Honey I shrunk the COTY winner!

Inwood downsizes, but should he temper his expectations?

ALEX INWOOD

It’ how big?

Officially, the XC40 is classified as a small SUV, which puts it into the same category as rivals like the Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q2, but don’ let that arbitrary tag fool you – this is a sizeable machine. It’ easier to think visually, so consider this. Line an XC40 up next to a Volkswagen Tiguan, which is classed as a medium SUV, and you’ be hard pressed to tell which is larger. The XC40’ 2702mm wheelbase is actually longer than that of Tiguan, CX-5 and Forester, and its 460L boot trumps the Mazda’ and the Ford Escape’

Pirate spec: R

Aussies have the choice of three XC40 trim levels: Momentum, Inscription and R-Design. Our tester scores the sportier R-Design look, which adds larger 20-inch alloys (19s are available), gloss black exterior detailing on the grille, mirrors and roof racks, and a contrasting roof finished in black. Inside, the cabin gains a unique three-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles, a black headliner, sportier seats, a leather gear shifter and R-Design aluminium inlays.

VOLVO R-DESIGN

Date acquired: October 2018

Price as tested: $62,710

This month: 228km @ 11.8L/100km

Overall: 228km @ 11.8L/100km

I CAN guess what you’re thinking: Inwood has been banging on about this white Volvo for months now. Yawn. But look closer; all is not what it seems. Yep, like many other Aussies, I’ve embraced this whole ‘downsizing’ thing and swapped out the (brilliant) XC60 T8 I’ve run since its COTY win in January for its smaller brother – the box-fresh, and highly sought-after XC40.

My time in this new addition will be fleeting. It’s earmarked for Wheels online editor Ryan Lewis who’ll slip behind the wheel next month once his 3008 long-termer heads back to Peugeot HQ.

For now, though, I thought it’d be useful to share my initial thoughts on how the XC40 measures up. After all, expectations are high: concentrating the goodness of the XC60 into a smaller, funkier and more affordable package has to be a recipe for success, surely?

Just getting an XC40 is a minor miracle in itself. A combination of supply constraints and a massive underestimation of demand by Volvo Oz means that for now, there’s a six-month wait on orders. Just one powertrain is available; a 2.0L turbo four in two states of tune. Ours is the sportier T5, in R-Design trim level, which adds a smattering of upgrades inside and out (see sidebar above), with a few options that build on the $55,990 list price. They include the $2500 Lifestyle Pack (heated seats, panoramic sunroof), Adaptive Cruise Control with Pilot Assist for $2500, and an excellent 360 camera for $900.

All up, the sticker jumps to $62,710, which is a sizeable $43K saving compared with the larger XC60. And there’s plenty of core goodness to enjoy. The first thing you notice is the size. Foursquare and tall, with a chunky stance and a generous 2702mm wheelbase, the XC40 feels perfectly proportioned for a young family. The cabin is airy, the rear seat spacious, and the number of cleverly designed and thoughtful touches verges on Skoda-esque. There’s a small, removable rubbish bin in the centre console, a take-away food hook that extends from the (chilled) glovebox, and the 460-litre boot has a three-piece floor that lifts and folds to stop bags sliding around.

There’s performance to burn too. T5s deploy the same 2.0-litre petrol/eight-speed auto combo as some XC60 variants and with 185kW/350Nm on tap, performance is hothatch rapid.

Unlike the XC60, however, the smaller XC40 debuts Volvo’s all-new CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform, though there’s plenty of common DNA. The pair share the same smartphone-like infotainment system, the steering has that unique combination of being accurate and quick-witted while feeling light and a little distant, and both roll on huge wheels. In R-Design trim the XC40 boasts 20-inch hoops and it’s here that we run into the first chink in its armour. Suspension comprises struts up front with multi-links out back, and while the passive set-up is nicely poised through turns, we are keen to see what ride improvement comes with cars fitted with optional ($850) adaptive dampers.

Meanwhile, the back seat cushion is a bit firm and flat, and rear three-quarter vision is heavily impeded by that chunky C-pillar. And annoyingly, the stop-start function switches itself on with every new journey. Turning it off requires you to dive into the infotainment screen, swipe right and locate the appropriate tab.

Where the XC40 claws back ground is with its personality. Unlike the beautifully engineered and mature XC60, the XC40 majors on character and spunk. There’s plenty of visual flair and I especially like the scalloped bonnet and section on the lower door. The only bummer is this particular XC40 doesn’t have the lairy Lava Orange carpet option, which makes me think of the Peugeot 205 GTI.

