You need to go back to 2009 for the last time the XC60 wasn’t the best-selling Volvo in Australia. Even then, the mid-sized SUV, in its debut year, fell only 18 units shy of toppling the country’s previous favourite, the XC90 large SUV.
Exactly a decade on and there’s a new model threatening to steal the XC60’s ‘Most Popular Volvo’ mantle. And no surprises that it’s another SUV.
The XC40 was released in early 2018 as the Swedish brand’s first compact sports utility vehicle. It contributed to a record sales year for Volvo locally, and although it finished behind the XC60 by a good margin, the first quarter of 2019 has seen the smaller SUV take a tiny lead.
Volvo Australia has tweaked the XC40 line-up since its launch. The D4 diesel variants have been dropped and inserted into the range is a T4 petrol engine, joining the more powerful T5.
A new, mid-range model has also been introduced – the Inscription that sits between the entry Momentum and flagship R-Design. And it’s the model we’re testing here, the 2019 Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription.
Accordingly, the XC40 Inscription is priced from $50,990 – $6000 above the Momentum and $5000 below the R-Design. Differences to the R-Design are mostly cosmetic with a sportier exterior and interior look, though this extends to slightly bigger alloy wheels and leather-suede sports seats.
The Inscription, however, is the only XC40 with standard metallic paint – saving $1150 – and indicative of its positioning as the posher variant. There are also four exterior colours not available on other XC40s.
Other additional features over the Momentum include an electric tailgate, keyless start (to complement keyless entry), leather-accented seats, electric adjustment for the front passenger seat (driver’s seat only on Momentum), and a cornering function for the LED headlights.
Inside, there are also trim differences, the most notable of which are the ‘Driftwood’ light-wood trim (which will make any fan of Scandinavian design feel right at home) and the unusual gear lever created by Swedish crystal company Orefors (and similar to that found in XC90 T8 models). Whether the effect is an improvement over the Momentum’s interior will be determined by buyer tastes.
Common to all XC40s is a cabin that doesn’t feel markedly dumbed down from Volvo’s bigger SUVs and that is rich in practical creativity. While the materials throughout don’t generally feel as expensive as those used in the XC60 (and its doors don’t shut with the same satisfying thunk), the XC40 retains a premium look and feel that won’t have owners looking enviously at flagship versions of mainstream SUVs.
The sufficiently sophisticated aesthetic is aided by the XC40 sharing its 9.0-inch infotainment display and 12.3-inch digital instrument display with the XC60 and XC90. These are the glamorous elements of the interior, yet the XC40 also excels at the basic job of giving you places to store stuff.
The centre console covers off the usual suspects of cupholders and usefully sized storage bin, but adds a removable mini rubbish bin. There are longer-than-average door pockets capable of holding laptops or umbrellas, a storage drawer beneath the driver’s seat, slots in the dash for cards, the glovebox features a retractable bag hook, and there’s a coin slot integrated into the passenger side of the centre console.
As a vehicle longer than your average compact SUV – 4.4m – the XC40 doesn’t feel cramped even if you’ve just jumped out of the back of an XC60. There’s plenty of space for passengers of varying sizes.
In the boot there’s a reasonable 460L of luggage capacity up to the windows, expanding to about 900L with the 60/40 rear seats folded down. It’s an extra $250 if you want the optional electric release levers.
Other practical touches are standard: a cargo floor that folds upwards in the centre so it can be positioned to act as a divider, and also reveal three shopping-bag hooks; a long elastic securing strap and an integrated hook on the side of the boot, along with a 12-volt socket. The rear seats also feature a ski port.
The Inscription is available only with Volvo’s T4 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine. While it’s shared with the Momentum, the Inscription gains all-wheel drive. The T4 produces 140kW and 300Nm, down 45kW and 50Nm on the T5 found in the R-Design variant.
You can tell the difference on the road as the T4 Inscription doesn’t feel as frisky or punchy as the T5 R-Design, while the performance gap is also confirmed by Volvo’s quotes for the respective 0–100km/h sprints: 8.5 versus 6.4 seconds.
Yet, in the context of an Inscription trim grade focused more on luxury than the sportiness of the R-Design, the engine most importantly provides good throttle response at varying speeds. Volvo’s eight-speed auto contributes to this eager progress with its ability to pick the right gear for the occasion.
The engine can get a bit vocal if pushed particularly hard, but sounds pleasant most of the time, including at higher speeds, where the T4 runs at a relaxed 1500rpm at 100km/h.
Minimal wind or tyre noise in the cabin, too. The latter is a notable improvement, with the Inscription’s 19-inch rubber quieter on urban and country roads than the R-Design’s 20-inchers.
Fantastic ride, too. The T4 Inscription gets a softer suspension tune – called Dynamic – over the T5 R-Design and its Sport chassis. And whereas the flagship XC40 rolls with a high degree of firmness, the mid-range model is more pampering with its greater suppleness.
This doesn’t translate into sloppy body control, either, while the XC40’s stability control is well calibrated, providing subtle braking interventions to help the Volvo scamper around damp corners. The steering’s lightness and accuracy can be appreciated both on winding roads and when you’re simply navigating tight city streets.
The XC40’s technology includes Road Sign Information, which can help keep speeding tickets at bay by reminding the driver, via a graphic in the instrument display, of the last signposted limit. The system mostly works, though can get confused occasionally.
Even if you evade fines, however, the XC40’s running costs are far from the sharpest in the luxury compact SUV segment.
It’s less to do with the Volvo engine’s poor efficiency and more to do with the XC40 being the heaviest vehicle in its class. The T4 Inscription, for example, weighs 1705kg, whereas most of its competitors sit a bit above or below the 1.5-tonne mark.
The trip computer on our T4 test car also suggests you can expect to use closer to 10.0L/100km when driving mainly in the suburbs.
There’s a much bigger shock for owners when it comes to servicing. Volvo’s charges look astronomical compared with the same set of rivals. Owners have a choice of a three-year servicing plan for the XC40, which costs $2165, or a five-year plan at $4030. For the same periods, Audi asks $1610 or $2590 to service a Q3. BMW and Jaguar are even cheaper with their five-year plans for their X2 and E-Pace models, respectively: $1550 and $1500.
We hope Volvo Australia can find a way to reduce its servicing charges, as for now it’s a major value blot on an otherwise excellent copybook.
Because with its practical and stylish Scando-cool interior, superb ride, great steering, strong and refined engine, and array of active safety tech, the XC40 T4 Inscription offers a smorgasbord of virtues.