Volvo Cars registered record sales in 2018, making it Australia’s fastest-growing luxury brand. That was with a showroom comprising 10 vehicles, yet the Swedish brand expects to sell more models in 2019 with just four vehicles after a major culling process.
Gone from local (though not most overseas) showrooms are the S90 large sedan, V40 hatchback and its higher-riding twin, the V40 Cross Country. The S60 and V60 mid-sized sedan and wagon have also disappeared, with only the former confirmed to arrive in next-generation form in late 2019.
That leaves the V90 Cross Country wagon and a triplet of SUVs in what is believed to be the smallest Volvo product line-up in any market. Well, minimalism is the Scandinavian way.
Yet, Volvo Car Australia’s decision to focus heavily on SUVs is quite rational if you look at the company’s 2018 sales results. The XC90, XC60 and XC40 – large, medium and compact in size order – accounted for nearly 85 per cent of the 6693 models sold overall.
And it wasn’t a full year for the newbie XC40.
To find out how the Swedish brand is managing to lure buyers, we decided to do a Range Review with a difference – one that looks at Volvo’s full line-up of SUVs to find out what makes them similar… And what makes them different.
The second-generation XC90 released in 2015 was quite the departure from the original 2002 model, which looked very much like an XC70 that had its pants (and roof height) pulled up. Still upright in stance but managing to successfully merge elegance and muscularity more effectively, the latest XC90 set the template for Volvo’s current design language.
The second-generation XC60, which debuted in 2017, looks like a sharpened evolution of its predecessor, with a clear relation to the XC90 yet with more curves – notably for the wheel arches and roofline.
Volvo’s designers, however, got quite radical when it came to the company’s first compact SUV, the XC40. There’s a clear inspiration from the rival Range Rover Evoque, notably the clamshell bonnet, while the most distinctive element is the window line that kicks up sharply at the rear.
Neat detail touches include a rubber Swedish flag embedded into the front guard (Momentum and R-Design models) and the trim-grade name that’s inscribed into the rear pillar.
And our XC40 test car is even called Inscription. This mid-range model is pitched as the posher version, so is available only in a choice of single body colours. Opt for the base Momentum or range-topping R-Design and, in a nod to the younger-than-average Volvo customer the XC40 aims to attract, you have Volvo’s most customisable SUV with dual-tone paint jobs.
The entry Momentum is available in solid colours or an optional white roof that can be paired with a grey, red or black body. The range-topping R-Design comes with a black roof as standard, which can be mixed with various colours – including black if you’re looking for a Swedish Mafia effect.
So, no Russian-doll design approach here – or ‘bricks’; just three SUVs sharing obvious design DNA while also forging their own distinct styling paths.
Also, clear size differentiation with the XC40 sitting at 4.4m long, the XC60 at close to 4.7m, and the XC90 at almost 5m.
Pricing and equipment
The XC40’s price range spans $44,990 to $55,990. The mid-sized XC60 starts from $61,990 and ends at $92,990. Then you have the flagship XC90 priced between $93,990 and $124,990 (or $174,990 if you include the four-seater executive version called Excellence).
You may have spotted a theme there: there’s no price overlap whatsoever between the three SUVs. That’s no coincidence, even if there’s still potential for cannibalisation with a buyer, for example, deciding they might prefer to compromise on features and enjoy a bigger SUV by spending an extra $6000 to get into an entry-level XC60 over a top-of-the-line XC40.
Volvo consistently offers three trim grades across its SUVs: Momentum, Inscription and R-Design. You can essentially interpret these, in order, as ‘base luxury’, ‘fancier luxury’ and ‘sportier luxury’.
Our mid-range XC40 Inscription test car is joined by XC60 and XC90 test cars in R-Design spec.
PRICING AND EQUIPMENT: XC40
Momentum gives buyers able to afford only the entry XC40 a good level of equipment.
Standard features include dual-zone climate, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, keyless start, fog lights, LED headlights, driving modes, 18-inch alloy wheels, 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, digital radio, smartphone integration and rain-sensing wipers.
For safety, there’s the pioneering City Safety autonomous emergency braking system that can detect pedestrians, cyclists and large animals, blind-spot monitoring, collision warning, front/rear sensors, fatigue monitoring, lane-keep assist and speed-limit notification.
Key additions for the Inscription variant, aside from trim variations, include leather-accented seats, power adjustment for both front seats, auto tailgate, keyless entry, metallic paint (which isn’t standard on the more expensive R-Design), 19-inch alloy wheels, and all-wheel drive.