So is the XC40 as convincing as our reigning COTY? First impressions are that it shares much of the fundamental virtues. Let’s see what Lewis makes of it over the next five months.

ALEX INWOOD

JAGUAR XF SPORTBRAKE 25t

Date acquired: July 2018

Price as tested: $120,000

This month: 1258km @ 10.2L/100km

Overall: 4473km @ 10.9L/100km

Fob off

I jumped out of the Jag close to home the other day to dive into the supermarket, and let my partner take over for the short run home. Minutes later, realised had the key in my pocket. Did that mean she was sitting stranded with a No Key Detected’ warning flashing, along with the Your Boyfriend is an Idiot’ icon? Actually no (but yes); it allowed her to cruise home without the key and switch off, which seems strange. Is something wrong with the warning?

Serenity status update: thumbs up

Jag wagon provides a weekend escape that really is all about the vibe

WHEN I really drill down into the whole ‘weekend away’ thing, it’s possible that I enjoy the journey more than the destination. Sure, there’s plenty about camping that I do really like – a crackling campfire, being able to delight my camp-mates with a delicious meal made from just three ingredients, then horrifying them when I eat it like that feral kid from Mad Max 2. And how great is it to have a semi-legitimate excuse to abandon all personal hygiene for a few days?

Ah, but then … eventually the reality of ants, flies, the lack of a comfortable lounge and Netflix documentaries can conspire to make me feel like an Akubra-wearing fraud.

However, with the Jag cleaned and fuelled, I was at least confident that the journey part would be great. But before a wheel is turned, there’s pleasure to be had in loading the thing – pop the electric tailgate, use the remote tabs to auto-fold the rear seats, then shovel in every conceivable bit of gear like you’re feeding the boilers on the Titanic.

The claimed seats-down cargo capacity is 1700 litres, so I don’t even bother looking to see if we are starting to run out of space – I just make a bunch of clicking and whistling noises, like a fleshy upright dolphin, and when the echo goes a bit flat, that’s it, we’re chockers and ready to roll.

It was especially gratifying to finally use the big wagon in the role for which it was born. Sure, I’ve been enjoying schlepping around the suburbs in it, and it does help soothe the traffic-snarled commute into the office, but fact is, loaded up for a road trip is where the XF Sportbrake feels most deeply entrenched in its sweet spot.

We took the brilliant Old Pacific Highway out of northern Sydney rather than the motorway, which gave me the opportunity to have a hustle and test the strength of my partner’s stomach versus inner-ear function. There’s a natural fluidity to the Jag’s dynamics that make it such an enjoyable thing to drive quickly. I rate the steering as near-flawless for this class, and the car’s containment of roll, the progressiveness of its responses and clearly telegraphed limits of grip are superb. There were no visible signs of terror from the passenger’s seat, and no projectile vomiting, so that rates as a win.

By the time we did rejoin the motorway before Gosford, the fast-fang itch had been scratched, at least temporarily, and I was okay to drop into a 115km/h cruise and appreciate the measured suspension compliance, excellent muting of road noise, leggy gearing, and the power and clarity of the Meridian audio. The British hi-fi specialist manufactures properly high-end home audio, and that expertise translates seamlessly into the car. Vocals are precisely staged across the dash area, highs are shimmering and detailed, and the bass is superb; the subwoofer delivers serious visceral slam without ever getting boomy or overbearing.

Parked at our lakeside spot, and used as a 1705kg, 380-watt Bluetooth speaker, the XF sure helped soothe some of the harsh realities of the great outdoors, and made me a (mostly) happy camper. The big cat really is becoming nicely integrated into the family.

ASH WESTERMAN

RANGE ROVER VELAR P300

Date acquired: August 2018

Price as tested: $120,020

This month: 2298km @ 9.9L/100km

Overall: 4301km @ 10.2L/100km

Fresh prints

If you’ an OCD type, you might get a little freaked out by the fingerprints left on the LCD screens. That or you’ fuss about them with a microfibre cloth after every trip. I’ pretty much the opposite of an OCD type, so they don’ bother me in the slightest, but am always intrigued by the oily pattern of prints, each telling a tale of which icons you’ hitting repeatedly. For me it’ usually idle-stop cancel and drive mode select, the Velar failing to remember which mode you were in when you parked it.

