A NOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER Volvo SUV claiming the top spot. This time around, few saw it coming. After the Jaguar I-Pace’s range issues saw it fall from contention at the close, prime position on the COTY podium became a fiercely contested tête-à-tête between the Volvo XC40 and the Subaru Forester. It wasn’t the done deal that many originally expected. Every year at COTY there’s an initially unfancied outsider that doesn’t draw much attention but which seems to sneak imperceptibly through the contest, and this year’s car was the Forester. Separating two very strong contenders for the COTY crown resulted in some of the most heavily knotted brows we’ve seen in years in the judging room. Ultimately, however, the Volvo’s genre-busting ingenuity was enough to see it claim a second win in a row for the Swedish marque.
BY RON MAT HIOUD AKIS
The XC40 is, in effect, half a size bigger than most of its direct competition without being significantly more expensive. Sit in an Audi Q2, a Jaguar E-Pace or a BMW X2 and they feel claustrophobic by comparison, the Volvo’s greater length, height and wheelbase doing enough to transform it from an urban bauble into genuinely credible family transport. There’s room for one six-footer to easily sit behind another, there’s stacks of interior storage, a decent 460-litre boot with an underfloor spare, and a long list of thoughtful features like flip-down headrests on the rear bench, high quality touch points, and 97 percent recycled carpeting. You won’t find a more spacious premium SUV in this particular category.
The XC40, like its big brother last year, proved a bit of a grower. After the proving ground aspect of the test, COTY felt a done deal, the Jaguar making everything else seem prehistoric. The road-test route brought the Volvo back to the fore. Call us old-fashioned if you like, but there’s still a lot to be said for a predicted-range function that isn’t prone to wild exageration. We wouldn’t go as far as to say the XC40 did a Bradbury, but as F1 commentators rarely tire of reminding us, to finish first, first you need to finish.
Judges were impressed by the XC40’s value proposition, too. Like the Forester, here was a car where you could conceivably buy an entry-level model with no options and be completely happy with what was delivered. That’s rare these days, and acts as a key point of differentiation to the Volvo’s European rivals, most of whom need a big additional outlay to really shine. Our group test in August was indicative, the XC40 wearing just $1150 worth of optional paint to win the comparo, while every other rival ladled on between $11k and $14k of residual-wilting extras.
Likewise, it’s hard to fault its safety provision. Even the base model gets seven airbags, AEB, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Rear Collision Mitigation Support works when the car is at a standstill, signalling to cars approaching too fast from the rear, and, if it thinks you are about to be rear-ended, it will tension the seatbelts and apply the brakes. Complementing that tech is Front Collision Mitigation Support that’ll automatically steer to avoid a headon between speeds of 60km/h and 140km/h. The AWD versions of the XC40 scored five ANCAP safety stars, while the frontdrive T4 versions weren’t tested.
The range-topping $56,740 T5 R-Design felt like a hot hatch on stilts, its 185kW 2.0-litre four-pot and locked-down body control making it alert and edgy, but the more malleable T4 Momentum also impressed. You’ll sacrifice drive to the rear wheels, some equipment and a stack of kilowatts, which is why it’s likely XC40 sales will top-weight, but the $44,990 XC40 T4 is upspec Holden Equinox/Kia Sportage money, yet feels several leagues removed from those bluecollar choices. It’s good to be able to offer that breadth of choice, but it did leave us wondering whether the pick of the XC40 bunch might have been the only one absent from COTY this year; the comfortable and well-equipped all-wheel-drive $50,990 T4 Inscription.
While repetition is the key to accurate vehicle testing, driving the Volvo on this familiar test route made it hard to escape the notion that the XC40 wasn’t as polished as last year’s champ; the hugely impressive XC60. Driving a Volvo SUV on the same roads made these sorts of comparisons inevitable. So was the class of ’19 a weaker cohort as a result? Not in any way. It’s unreasonable to expect a cheaper Volvo to ride with the panache of a more expensive one, and in its class, the gap between the XC40 and most of its key competitors is probably wider than is evident between an XC60 and, say, the BMW X3 or the Audi Q5.
Part of the its appeal is that it purloins so many of its bigger sibling’s interior elements. There’s an easy familiarity to the big portrait-oriented centre screen, the wheel-mounted controls and the stereo functions, but there are elements of the XC40 that aren’t quite so successful.
For some reason the adaptive cruise control system isn’t as slick, and the idle-stop is uncouth in heavy urban traffic, a road condition sure to be a regular XC40 hunting ground. Volvo has recently issued a software update in some markets that remembers your idle-stop preference when you switch the car on. Our cars didn’t have it, and required a hunt-and-peck in the infotainment system to kill it.
These petty gripes merely serve to underscore quite how much the XC40 gets right. It has already hoovered up a vast array of awards, including the European Car of the Year.
The only significant blot on the XC40’s scorecard came when the numbers were crunched and the T5’s fuel economy figure was established. Admittedly, the cars are driven enthusiastically on our test loop, but its 14.5L/100km figure raised a few eyebrows. The T4 returned a marginally more palatable 12.9L/100km. Our long-term T5 has averaged a figure closer to 11L/100km in mainly urban use, which has demonstrated to us that this 185kW all-wheel-drive SUV can be decently economical when driven with a little more circumspection.
If there is any additional spend at the bowsers, it’s partly offset by the XC40’s superior equipment count and, consequently, stronger real-world residuals. Bringing 90 percent of the XC60’s excellence to a considerably more affordable price point is the real story here, and in that regard at least, the XC40 is probably the bigger and more relevant achievement for Volvo. It forensically knocked over all comers when its scores were calculated against COTY’s five criteria.
Editor Inwood’s notes summed up what everyone was thinking: “Has there ever been a more successful company turnaround than Volvo’s recent form?” The XC40’s well-deserved win demonstrates that revitalised Volvo’s story arc still has some intriguing chapters to come.
CMA IN 60 SECONDS
All modern Volvos ride on one of two chassis set-ups. The larger models like the XC60 and XC90 sit on the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). The XC40 and other smaller versions sit on Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). Primarily a steel monocoque transverse front engine, CMA can be adapted for front- or plug-in hybrid with a tran all-wheel drive and has been future-proofed with plug capability. Every aspect of the platform’s length is customisable except for the distance between the front axle and the heel point, the vertical location position of the pedals on the floor of the cabin.
NO ELLE FAULKNER
Type 5- door hatch, seats
Boot capacity 460 tres
Weight 1631 – 1710kg
Layout front- engi (east- west), FWD/ AWD ne
Engines 1969cc 4cyl tur bo (140kW/300Nm); (185kW/350Nm)
Transmission 8- speed automati
Tyres 235/55R18 – 245/45R20
ADR81 fuel consumption 7.2 – 7.7L/100km
CO2 emissions 165 176g/km – Crash rating 5 star
PRICES $44, 990 $55, 990 –