R-Design is sportier inside and out with the likes of leather accent and nubuck sports seats, paddle-shift levers, and 20-inch alloys. It also sits on a stiffer suspension. It also exclusively uses a more powerful turbo petrol engine (with all-wheel drive).
PRICING AND EQUIPMENT: XC60
Again, while we might suggest there are options that could be standard on all XC60s (metallic paint, power rear-seat fold, for example), even the Momentum base model offers a healthy list of inclusions.
Every XC60 comes with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, 360-degree camera, front/rear sensors, semi-automatic parking, rain sensor, keyless entry/start, auto tailgate, leather-accent upholstery, navigation, digital radio, smartphone integration, LED headlights, 19-inch alloy wheels, and the same infotainment and driver displays as the XC40.
Inscription’s key extras are a head-up display, four-zone climate control, and 20-inch alloy wheels, while the R-Design sits on 21-inch wheels and adds paddle-shift levers, R-Design seats and sportier exterior/interior trim elements.
R-Design models also employ the choice of more powerful diesel or petrol engines over the lower trim grades.
PRICING AND EQUIPMENT: XC90
Ignoring the executive-focused XC90 Excellence, the trim-grade line-up remains consistent here: Momentum, Inscription and R-Design.
Every XC90 presents the same line-up of safety and convenience technology as the XC60.
Main differences? Four-zone climate and head-up display are standard even on the Momentum, the XC90 Inscription gains heated front seats (as does R-Design) and perforated Nappa leather upholstery over the XC60 Inscription, and the T8 R-Design features four-zone climate whereas it’s missing on the equivalent XC60. And you get an extra row of seats, of course.
Strangely, the alarm system that’s standard on the XC60 is a $950 option on the XC90.
Each Volvo SUV provides an assortment of individual options as well as various option packs.
Interior design and quality
No shocks here. The bigger the Volvo SUV you pick, the more interior space you get.
At 4.4m, though, the XC40 is certainly not one of the most compact ‘compact SUVs’, and the benefit is ample space for passengers. A six-foot occupant, for example, can sit behind someone of equal height in a front seat without complaining about cramped knee space.
Rear headroom, in fact, is a bit more generous than it is in the XC60’s back seat.
The XC40 interior’s headline act, however, is how it stores things. With the traditional lower-door speakers traded for a single, horizontal speaker on top of the dash (with other supplementary speakers), the XC40 provides what may just be the longest door pocket in the industry. Forget tablets – you’ll fit large laptops in there, or other longer items, without trouble.
The glovebox features a retractable hook on which to rest bag handles, and the passenger side of the centre console integrates a slot for coins. There’s a removable waste bin ahead of the large console bin and a pull-out drawer can be found under the driver’s seat. And for the all-important storage of a smartphone, there’s a generously sized tray complete with wireless charging.
While Volvo’s bigger SUVs are obvious steps up in interior quality (including doors that shut with a more satisfying sound), the XC40 does a good job of masking the fact its cabin was inevitably produced on a lower budget.
The R-Design model is even available with funky orange carpet trim, made predominantly from recycled plastic bottles, as a no-cost option. It’s also standard with suede/leather R-Design seats whereas the Inscription’s upholstery is leather-accented.
Inscription also features classic Scandinavian light wood trim inserts, and a crystal gear lever that is unlikely to be to everyone’s taste.
You sit a bit higher again in the XC60 and there’s an immediate sense of some extra front-cabin space over the XC40. And an even stronger hint of luxury. The majority of the XC60’s materials and plastics are soft not just in the upper and middle areas of the cabin, but also the deeper parts. That’s not something you can say about most mid-sized luxury SUVs, including the BMW X3 and Lexus NX.
Material quality is complemented by attentive details such as the metallic door handles, knurled-metal controls for the driver modes and engine on/off, and the Swedish flag etched into the wavy silver ‘metal mesh’ dash trim that ‘cups’ the side air vents and central portrait touchscreen. There’s also stylish functionality with the long centre-console storage section featuring twin sliding covers, while the console bin is a good size for wallets, sunnies and smartphones. Long and wide door pockets, too.
We mentioned the XC60 has slightly less rear headroom than the XC40 but it’s still ample, and there’s plenty of space for knees and feet. Sitting three adults across the rear bench is a squeezy affair, though the middle seat is reasonably comfortable.
The cushioning of the R-Design seats is on the firm side, though their sculpted backrests provide some support when the XC60 is turning corners.
Inscription and R-Design models provide rear passengers with their own console for controlling back-seat temperature, with the four-zone climate system optional on the entry Momentum. A practical centre armrest, too, with both open and lidded tray sections plus horizontal pop-out cupholders.
