By Jonathan Crouch
In Sweden, they design SUVs just a little differently. Take this one, Volvo's XC40, a contender that's much more than just a smaller version of the brand's larger models. It gets its own 'CMA' platform and some very distinct design to set itself apart. The result is an interesting alternative to more mainstream premium-branded compact SUVs like BMW's X1 and the Mercedes GLA. And one you might rather like. Let's check this car out as a used buy.
Prior to 2018, Volvo had never made a small SUV but it needed one, hence some new beginnings with this XC40. A Volvo should be a bit different: this one is. What was on offer here was much more than just a smaller version of the brand's larger SUVs. It got some very distinct design to set itself apart and provide a slightly unusual alternative to premium-branded family hatch-based SUVs selling in the compact 'C'-segment.
The first big XC40 update arrived in the Autumn of 2019, with the introduction of a T5 Plug-in Hybrid powertrain and an entry-level T2 version of the base three cylinder model. More significantly, at the same time Volvo announced a full-EV version, initially only available in powerful Twin Motor AWD form and sold with 'P8' badging. But hardly anyone was interested at the prices being asked, so 2020 saw the Swedish brand completely rejuvenating the combustion side of the range. The conventional T4 and T5 petrol units were updated to mild hybrid 48-volt B4 and B5 status and a more affordable T4 version of the Plug-in Hybrid powertrain arrived, all of which emboldened the brand to drop diesel power for XC40 folk.
With that sorted, Volvo turned its attention back to the fully-electric EV version, which in Autumn 2021 got re-badged as the 'Recharge Pure Electric' and at the same time, the powerful Twin Motor AWD drivetrain was joined by a more affordable front-driven version. Volvo announced a mild facelift in Spring 2022, then switched the front-driven EV version to a rear-driven format. But it's the 2018-2023-era pre-facelift XC40 models we look at here.
What You Get
The obvious way to style this car would simply have been to merely shrink the themes established with Volvo's larger SUVs. That's usually what competitors do. But British XC40 designer Ian Kettle wanted this car to be different, which is why we got this, a concept inspired by the small robots he used to watch in science fiction films. Curvy conformity is replaced by chunky cuteness with a 'transformer-like' vibe. Not everyone will like it - but then if everyone did, it wouldn't be such an interesting piece of design.
Take a seat up-front. A dose of crushing conventionality here would have been a disappointment after the extrovert exterior: fortunately, that's not what was served up in this case. Instead, you get digital dials, a dose of Swedish minimalism and door cards made of a weird felt apparently fashioned from recycled drinks bottles. There are door bins bigger than any you'll have ever seen. And the designers somehow crammed in the 9-inch portrait-style Sensus infotainment screen that had been used in larger Volvo models, framing it with unusual 'Star Wars'-style vertical vents.
In the rear, headroom's generous, even if you've got the optional panoramic glass roof fitted. The relatively lengthy wheelbase helps with legroom too. We're not so keen on the way that the angled style of the rear C-pillar might create something of a claustrophobic feel back here for younger folk; if you've children, take them along on the test drive to make sure they'll be happy here.
Finally, the boot. A power-operated tailgate was fitted on plusher versions, but you don't really need it because the tailgate's relatively light and when raised, reveals a low loading lip over which you access a cargo area rated at 460-litres. That's a bit less than you'd get in a Mercedes GLA or a BMW X1 but quite a bit more than would be provided by a Jaguar E-PACE or a Range Rover Evoque. Whatever your point of comparison, you'll struggle to find a rival that will allow you to use the boot area so practically. That's if you get a car whose original owner specified the optional 'Convenience Pack', which gives you a 12v socket along with a load protection net and which can divide the space laterally to stop your shopping from sliding around. The hinges of this divider even stand proud of its top edge, giving you hooks from which you can hang shopping bags. Neat.
Fold the rear bench forward and up to 1,328-litres of total capacity is revealed if you load to the roof. That's only 67-litres less than you'd get in Volvo's larger XC60. In the EV version, because no engine is needed beneath the clamshell bonnet, Volvo used the space to create a 'frunk', a 31-litre space that's perfect for the two provided charge leads.
What to Look For
There aren't many major issues here, other than a few electrical and software issues; go thoroughly over all the powered and infotainment functions of the car you're looking at. We've come across various powertrain and fuel system issues. And we've heard of failures with the starter motor, which can lead to noise or the engine not starting.
There are various recalls you need to know about. The automatic emergency braking system required a software update for models built after January 2019. Make sure that this was done on the car you're looking at. Models built between October 2017 and October 2018 also needed a software update for the vehicle connectivity module that sends location information to the emergency services after a collision. A small number of models built in June 2018 have an issue with lock strikers on the rear seatbacks, which means that the rear backrest might not properly remain in its upright position. A few cars built between December 2019 and February 2020 had an issue with nuts securing the brake booster: again make sure the recall was carried out if it applies.
What about the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric? Well eventually, when the battery is on its way out, you'll obviously find that it won't go as far on each charge - and when it starts to run low on charge, you'll find that the car will particularly start to struggle going uphill. If the car won't charge, it could be a problem with your home electrics (or those at the public charge point you're using). Check the charge light to make sure that electricity really is going through the charge port. And make sure there really is charge in the socket you're using to power from - plug something else into it to see - say, your 'phone. If that charges OK, it could be that your charging cable is demanding too much power, so try another power source. Another problem could be that the circuit may have tripped due to a circuit overload. Or perhaps there could be a problem with the charge cable: this needs to be cared for properly. Repeatedly driving over it (as previous owners may conceivably have done) will damage it eventually.
