A few years ago, the Range Rover Evoque was the compact SUV that everyone wanted to be seen in. It was a relatively affordable premium off-roader with a Range Rover badge, yet without the huge running costs or anti-social footprint of the ‘real deal’.
The Evoque is getting old now, but sister brand Jaguar has introduced its E-Pace in a bid to keep all those fashionable young buyers within the family. If you don’t insist on buying British, there’s the usual competition from the Germans, as well as an appealing new leftfield alternative in the form of the Volvo XC40. A Volvo competing with the likes of the Evoque?
This isn’t the first trendy car to come out of Volvo in recent years. First, there was the brilliant XC90, which genuinely rivalled the full-size Range Rover. Then there was the slightly smaller XC60, which took on the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. The XC40 is smaller again, an all-new model to rival the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and, of course, the Jaguar E-Pace and Range Rover Evoque.
Volvo is keen to make this very clear; the XC40 definitely isn’t a crossover. It’s a proper SUV, says the Chinese-owned Swedish car firm. And with that, it brings extra off-road ability, improved safety and more practicality. It manages to provide all that without being boring, however. While it clearly looks like a Volvo from the modern Geely era, it also doesn’t appear to be a photocopied XC60 or XC90.
The interior is masterful, too, with a modern, upmarket feel that’s much more interesting than you’d find in any German car. You can even spec it with orange carpets. And it’s practical. There are clever storage features everywhere, from the fold-out curry hook to the parking ticket bin in the centre console. The rear seats fold entirely flat, leaving a big boot for transporting bulky items.
There’s a hybrid version on its way, and talk of an all-electric model, which could make it the perfect city hack
The only negative is the uninspiring driving experience. Enthusiastic drivers are better catered for by the E-Pace, but who buys a car like this to drive with gusto? The XC40 is refined, with the noise of the current petrol and diesel engines only becoming intrusive in ‘Dynamic’ mode. There’s a hybrid version on its way, and talk of an all-electric model, which could make it the perfect city hack.
If you live within the M25, Volvo is offering a clever new way of ‘owning’ an XC40. From £629 per month, with no deposit, you can drive an XC40 with all running costs included – including insurance, tax and maintenance. All you need to do is put fuel in it.
And if you want to swap to another Volvo for up to 14 days a year, you can do so free-of-charge. It’s an expensive way of having a new XC40 on the driveway, especially as finance rates are expected to be competitive, but it could make sense as a hassle-free way to run a car.
Is Volvo’s entry into this important segment a credible one? Well, it’s more interesting than many of its rivals, while also offering good value, thanks to a generous amount of equipment as standard. While not exciting to drive, it feels safe, and offers plenty of space for the family. It could even be next year’s must-have SUV.
Andrew Brady writes for motoringresearch.com