If the exterior designs of the Volvo SUVs avoid the Russian-doll approach, there’s certainly that Matryoshka effect to interior space as, again, the XC90 feels that more spacious up front than the XC60. And you sit a touch higher again for the most commanding seating position in the group.
There isn’t the same quality leap between XC60 and XC90 as there was with XC40 and XC60. Or design differentiation. That’s hardly terrible news when the XC60 sets such high standards for its segment, though for the XC90 it means it doesn’t dislodge a rival such as the Audi Q7 for benchmark perception of luxury.
We wouldn’t place Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system above BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMi, either – essentially because we don’t believe you can beat a centre console controller for reducing the amount of time your eyes spend looking away from the road when trying to select functions.
It’s not that the touchscreen-only Sensus is difficult to use. It’s just that it takes a while to get accustomed to how you find certain functions, and even then it’s often a two-step process when one would be preferable. Selecting the air-recirculation button or changing cabin temperature, for example, requires the Climate page to be selected first before adjustments can be made. Some other functions also require a swipe of the page to locate.
On the plus side, the presentation looks smart, the touch-response is snappy, and the distinctive portrait format of the display is superior to traditional horizontal screens when it comes to showing route maps, as you can see more of the road ahead.
And for audiophiles, the optional Harman Kardon 14-speaker system is good, while the $4500 Bowers & Wilkins (XC60 and XC90 only) is superb.
Boot space and practicality
Volvo’s SUVs again stick with logic for their luggage compartments. The bigger the model, the bigger the boot space.
Measuring up to the window lines, there’s a decent 460L in the XC40, 635L in the XC60, and 967L in the XC90 with the third-row seats folded down. (There’s 316L when the XC90 is in seven-seater mode.)
Boot apertures and widths similarly grow commensurately. The height of the XC40’s boot opening is 746mm compared with 778mm for the XC60 and 889mm for the XC90.
And between the rear wheel housings, there’s just over a metre of cargo-floor width in the XC40, 1.055m in the XC60 and 1.13m in the XC90.
Flip all rear seats down and, measuring up to the roofline for maximum cargo capacity, you get 901L in the XC40, 1432L in the XC60, and a huge 1868L in the XC90.
The XC40’s boot continues the practicality-focused theme of its interior. A fold-up floor allows owners to create a divider that can help keep your gear compartmentalised, while also revealing three hooks to hold shopping bags. There’s another moulded ‘curry’ hook at the side of the boot, as well as a long, elasticated strap for securing items, a 12-volt socket and a ski port.
Electric levers for automatically releasing the 60-40 split-fold rear seats are optional, though the cost is a more than reasonable $250. Such levers should be standard on the XC60 and are instead a $700 option.
Volvo’s mid-sized SUV also features a ski port, elastic securing strap and moulded bag hooks, plus there’s netted side storage and a cargo blind.
Two features the XC90’s boot is missing: electric seatback release levers aren’t available even as an option; and there are no straps to allow the rearmost seats to be pulled up or lowered. So, you either have to scramble, somewhat uncouthly, into the boot to position the seats, or go around and do it from the rear passenger side.
That boot swallows a lot of gear, though, and there’s some underfloor storage and a flip-up cargo divider with elastic strap. The XC90 makes it three out of three Volvo SUVs to offer a 12-volt socket in the boot, and there’s also a cargo blind and flip-out hooks.
There’s a fundamental difference underneath these SUVs. Whereas the XC60 and XC90 sit on Volvo’s Scalable Platform Architecture, the XC40 is underpinned by the Swedish brand’s newer Compact Modular Architecture. (CMA will be used for more future small Volvos.)
While those platforms are invisible to buyers, the way their chassis translate to the road is more noticeable.
The XC60 and XC90 both need optional rear air suspension to ride at their best – something previous testing experience has confirmed as both our test cars here feature the extra-cost switch from the standard steel-spring suspension.
The ‘Active Chassis with air suspension’ is a $3600 option on the XC90 (standard on the Excellence) and $2490 on the XC60.
It’s a fair argument that a luxury-pitched vehicle shouldn’t require cost options to drive like a luxury vehicle, though the Volvo SUVs certainly aren’t alone in the prestige market in this regard.
And even when the XC60 and XC90 are in R-Design spec with huge wheels – 21-inchers on the former, 22-inch monsters on the latter – it’s still impressive how both SUVs cope well with bumps and holes to deliver a comfortable journey.
Air springs aren’t an option on the XC40, yet it doesn’t need them – especially our T4 Inscription that sits on a so-called Dynamic chassis. Despite the name suggesting a vehicle biased towards handling, it endows the XC40 with a terrifically pliant, near-perfect suspension despite the Inscription’s relatively large 19-inch wheels.