Make sure you do a charge-up before signing for the car you're looking at. When you do this, make sure that when you plug in to start the charge cycle you hear the charge port and the cable locking and engaging as they should; that's all part of the charger basically confirming with the car's onboard computer that everything's good to go before releasing power. But if the charging cable fails to lock as it should, then that won't happen. If there is a failure to lock, the issue could be actuator failure, caused by a blown fuse. Otherwise, it's just the usual things; look out for stone chips and alloy wheel scratches. And insist on a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2021 XC40 Recharge Pure Electric Twin Motor ex VAT) A wiper blade will cost you from about £11 to around £34. Front brake pads sit in the £67 bracket; rears will sit in the £33 bracket. Front brake discs sit in the £58 bracket; a pair of rear discs are about £87. An pollen filter is around £18-£31.
On the Road
Volvo SUVs aren't generally burdened with customer expectations of super-sharp handling dynamics. But they absolutely must ride with decorum, function with refinement and be relaxing to use. If that defines the minimum requirement here, then we'd say the XC40 slightly exceeds it, without ever really allowing any degree of driving enjoyment to get in the way of its day-to-day duties. Few segment rivals from this period manage to be much different and off hand, we can't think of any of them that ride much better than this car over poor surfaces. Tarmac tears, expansion joints and speed humps are dispatched with the kind of confidence you might more ordinarily expect from a much larger model.
All of which means that on the test drive, your first impressions will probably be quite positive. True, the steering doesn't provide much feedback, but it's nicely weighted and pleasingly direct, complementing the fact that sudden changes of direction aren't as unwelcome here as they are in some high-sided affordable SUVs. That's mainly thanks to this car's sophisticated 'Compact Modular Architecture' CMA platform, a world removed from the heavy, clunky underpinnings that previous compact Volvo models had to lug about. Engine-wise, the conventional powerplants from launch kicked off with a 1.5-litre three cylinder petrol model developing 156hp. Most buyers though, will want one of the 2.0-litre units, probably the 150hp diesel D3 because it gives you choice - front or four-wheel drive, manual or auto transmission. There's reasonable frugality too, a front-driven manual D3 variant capable of up to 58.9mpg on the combined cycle and up to 127g/km of CO2. All the other 2.0-litre models came in AWD auto form only. There are 190hp T4 petrol and D4 diesel derivatives and a top 247hp T5 flagship variant.
In 2019, a Plug-in Hybrid T4 model was launched (with a lower-powered T4 Plug-in variant joining it the following year). 2020 saw the Swedish brand completely rejuvenating the combustion side of the range. The conventional T4 and T5 petrol units were updated to mild hybrid 48-volt B4 and B5 status and a more affordable T4 version of the Plug-in Hybrid powertrain arrived, all of which emboldened the brand to drop diesel power for XC40 folk.
If you'd prefer the EV variant, the AWD version of this XC40, the Recharge Pure Electric, uses the larger 78kWh battery pack and twin electric motor set-up (one on each axle) that by 2020 we had already seen on the top version of the extremely rapid Polestar 2 EV sports saloon. There's 408hp on tap (yes, you heard that right), which seems like it'd be rather excessive for the needs of most likely customers. Which is probably why Volvo also offered lower-powered front driven versions of this Pure Electric Recharge model. But in the AWD variant, you have to have the gutsiest powerpack, which sprints you to 62mph from rest in just 4.9s with more torque than you'd get in a Nissan GT-R super sports car - 660Nm of it, at which point, the motor's spinning at a heady 14,000rpm.
The driving range on offer isn't quite what you'd get from that equivalent Polestar 2 - or some notable rivals. With earlier XC40 Recharge Pure Electric Twin Motor models, Volvo quoted a best of up to 270 miles, which was 32 miles less than the original dual motor Polestar 2's figure, that deficit being down to this XC40's boxier shape. The Single Motor 69kWh version was rated at up to 264 miles in its earliest form. To get the claimed mileages, you'll need to engage what the Swedish maker calls 'One Pedal Drive', selectable from the 'Driving' menu provided on the centre-dash screen. This dramatically increases the regenerative braking effect when you come off the throttle, to the point where, as advertised, the brake pedal will hardly ever be needed. As for charging, well a 0-80% charge can take just 40 minutes using a 150kW DC fast charger. A full charge using the onboard AC charger plugged into your garage wallbox will take 8 hours.
Volvo clearly felt that to break into the premium brand compact SUV segment, it had to offer something distinctively different to its German rivals, so that's exactly what we got with this XC40. Not everyone will like the looks but there's no doubt that they helped the company to target buyers who would never previously have considered a Volvo.
And in summary? Well most of the other cars in this segment from this period are merely smaller versions of existing models and collectively offer much the same kind of confection served up in only slightly different ways. In selecting between them, your decision will probably come down to things like price and spec. In contrast, you'd choose an XC40 because you really wanted to - because it offered something you simply couldn't get elsewhere. Something. a bit more unique when it comes to this class of car. If that's what you want, Volvo thinks it has a contender that'll interest you very much.