Volvo's big gamble pays off with little XC40 SUV

Trying to buy a compact luxury crossover is, typically, an exercise in seeing how much abuse your wallet and spine can handle.

A majority of them ride like they have rocks for dampers, and while a low base price might be appealing, most of the good stuff is hidden behind packages costing thousands of dollars -- unless you like driving around in vinyl-seated penalty boxes that are only good for the badge they carry.

In a segment dominated by the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class -- all of which fall prey to the misdeeds I mentioned -- the 2019 Volvo XC40 is the best kind of kick in the pants. The XC40 packs a solid amount of standard equipment at an equally solid base price, and it's quite nice to drive. Hell, you can even buy one like you would a Netflix account. If this doesn't get the others to step their collective game up, nothing will, which is just as good for Volvo.

Easy on the eyes and the tuchus

Cars take a long time to develop, and despite the XC40 starting its life back in 2013, the design looks fresh. It falls right in line with the XC60 and XC90 without looking derivative. The clamshell hood is a nice touch, and the side of the car is welcome with its lack of a strong shoulder line, which can make SUVs look taller than they need to be. The proportions are right. And since the track is wider in the back, it looks beefy without breaking away from the measurements that keep it in the compact class.

The story is the same inside -- it's similar to Volvo's more expensive models, without feeling like a carbon copy. The dashboard uses horizontal lines to emphasize width, as the other new Volvos do, but the company put less attention (and, therefore, money) into whatever open-pore wood trim looks hot in 2017, opting for simpler geometric designs that keep costs lower, allowing the company to spend more on things that matter -- like the seats.

One of the first things you'll notice is that the XC40 comes standard with leather seats -- not some mediocre vinyl, but actual leather. It feels nicer than anything the competition offers at a starting price in the low $30,000 range, and it looks nicer, too. Sure, there's some hard plastic around the center console and on the steering wheel, but it's rarely where your hand will fall, and it's still nicer than the mottled soft-plastic weirdness that Germans love to toss into their less expensive offerings.

The most interesting bit of the XC40's interior, though, is the sheer number of available storage spots. Volvo rejiggered the door panels, removing the speaker so that the pocket can accommodate an entire laptop. There's a removable wastebasket in the center console and a flip-out hook on the glove compartment to hold purses or take-out bags. And the floor of the cargo area can be folded upward to help hold groceries in place. It's all quite clever.

Cheap leather often feels, well, cheap. Not this stuff, though.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Best ride in the segment

Aesthetics are far more subjective than ride and powertrain quality, but the Volvo is not lacking for either of these things. At launch in early 2018, the XC40 will be offered with just one engine -- the T5, a 248-horsepower turbocharged I4, mated to standard all-wheel drive. A cheaper, 185-hp I4 will arrive later on with front-wheel drive, but on our limited drive route, we only had access to the T5 variant, so that's all I can speak to for now.

Volvo has never been one to craft a quality engine note, and that continues here. The sound is fine, but it's a little buzzy at full clip and isn't terribly attractive. But what the powertrain lacks in aural quality, it more than makes up for in actual quality. The T5 four-banger pulls smoothly, with indiscernible turbo lag and solid shifting from the eight-speed automatic. The only real drawback, aside from the sound, is that the stop-start system is a little harsh when the engine kicks back to life.

The cabin is impressively isolated compared to its competitors. There's only a bit of road noise, which I attribute to my tester's 20-inch wheels and thin tires. The Pirelli P-Zero summer tires we rode on won't be offered in the US -- we'll get more sensible all-seasons instead -- so we'll have to reassess the car with its US-spec tires to really see how the noise is.

Speaking of compliance, the standard dampers do a good job of soaking up the road. Yes, it's an inexpensive crossover, and as such, there's a bit of harshness over seriously heavy bumps, but for the most part, body roll is limited and the car doesn't wallow its way down the road. Some of this is due to the R-Design's sportier setup compared to the Momentum trim -- the dampers and springs are stiffer, and the sway bar is thicker -- but it'll take some time in that trim to really suss out the differences.

Techy goodness

If you want to talk about the XC40's excellent complement of standard equipment, you have to start where most buyers will -- the massive, vertically oriented touchscreen standing front and center. The 9-inch Sensus Connect infotainment system is standard on all trims, and although navigation isn't standard, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are. A 12-inch gauge cluster screen is standard on all trims, too.

Volvo is also doing its part to help make keys a thing of the past. Owners will be able to let others access their XC40 with a smartphone-based digital key. It relies on the Volvo On Call connected service, but thankfully, you get a four-year trial period when you purchase the car. There's also an available 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot for connectivity on the go.

The level of standard equipment on the XC40 is like flying Emirates when every other automaker is closer to Spirit.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Like and... subscribe?

While you can purchase or lease the car outright, just like you would any other -- the T4 Momentum starts at $33,200, going up to $37,700 for a T5 R-Design -- perhaps the most interesting part of the XC40 is its new subscription service, Care by Volvo.

Starting at $600 per month, you can sign up for a 12- or 24-month subscription that puts a T5 AWD Momentum in your driveway ($700 per month for T5 R-Design). The cars come well equipped with a couple different options packages, and the price covers both maintenance and insurance through Liberty Mutual. It doesn't include tax and title fees, and there's a $500 refundable deposit, though, so don't think you're walking away from this for just the subscription price. At the end of your term, you can start a new subscription and get another new car, or you can choose to buy your car like you would at the end of a lease.

XC40s won't hit dealers until March, and Volvo is still finalizing its contract, so we're not sure what circumstances, if any, would nullify the contract. We're trying to get our hands on a copy of the contract as early as possible, just to see how specific the fine print gets, but if you live your life one subscription at a time, Care by Volvo could make your auto-related life a bit easier.

It's hard to make an expensive cheap car, but the XC40 pulls it off. With a sensible mix of standard and optional equipment, and styling both inside and out that feels more premium than the competition, the XC40 is ready to take the compact SUV segment by storm. If you aren't so attached to badge recognition that you're willing to think outside the box, investigating this car should be at the top of your to-do list.

Editor's Note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel and hotel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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