The XC40 R-Design isn’t quite as graceful, with a noticeably noisier and firmer – if still decent – ride as a result of its stiffer Sport chassis and standard 20-inch wheels.
As the most city-focused SUV, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the XC40 feels particularly nimble around town courtesy of its smaller dimensions. This combines neatly with the XC40’s light steering and tight turning circle.
Yet, not even the XC90 feels intimidating to drive in more confined areas. That’s due to several factors. Firstly, you sit the highest of any of the SUVs. The view from that commanding seating position is complemented by a large back window and generously sized side mirrors.
And the XC90 (and XC60) turns around acutely enough – something you wouldn’t have said about Volvos not so long ago!
Commendably, Volvo engineers have managed to apply steering consistency across the entire SUV line-up, so the XC40, XC60 and XC90 all offer accurate and nicely weighted helms.
If you’re an SUV buyer who thinks about back-road blasts as much as back-seat practicality, there are other luxury soft-roaders out there that will deliver a more entertaining drive along a country road. But what these XC models will each provide is hugely competent and safe handling with minimal sloppiness to body control.
And on freeways, the XC90 D5 makes for a particularly excellent cruiser, though even the XC40’s cabin is respectably quiet.
Powertrain options are very much determined by which vehicle architecture the SUV sits on. XC60 and XC90 share several engines, while there’s just one overlap with the XC40 – the T5 turbo petrol shared by the XC40 R-Design and a couple of XC60 variants.
However, one commonality between all three SUVs (and all Volvos) is a format comprising a 2.0-litre four-cylinder and an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It’s then a question of whether it’s: a) petrol or diesel; b) essentially the same engine in a lower or higher state of tune; c) one featuring both a turbocharger and supercharger (T6); or d) a drivetrain comprising that latter petrol engine with dual electric motors (T8 Twin Engine) and plug-in recharging.
Petrol and diesel engines are represented, respectively, by T and D prefixes, and the higher the number, the higher the performance.
Our XC60 and XC90 test cars were D5 models, denoting a twin-turbocharged diesel under the bonnet. It’s the entry-level engine for the largest SUV and available with the R-Design trim grade in the mid-sized SUV.
The XC60 line-up gets underway with a single-turbo diesel in the $61,990 D4 Momentum (and more expensive $68,990 D4 Inscription), though the D5 is tempting for its 500Nm maximum torque – 25 per cent higher than the D4’s 400Nm, and delivered from even lower in the rev range (1500rpm v 1750rpm, both up to 2500rpm).
Combined with Volvo’s PowerPulse technology that aims to overcome traditional turbo lag by blasting a shot of compressed air (from a dedicated tank) into the turbo system upon initial acceleration, the result is surprisingly sharp throttle response for a diesel.
The mid-range is expectedly potent and official consumption is just 5.6 litres per 100km. That’s just 0.2L/100km thirstier than the D4, while acceleration is notably quicker – 7.1 v 8.4 seconds in the 0–100km/h sprint.
For those with a preference for petrol, we can also recommend the T6 in the $78,990 R-Design. Its 8.0L/100km fuel use is fairly agreeable in the context of a ‘twin-charged’ engine that can propel the XC60 from 0–100km/h in 5.8 seconds, and feels ever alert even at lower speeds thanks to the supercharger part of the equation.
You can go even quicker while using the least fuel of any XC60 with the T8 plug-in hybrid. There’s a caveat, however. Its official 2.1L/100km is based on the dual electric motors being involved and they’re limited to the relatively short battery life, so for longer journeys you’ll primarily be using the same supercharged/turbocharged petrol engine as the T6.
The XC90 D5 R-Design weighs an extra 125kg over the XC60 D5 Design – a difference not even the PowerPulse system can seemingly overcome, because Volvo’s larger SUV is significantly laggier around town, when lower revs are in play.
It also means the flagship SUV is slower to accelerate in the benchmark 0–100km/h sprint taking 7.8 seconds. Fuel consumption isn’t much higher at 5.9L/100km, though, making the diesel XC90’s efficiency highly competitive against German rivals.
And the D5 certainly makes for a pleasantly relaxed freeway cruiser along with effortless overtaking ability.
As with the XC60, there’s the option of the T6 drivetrain on the $102,900 Inscription or $104,900 R-Design, or the T8 with the $122,900 Inscription and $124,900 R-Design.
