2019 Volvo XC40 review: Like and subscribe

  • Engine Turbocharged, 4 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain All Wheel, All Wheel Drive
  • MPG 26 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type SUVs

Roadshow Editors' Rating

8.5 Overall
  • Performance 8
  • Features 9.5
  • Design 9.5
  • Media 6.5

The Good It’s fun to look at and lovely to drive. It’s everything we love about the larger XC60 in a smaller package.

The Bad Sensus infotainment continues to be a buggy experience. Fuel economy is pretty dismal for a small SUV, as well.

The Bottom Line The compact Volvo XC40 genuinely feels premium. And with its Care by Volvo subscription service, it might attract a new set of owners.

Volvo is absolutely knocking it out of the park these days. Sure, the Swedish company's wares have long been objects of car-reviewer affection, but this latest generation of products -- kicked off in 2015 with the XC90 -- is particularly impressive. And this new XC40 might just be the best one yet.

That's because, despite its smaller size and lower price, the XC40 retains all of the quality and luxury we've come to expect from Volvo's larger 90- and 60-series cars. While other luxury manufacturers struggle to inject a truly premium feeling into their smallest offerings, with the XC40, Volvo has the formula nailed.

But the most important aspect of the XC40 could actually be how you buy it. With the introduction of this small SUV, Volvo is also launching its Care by Volvo subscription service, bundling a car and its maintenance and insurance costs into one flat monthly fee. And with a package as lovely as Volvo's new XC40, there are plenty of reasons to, as YouTubers say, like and subscribe.

Smooth operator

The XC40 is the first product to launch on Volvo's Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). In the same way that the company's larger SPA platform underpins everything from the V60 to XC90, CMA will form the basis for a whole new crop of compact Volvo (and Polestar) models. It's a strong, solid foundation on which to build, and one that's already set up for future electrification, be it plug-in hybrid or full EV.

All US-spec 2019 XC40s use Volvo's T5 AWD powertrain. That means there's a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 engine under the hood, with 248 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The T5 engine has more than enough power to move the XC40 at a spirited pace, with Volvo estimating a 6.2-second 0-60 mph sprint.

Maximum torque comes on strong right from 1,800 rpm, and there's always plenty of power available without having to dig deep into the throttle. The transmission is quick to downshift and mostly imperceptible in action, but I do notice some occasional harsh upshifts, especially moving from first gear to second. I'm also not a fan of Volvo's stop-start tech, which can be coarse and noticeable in operation.

The large 20-inch wheels of this R-Design model don't ruin the XC40's superb ride quality.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

In addition to the usual Comfort, Eco and Dynamic modes, the XC40 has an Individual setting where you can adjust not only the steering and powertrain characteristics, but the weight of the brake pedal as well. There's an Off-Road setting, too, but I don't really know why.

Overall, the Volvo is really nice to drive. Even on 20-inch R-Design wheels, the XC40 soaks up pavement imperfections on pockmarked roads -- something I can't always say about Volvo's larger SPA-platform cars. The steering has light but direct action, but lacks any real sense of communication with the front wheels. However, even when pushed into dynamic territory outside its comfort zone, the XC40 doesn't fall apart. There's very little in the way of body roll, with weight transferring progressively in fore-aft and side-to-side transitions. The slightly more nimble BMW X2 will probably out-handle the Volvo, for whatever that's worth. But in terms of overall ride refinement and stability, the XC40 is my pick among compact luxury crossovers.

The XC40 is estimated to return decent (if unremarkable) fuel economy numbers: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. Problem is, I'm not getting anything close to that. During a week of scooting around Los Angeles, I'm seeing closer to 22 mpg combined, which is horrible. Executive Editor Chris Paukert didn't do much better during his recent time with an XC40 Momentum model in Detroit, either. He observed just under 24 mpg, mostly under freeway driving. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

The XC40 R-Design gets a contrasting black roof. If you want the optional white roof, you have to stick with the Momentum trim.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Family resemblance

While Volvo's 60- and 90-series models kind of look like Russian doll clones of one another, the XC40 has a design that's familiar, yet different. Robin Page, Volvo's senior vice president of design, says the XC40 is more of a "cousin" to the 60/90 cars than an outright sibling. The family resemblance is clear, but with its chunky elements and heavily sculpted body sides, the XC40 has a style all its own.

It looks great, and everyone I talk to agrees. The Crystal White car you see in the photos is the R-Design model, with its black roof and blacked-out exterior trim; the video above shows a Momentum trim in Amazon Blue. Honestly, I can't decide which one I like more. The Momentum earns brownie points for its available white roof or single-color scheme, and you can fit 19- or 20-inch wheels in place of the base 18-inch rollers. A top-shelf Inscription model is available, too, with a really rich color palette, but sadly, no contrasting roof options.

Not only do these lava orange carpets look awesome, they're made from 90 percent recycled plastic. Sadly, they're only available on the R-Design model.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Momentum and Inscription trims get full leather seating surfaces, but the R-Design gets suede seat inserts. The R-Design can also be optioned with the supercool orange lava interior accents on the floor carpets, door trim and transmission tunnel -- a material which, no matter the color, is made from 90 percent recycled plastic. Regardless of trim, the XC40 is incredibly well appointed and this is one of its biggest advantages over the competitive set. Where a GLA250 really feels like a bargain Mercedes, the XC40 feels as premium and luxurious as any other Volvo.

