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Thursday, August 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Volvo slips its features-rich XC40 crossover into the subcompact luxury segment

Volvo continues to release intriguing new products. This time, it’s the company’s first-ever subcompact crossover.

The all-new 2019 XC40 slips into a segment that emerged, post-recession, when automakers discovered buyers would pay a premium for little rigs with luxury chops.

Like the other builders already at play in the segment, Volvo has its eye on a cohort of youngish buyers with a penchant for the better things.

Playful, upscale vibe 

The XC40 ($33,200) delivers. Inside and out, it presents a playful, upscale vibe.

Its floating roofline, black-over-white color scheme and thick rear-window pillar lent our tester a sporting air.   

The XC40’s functional and features-rich cabin bears the upscale imprint of its larger and speedier stablemates. There are more plastics and less stitched upholstery here than in say, the S60 sedan we recently reviewed, but the same understated Scandinavian esthetic holds.

Volvo’s powerful and elegant Sensus infotainment system, with its unique, tablet-style touchscreen controller, is here. It’s flanked by floating vents and, depending on trim level, a band of textured metallic or wood trim. 

Its elegant appearance aside, Sensus remains a challenge, with too many functions buried too deeply in menus and submenu buttons that are too small to be comfortably used while driving. 

Orange carpets somehow work

Shortcut buttons for the heated seats and heated steering wheel help, though, as do the large knobs and switches that manage audio-system functions.  

The two lower trims — Momentum and R-Design ($35,700) — are eligible for orange carpets and door panel trim, an exuberant touch that somehow works. Those trims also get the metallic dashboard trim, while the top-level Inscription ($37,750) gets driftwood inlays and a shift knob fashioned of Orrefors crystal. 

The XC40’s upright, boxy stance makes for a light and airy cabin that feels larger than it is. Even larger drivers should be able to make themselves comfortable up front and the second-row seats offer abundant legroom and headroom, though the upright seatbacks may limit how long they’ll be happy back there.

Segment-leading towing capacity 

All XC40s are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes either 184 or 248 horsepower, called T4 and T5 respectively. Power is routed to the front wheels — AWD is available — via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

T5 acceleration is brisk  — 0-60 comes up in 6.3 seconds — and the automatic makes quick, clean shifts. The XC40’s 3500-pound towing capacity leads the segment.

The engine grows buzzy under hard acceleration, though well within the margins of acceptability. At cruising speeds, engine noise diminishes and at highway speeds, wind and road noise are well controlled.

The fuel-saving engine stop/start system engages with a noticeable shudder but can be overridden.

R-Design quick and responsive

We tested a AWD version of the T5 R-Design. Its sport-tuned suspension and low-profile 19-inch wheels produced quick responses and minimal body lean in corners, but occasionally grew jittery over broken surfaces. 

Most drivers will likely prefer the gentler settings of the Momentum and Inscription trims. Ride quality improves without significant degradation of handling characteristics. 

The base Momentum is fitted with leather upholstery; LED headlights, with automatic high-beam control; automatic wipers; automatic climate control; keyless ignition; a power-adjustable driver seat; driver-seat memory settings; a power liftgate and ambient interior lighting.

Tech highlights include a 9-inch touchscreen, a configurable gauge-cluster display, three USB ports (two in front, one USB-C in back), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a Wi-Fi hotspot and an eight-speaker audio system with HD and satellite radio.

Losing the dull

Standard safety features include a rearview camera, lane-departure warning and mitigation, and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. 
Our R-Design tester brought navigation, paddle shifters, the upgraded suspension and assorted cosmetic touches. 

The $900 Premium package added adaptive cruise, with semi-autonomous driving mode; a wireless smartphone charging pad; power-folding rear seatbacks and a folding cargo floor with shopping bag hooks.

Volvo has turned a series of ownership crises into opportunity. Once known for building cars that were safe, reliable and, well, dull, it has jettisoned the sobriety for fun and elegance. The XC40 delivers the message to a youthful new audience.

Questions or comments? Contact Don at

Volvo is not currently represented by a Spokane-area dealership. The nearest outlet is in Bellevue, though maintenance and warranty service can be handled here.

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
Vehicle base price: $33,200
Trim level base price: $35,200
As tested: $45,935 (includes destination and handling)
Options included R-Design Package; Premium Package; Advanced Package; heated front seats and steering wheel; metallic paint; panoramic sunroof; Lava carpet, console and door panels; 20-inch 5-double spoke matt black wheels; Harmon Kardon premium audio
Tow rating: 3500 pounds
EPA rating: 26 combined/23 city/31 highway
Premium fuel specified

Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.