Black mirror

Velar’s tech shoots a couple of blanks

KNOW THIS. Because they control virtually everything on the vehicle, should the Touch Pro Duo screens on your Range Rover Velar go down, things go south pretty quickly. Drive modes, navigation, air conditioning settings and the ability to escape Mick Molloy on the radio are no longer within your aegis. Such a fate has befallen our Velar a couple of times this month, leaving us feeling about as hamstrung as the Newcastle Jets when the realised their marquee signing for 2014 was Emile Heskey.

On the first occasion the main screens both went blank and, upon a hard reboot, the supervision screen between the main clocks locked itself into Dynamic mode and refused to budge, no matter which drive mode the vehicle was actually set to. It’s an unfortunate blip on what has thus far been an enjoyable tenure, the Velar impressing with its dynamic sang froid. Put simply, the Velar can do almost anything you ask of it, short of only the most extreme dynamic assignments. It’s easy to see why it’s proving such a sales hit for the marque worldwide, taking up the slack against declining Evoque and Discovery Sport figures.

This month has seen another couple of thousand kays tick onto the clock, supporting Wheels photoshoots, repeatedly returning Ozito tat to Bunnings and serenely negotiating the giant gongshow that is rush hour on Melbourne’s Monash freeway. It’s easy to forget quite what a looker the Velar is, other gridlocked motorists giving it the once over as you let the adaptive cruise do its thing while you ponder the next nasal excavation exercise.

After some experimentation, I think I’ve hit upon the sweet spot for the various dynamic modes. Basically, you need to jump into the custom mode, marked by a Stig-like white helmet icon, and amp everything up to its sportiest setting aside from the dampers, which are best left in Comfort. The racier damper setting doesn’t actually afford you that much additional composure through corners but comes with a hefty penalty in terms of ride quality. The difference in steering between the disconcertingly oleaginous Comfort mode and sharp-witted Dynamic is night and day.

We’ve had some pretty tasty metal through the office in the past few weeks, filming for the forthcoming WhichCar TV show on Ten, yet the Velar hits the mark of a good long termer insofar as no matter what you’ve been flinging round a track or up a mountain road, getting back in after a long day still feels good. Screen burps aside, it’s settling in well.

ANDY ENRIGHT

Boot scootin’

Last month Peugeot sent a Micro e-kick scooter to the Wheels office, and it has been warmly embraced. A couple of studious individuals put the optional extra to use as it was intended, but for the most part it has remained an indoors plaything as feel like a complete wally riding it in public. That’ my issue. The e-kick itself is a genuinely nifty gadget and gets going at a decent clip, especially when you’ scything your way through desks putting in a hot lap of the bullpen. Two more are on the way to liven up COTY.

Pulling the Pug

Early French connection helps Ryan find romance beyond the honeymoon haze

I WENT to school with a French kid for six months almost 20 years ago. His name was Lucien. I have never forgotten Luc because as a young Aussie everything about him was weird to me when we first met.

NO BIG BUTS

The 3008’s hindquarter view is my preferred vantage, particularly the integration of lights and glass on the hatch

We were both foreign students at a secondary college in England, and that gave us a bond, even though Luc’s English was no better than my French. His family had a lefthand-drive Peugeot 504 that had come across the Channel with them, and that was the first Gallic car I ever rode in.

It seemed so much more interesting than my family’s Mazda 626, and by the time he left the school to go home I was really quite fond of that beige sedan. In fact, it’s the memory of the Pug that brought Lucien to mind.

Six months is enough time for a person, or an object, to leave a lasting impression. I’ve had six months to savour my Peugeot 3008 and, sadly, it’s now time to hand the keys back. I was wrapped up in the smoke and mirrors of its interior glamour at the outset, but the haze has since dissipated and I’ve spent weeks peering at its true colours. So the pivotal question is, do I still like what I see?

I’ve thought carefully about this, and can safely say that I do. I touched on its functional convenience last month, because utility is what made the 3008 a welcome addition early on, and it remains so, but the 3008 carries out daily duties with a layer of sophistication and elegance – especially inside – that transcends mainstream appliances. An emotional appeal comes from that, which I think plays into the Peugeot’s value equation despite the intangibility of the feelings it evokes. It’s something a Volkswagen Tiguan doesn’t have.