The XC40's interior has a much stronger resemblance to Volvo's other cars, but not without a few key differences. In addition to the aforementioned orange carpets, the XC40 has a number of model-specific decorative inlays, including the modern "Aluminum Cutting Edge" pattern seen on the R-Design tester, or the really beautiful driftwood accents found in the Inscription. There's a wireless charging pad in the open storage space ahead of the gear shifter, and the center console behind it is specifically designed to serve as a trash bin, or hold a box of facial tissue.

Four full-size adults will fit in the XC40 without issue. The Volvo's upright, boxy shape means there's ample headroom, and rear-seat legroom is only an issue for folks of 95th-percentile height. That utilitarian shape means there's 20.7 cubic feet of space behind the second row, which, while still pretty darn compact, makes the XC40 much more capacious than the Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA. Fold the seats and the XC40 offers 47.2 cubic feet of space, which is outshone by not only the Q3 (50.3 cubic feet), but the huge-inside BMW X1 (58.7 cubic feet), as well.

Volvo's 9-inch Sensus infotainment display is the focal point of the XC40's cabin.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Good tech, bad tech

Every XC40 comes standard with a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. It's not as feature-rich as Audi's Virtual Cockpit, but still has a bright, crisp appearance, with a driver-configurable center screen that can show navigation, trip information, vehicle data, media information and more. Every XC40 also comes standard with a 9-inch, vertically oriented Sensus infotainment display in the center console -- but, well, that's not so great.

Now playing: Watch this: Volvo Sensus Connect and Navigation in the 2019 XC40

Don't get me wrong, Sensus has an incredibly rich feature set, and I love the overall design. The four-panel home screen cleanly displays all the information you'd want while on the go, and the way you swipe through menus like you would an iPad ($330 at Back Market) is very intuitive and easy to understand. But because the menus themselves are poorly laid out, it's often difficult to find adjustment screens for individual vehicle settings. I've tested Volvo's Sensus system in several cars over the past few years and still can't seem to master it.

But the worst problem of all is the slow processor. Response times are incredibly laggy, especially at startup. Try to do too much right after turning on the car, and Sensus will freak out, freeze and crash. I'm not asking it to do anything crazy, either -- on two separate instances, trying to input an address into the navigation system caused the system to crash. Turning on the seat heaters or adjusting the climate control is often a slow process. I appreciate the clean design of the buttons and volume knob below the screen, but a redundant set of climate controls would be great, and would help avoid Sensus frustration.  

The Sensus system looks pretty, but it's incredibly slow to respond and difficult to navigate.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Volvo is known for its extensive suite of vehicle safety systems, and the XC40 comes standard with a huge list of driver-assistance tech. Automatic collision braking, City Safety collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, oncoming lane mitigation, rear collision warning, road sign recognition, runoff mitigation and whiplash protection are standard on all XC40s. The only available safety options are active bending lights, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and Volvo's semiautonomous Pilot Assist, which gives you adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality and steering support. The only minor annoyance with any of these systems is the City Safety system, which seems to be a bit too proactive in its reaction. Better safe than sorry, I guess.

A Volvo designer once told me the XC40's fascia is meant to mimic that of a "cute little robot."

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

How I'd spec it

Much as I love the lava orange carpets of the R-Design or the ultrapremium materials of the Inscription, the truth is, I'd choose an XC40 Momentum over both of 'em. All XC40 models come standard with a ton of features, so choosing the base model gives you more wiggle room on the options sheet.

So, I'll start with a $35,200 T5 Momentum in Amazon Blue, and then I'll add the contrasting white roof ($300) and 19-inch wheels ($800). For options, I'll want the Multimedia Package ($1,375) mostly for the Harman Kardon premium audio system, the Vision Package ($1,100) for the blind-spot monitoring and parking assist, the Advanced Package ($995) for the active LED front lighting and, finally, the heated front seats and steering wheel ($750, bundled together). Throw in a panoramic moonroof for $1,200, and I'm looking at an XC40 that's $41,515, including $995 for destination. That's a few grand less than my roughly $46,000 R-Design tester, but I don't feel like I'm missing anything I'd really want.

If you want an XC40 through the all-inclusive Care by Volvo subscription service, an R-Design model like this will cost $700 per month.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

A new way to buy

Through the Care by Volvo subscription service, you can choose from two nicely equipped XC40 models. For $600 per month, you can have an XC40 Momentum in any color you want with 19-inch wheels, and features like heated seats, a heated steering wheel, panoramic moonroof, Pilot Assist and blind-spot monitoring. Need a bit more lux in your life? Subscribe to an XC40 R-Design for $700 a month, with all the aforementioned equipment, the model-specific black exterior trim and 20-inch wheels. The XC40 Inscription is not currently available through Care by Volvo.

While you can still get your hands on an XC40 through the traditional buying and leasing methods, I can absolutely see Care by Volvo appealing to folks who want an all-in-one approach to car ownership, all of which can be handled online or through a smartphone app. Volvo will soon roll out Care by Volvo for its entire model range, and Polestar will get a similar service when it launches next year.

The XC40 is a premium compact crossover without compromise (assuming your fuel mileage is better than mine). It's my favorite of the bunch, a nicely executed luxury SUV that doesn't just feel like a smaller, watered-down version of its more expensive family members. And that's a formula I'll happily subscribe to.

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