for a slightly spirited ride. But Volvo would like the XC40 to be viewed as a good off-road tool rather than a soft roader that is great on tarmac, the latter holding true for its rivals. Thus, the Volvo soaks in bumps to a great extent and at speeds it feels extremely planted. The 18-inch alloys with super sticky Pirelli PZero shoes help greatly in this regard. The large rims come as standard on the XC40 with an option to up spec it to 20inchers as well. The good ground clearance helps it take on any ridiculously high speed bumps, which are often found in India.

“Kicking up some dirt is quite easy and the mode automatically shifts all the torque to the bottom end for better off road driveability”

Safety aids like the lane changing alert as well as pilot assist work well when the road markings are well defined. That meant once we turned off the ORR, the system hardly came in handy as it could no longer sense the road ahead. The adaptive cruise control can be set to 200kmph with pilot assist working until 130kmph. We did find a small open patch of dirt to try out its off-road potential and it certainly felt quite capable to take on most situations. The off-road driving mode also comes equipped with Hill Descent and low speed hill climb assist. Kicking up some dirt is quite easy and the mode automatically shifts all the torque to the bottom end for better off road driveability.

Volvo XC40 seems to be the smart, stylish and sporty choice

With its launch slated for early July, Volvo has got another winner in its hands. With premium spec components, high tech gizmos and good dual nature personality it does seem to offer a better overall package than its German competition. If Volvo do get the pricing close to the Rs 35 lakh mark, they will certainly find good demand for the XC40, good thing then that their dealership ramp up continues apace with six new dealerships set to open until the end of the year, one every month. And the XC40 will keep them all very busy.

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