Some bits of tinsel haven’t added to my personal ownership experience, namely the massaging seats, and the perfumed climate control, which has three fragrances all a bit too reminiscent of the locker room at that same high school (Lynx Africa, anyone?). This car has, however, turned me on to the wonder of wireless phone charging and convinced me of Peugeot’s head-up digital dashboard.

The engine’s 121kW and 240Nm have proven sufficient, and real-world economy improved to an acceptable level after a wobble early on when it hovered as high as 11L/100km. Then there’s the excellent sixspeed auto from Japanese gurus Aisin, which could be tacit admission from Peugeot that if you can’t beat ’em, you really should join ’em.

So would I buy one? The 3008 would definitely be on my shortlist. The hiccup we had with the fuel system didn’t help to quash question marks about French reliability, but the one-off issue and the way it was dealt with haven’t left a sour taste at all.

There’s nothing the 3008 does to offend or that I haven’t been able to find a workaround for, though before taking custody I felt sure the infotainment was going to be one of those things. That was a red herring. Same goes for cabin materials quality. Aussie consumers carry emotional baggage when it comes to French cars, but the 3008 proves they can be charming, with the substance to match. If Peugeot can get bums on seats, the 3008 in particular should go some way towards combating status quo.

RYAN LEWIS

PEUGEOT GT-LINE

Date acquired: April 2018

Price as tested: $49,680

This month: 405km @ 9.8L/100km

Overall: 3694km @ 9.5L/100km

Pug n’ play

The 3008 made an unscheduled stop at the dealership some weeks back to fix an errant fuel tank breather. While there, it was treated to a batch of software updates, which have made a noticeable difference to the car. Weird service requests was getting have gone and the navigation no longer tries to send me to the nearest workshop. The active safety systems also seem more aware and effective now. Peugeot says its technicians will check for software revisions whenever a vehicle goes back for servicing.

MAZDA 6 ATENZA WAGON

Date acquired: September 2018

Price as tested: $49,128

This month: 1068km @ 9.7L/100km

Overall: 1613km @ 9.6L/100km

Pots of gold

A large portion of my commute to work is on freeways, where the fuel consumption easily dips below eight litres. Suburban roads push the usage close to 10L/100km and anything vaguely spirited blows it out past 12. Mazda’ claimed fuel consumption of 7.6L/100km has become the rainbow forever chasing but considering the (significantly porkier) CX-9 we ran a while back was averaging 11L/100km with the same turbo four-pot think the 6 is doing reasonably well.

Six appeal?

Closer to RS4 than Family Truckster

BLAME THE Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Their horrid 1979 Ford LTD is one of the most hideous examples of a wagon I’ve ever laid eyes on. Not only did it sear my retinas, it also put me off the body shape for over a decade. It wasn’t until Audi came through with the RS4 in 1999 that I paid any attention to cars of that shape. The clean design and brutal performance (mostly) had something to do with it.

Since then I have developed a soft spot for wagons and the possibility of actually owning one has become very real.

Enter the Mazda 6 Atenza I’m currently the custodian of. For a car that’s been around for almost eight years, its design is doing well to stand the test of time. The boffins at Mazda’s design studio have done an exceptional job of crafting a body that’s good to look at from all angles – in my opinion the wagon looks superior to the sedan.

Things get even better on the inside. The clean and simple design is easy on the eye and even nicer to the touch – the range of materials used are all of exceptional quality with a matching finish. There’s a sense of German influence that other Japanese manufacturers haven’t come close to yet.

One aspect that jarred with me was the central infotainment screen. At times in the past I’ve wondered why Mazda has persisted with a relatively small unit while competitors have gone to cinema-sized displays. Living with it, I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t need to be bigger – all the information needed is presented in a clever format, without redundant info that would only be a distraction. It’s a good execution of KISS – keep it simple, stupid.

The seats are the real treat in the 2018 update. Rolling on 19-inch wheels and tyres, the ride is a bit on the firm side but the seats do a great job of suppressing any spine-jarring jolts that our rubbish roads can dish out.

With Melbourne’s bipolar weather tendencies, the heating and ventilation feature in the front pews is a welcome inclusion on the Atenza’s feature list. Cold morning + toasty seat = nice fuzzy feeling.

Thus far the 6 has been a pleasure to drive day-to-day, my only gripe being with the thick A-pillars that can obscure your vision in some situations.

If you’re thinking of upgrading, Chevy Chase, please take note.

FELIPE UBILLA