None of Volvo’s SUVs can be described as even relatively light, and that includes the XC40 that is, for example, 1705kg in the guise of our T4 Inscription test vehicle. This doesn’t help Volvo’s smallest SUV when comparing fuel efficiency against competitors – arguably an even more critical factor at the more affordable end of the luxury-SUV spectrum.
The entry-level turbo petrol, the T4, uses 7.2 litres in front-wheel-drive form (in the Momentum) or 7.4L/100km with all-wheel drive (Inscription). The equivalent Audi, the Q2 1.4 TFSI, uses between 5.3 and 5.6L/100km, and the equivalent BMW, the X2 sDrive20i, uses 6.0L/100km.
Volvo’s more powerful T5 petrol, with an official 7.7L/100km, is also thirstier than some rivals. Volvo Australia has dropped the D4 diesel initially offered with the XC40.
Perhaps customers, and even Volvo, agreed the petrols better suit the compact SUV, though the Swedish brand is also planning to phase out diesel engines completely in the near future.
The turbo petrols are a couple of gems. The 185kW/350Nm T5 is undoubtedly the sportier engine, in both the way it sounds and the way it goes, particularly if Dynamic mode is selected to help overcome some turbo lag at lower revs.
This all-wheel-drive R-Design model also comes with paddle-shift levers for those drivers who like to have more control over gear changes. The eight-speed auto does need prompting for downshifts for more spirited driving, though in normal circumstances it swaps gears smoothly and quickly enough.
The 0–100km/h acceleration run is completed in a quoted 6.4 seconds, trumping the BMW X1 25i, for example, by a tenth.
The XC40 T4’s outputs are 140kW and 300Nm in comparison, and it’s two seconds slower in FWD form or 1.9 seconds slower in AWD Inscription form. It’s still a very flexible unit, though, offering more than sufficient performance for everyday driving – helped by its torque being produced from a lowly 1400rpm (400rpm lower than the T5) all the way to 4000rpm. A similar level of quietness to the way it operates, too.
Operating the XC40’s transmission lever is quite a different experience compared with the larger SUVs. There’s no traditional neutral lock-out function in the smaller SUV, so whether you’re putting the gearbox into reverse or drive you need to pull/push the lever twice. Not ideal when you’re trying to perform a quick three-point turn, even if you eventually get accustomed to the process.
At the time of writing, only Lexus – with four years – continues to offer a warranty longer than the luxury-brand norm of three years. None of the prestige carmakers, including Volvo, are yet to match the five years that has now become the industry standard.
More disconcerting, however, are Volvo’s servicing costs. They’re significantly higher than those charged by most rivals when comparing pre-purchased multi-year service plans.
Service costs for the XC40 are $2165 for three years or $4030 for five years. A five-year plan for the BMW X1 or X2 is $1550. Audi charges between $1580 and $1610 for a three-year service plan for the Q2/Q3 or between $2190 and $2590 for five years. Jaguar is even lower with a $1500 price for five years with the E-Pace.
The pattern repeats for the XC60 and XC90, where Volvo servicing costs can be up to double, or even nearly triple, the price of plans for competitors. It’s certainly an area where some Scandinavian minimalism would be most welcome for owners.
As you may have already gathered, this is a range review with a difference. In fact, with Volvo Australia offering only one other model that sells in irrelevant numbers, this is effectively a showroom review.
Bringing these three SUVs together also simply reinforces our views from both individual tests and comparisons: this is a formidable line-up with impressive consistency of quality, whether you’re looking at design, materials, safety, or engineering.
Forget Lexus, or even Jaguar. These models prove Volvo is the company most closely challenging – and in some areas beating – the established German premium brands of Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Their SUVs, anyway.
Major flaws are difficult to pick in any of these models. The main issues are that the XC60 and XC90 should ride more smoothly on their standard suspensions, the XC40’s petrol engines could be more fuel efficient, some options should be standard, and Volvo needs to rethink its scarily high servicing costs.
This review is less about picking the best Volvo SUV, and more about setting out to give buyers some insights to how the XC40, XC60 and XC90 are differentiated (though also united) and how they offer varying appeal.
If your family household has a healthy income and you need seven seats, the XC90 delivers on the promise of a large luxury SUV with a great interior blending quality, comfort and flexibility.
The XC60 makes it easy to understand why it continues to be Volvo’s most popular model, with the best all-round mix of spaciousness, quality, performance and efficiency.
This author’s favourite Volvo SUV, however, is the XC40 T4. Not only does its pricing put it in reach of more buyers, but the interior quality and design don’t feel completely detached from its more expensive siblings.
The T4 engine provides ample performance, while the interior’s extensive practical touches and the XC40’s progressive exterior design also show how Volvo is these days thinking outside the box in more ways than one.