I wasn’t too keen on – or hopeful of – a good drive in the Volvo XC40. A spin around the outer ring road in Hyderabad, as scheduled, sounded short and unimaginative. The fact that I didn’t have to share a car was small consolation. As I’m ‘driving’ down the highway, with little to no traffic to worry about, I imagine that any co-passenger would be as freaked out as I am. You see, my hands on the steering wheel are as effective as the quotes around ‘driving’. They’re there, they’re emphasising the action, but that’s about all. The XC40 is steering, accelerating and braking for itself, and I continue to have a pulse, albeit somewhat more rapid. Judgement Day is here, and Cyberdyne systems weren’t involved.
Volvo India isn’t messing about with the new XC40. The smallest SUV they sell finally completes the line-up, which includes the mid-size XC60 and the large XC90. Each one is a technology keynote in its own right, but to have this much packed into a millennial vehicle is a bit new for our market (Volvo expects its millennials to be a bit more well-heeled, obviously). The XC40 we drove bears the “D4 R-design AWD” badge, and for the most part, is fully-loaded. You get LED-everything, a panoramic sunroof for bad parenting, powered tailgate, big wheels and to top it all, it’s autonomous AF. Volvos usually come in at very competitive prices for luxury vehicles. “CBU (completely built up) cars at CKD (completely knocked down) prices” is how they put it – which means even their fully-imported vehicles are sold at the prices of locally assembled models. By that ken, we’d expect the XC40 to come in around the Rs 40 lakh mark, which is very competitive indeed.
At this point, most have learned that Volvo is, in fact, a Chinese-owned company, and judging by all the high-tech, EV-centric companies coming out of the PRC, that’s probably not a bad thing. Volvo is committed to having some form of electrification in all their new cars by 2019. In the meantime, the XC40 is all-internal combustion and is imported from Gent, Belgium, in case you were wondering. Volvo India is also expanding to 27 showrooms by year-end, so that’s another point of hesitation ruled out. It also bears mentioning that the company is doing well, growing globally and winning awards. Why all the pre-emptive defence, you ask? Because the XC40 needs your attention. It certainly commands it when you’re facing it, but all you well-heeled hipsters really need to take a look beyond the gooey-shaped Teutonic SUVs flooding the market. With the relatively decent Volvo sales network, there’s little reason not to add it to your list.
What we like: Striking design, superb interior, solid driving dynamics
What we don’t: The engine is a little on the noisy side of things
The XC40 is a solid SUV design, with the height, angles and commanding driving position you’d expect. It cuts a handsome figure, with the right amount of quirkiness to the design, but not going overboard. There’s enough clinically-clean Volvo design language here to attract the grey-haired buyer as well as the YouTube generation. Naturally, the strongest Avenger’s hammer makes an appearance in the headlamps, putting the XC40’s distinct twist on the design flourish. I drove a test car with 18-inch wheels and 235/55 profile tyres. This is a great compromise between looks and comfort, though you can also opt for 20-inches if you’re that sort of gabru.
Things get even better on the inside; everything screams ‘high-quality’. Plastics feel soft-touch, apart from the top of the door panel. The colours in our car were black/blood orange, which looked great. The seats are excellent, and their design suits the car. Even the carpet comes most of the way up the centre console/ transmission tunnel so that your knee doesn’t need to knock on bare plastic, like a pleb. The 9-inch infotainment screen, AC knob and steering wheel are shared with the higher-segment XC cars, so you won’t feel short-changed with your shorter SUV.
ON THE INSIDE: Alcantara/leather upholstery, brushed metal finishes, 9-inch touchscreen, 13-speaker Harman/Kardon audio
SAFETY: Pilot Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping, City Safety, Driver Alerts, 9 airbags
I’m going to jump ahead and talk about the autonomous systems because really, those bits are way more important than the 190 bhp/400 Nm 2-litre diesel motor that is roughly equivalent to everyone else’s. It’s the crazy computers that kept me interested. The XC40 has the best cruise control system I’ve ever used. They call it “Adaptive Cruise Control”, and it needs one button to activate – and that’s it. The car keeps a safe distance behind the car in front of you, braking and speeding up as required. Combined with lane departure assistance and something called “Smart Pilot”, the car will essentially steer itself within your lane and not crash into things, as long as you keep your hands in contact with the wheel. It’s quite an unusual experience, especially in heavy Hyderabad traffic, where I did not expect it to work. Mind you, this is not a fully autonomous car, and the systems are meant as a safety aid, but if you *are* that sort of gabru and manage to crash it, there are seven airbags (nine, if you count the rear side curtain) to ensure that you survive).
On the excellent highways around Hyderabad, it was obvious that the XC40 is built for comfort. The ride is superb, with some level of pitch, but when tested over large, unexpected bumps, it stuck to the road like glue. The motor doesn’t use an electrically-assisted turbo like the XC60, but the smaller SUV is light enough to be quick. The motor is a bit noisier than others I’ve recently driven, but keep it in a higher gear and the cabin is generally quiet. This is a great high-speed cruiser.
For passengers, things are just as nice. Visibility all-round is impressive, and the cabin feels airy. The seats are really well built (although Alcantara and this author’s tashreif seem incompatible). The rear legroom is generous for this size of the vehicle, and we don’t expect complaints. The AC could be better, but it was 43 degrees outside during my drive, so we’ll cut it some slack.
The cargo room is cleverly managed, with a full-size spare wheel, a separator to keep things from knocking into each other as well as a parcel tray that stows away perfectly into the floor. There’s nothing as inelegant as fighting with a large, plastic parcel tray in your luxury car and having it carried elsewhere to store. Naturally, the tailgate is powered, and a quick gesture with your foot is able to open and close it easily; this is possibly the most consistent hands-free tailgate I’ve used.
Before I returned to the Westin’s excellent lunch buffet, I had a brief opportunity to try out the XC40’s off-road driving modes. As with the rest of the car, they work without drama. While my chaperone, a rear-drive minivan, had to use sheer momentum and brute force to clamber up some muddy hills, I was able to switch modes and crawl up with no hassle. The 211mm ground clearance ensured that I didn’t hear a grind or scrape all day.
There’s little to dislike in the XC40. Volvo has done well to introduce a fully-loaded variant, which should do well, considering its usual aggressive pricing. The package is the USP. The only thing you should worry about is being tempted to (not) drive.
ENGINE 2.0L: 4-CYLINDER TURBO CHARGED;
POWER: 190 BHP; ACCELERATION: 7.9 SECONDS (0-100KPH)
PRICE: 40 LAKH (expected)