Mountain Wheels: Smallest Volvo SUV aims at a young, urban audience
June 30, 2018
A summer loaded down with an increasing scope of international trade disputes puts some jeopardy on the future of all imported vehicles, with talk of a 20 percent tariff in the near future — a move that's estimated to add more than $5,500 to the price of a new vehicle.
I don't know if you're a particular fan of having your automotive choices dictated to you — especially as domestic manufacturers are largely moving away from anything but trucks, SUVs and crossovers, based on consumer disinterest in their other products — but it's certainly a weird time in the car biz.
In the meantime, if you're looking for a smaller, snazzier and definitely non-domestic SUV, maybe you should act fast and go inquire about the new Volvo XC40, the newest member of Volvo's reinvigorated lineup.
The XC40's larger siblings, the XC90 and XC60, have given the iconoclastic Chinese-owned Swedish carmaker a classy range of futuristic and functional, all-season vehicles; the XC40 scales things down a further notch with a slightly peculiar but pleasant mix of technology, capability and lifestyle-oriented motoring.
Created more with a city-car audience in mind than long-distance travel or particularly rugged off-roading (the broad range of parking and proximity sensors went absolutely bananas when I eased the XC40 onto a trailhead, as if to warn me not to push my luck), this smaller Volvo still has almost all of the jazz associated with its bigger family members — especially in a loaded-up R-Design model, with all-wheel drive.
Its very aggressive styling and that street-parking-friendly size, not to mention the advent of the new, millennial-friendly Care by Volvo program, could turn out to make it a hit, however. Like Blue Apron or all your other favorite Amazon-delivered, limited-commitment services, you pay a no-haggle, insurance-and-everything-else inclusive price for the vehicle, which you can order online and have virtually shipped to your doorstep.
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The vehicle's many pieces of otherwise extraneous flash — a purse or take-out-food hook on the dash, a console garbage container or even the Swedish laundry tag on the side of the hood — are certainly complemented by real features such as a full, tablet-sized Sensus navigation and entertainment screen, the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving aids and the aesthetics of a hyperstylized cabin.
It is indeed heavy on the odd but strangely functional, be that a tiny gearshifter or an articulated cargo storage deck in the back, with helpful features such as easy-drop rear seats, 360-degree cameras and Volvo crash-prevention systems too many to mention.
Power is easy to manage and plentiful, with the 248-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter particularly suited to XC40's scaled-down size. The vehicle will rocket away from an intersection and then comfortably cruise at freeway speed, though a bit of pedal vigilance is required to keep it steady (or, let the car's Pilot Assist very accurately do nearly everything but steer for you, creepy as you may find that).
Steering is light at all times and the Volvo's short and breezy character means it will get loose on very, very sharp turns, so keep that in mind if you attempt sporty cavorting. The general feel is solid and smooth and there's plenty of clearance for wintertime travels, but it is simply not created for aggressive offroading.
The XC40's looks take the more well-executed grace of the bigger SUVs and seem a little overly busy here, resulting in an array of angles that is either going to intrigue or confound you.
Something about the size and the reverse-angle rear window may conjure comparisons to an older Jeep Compass, as scary as that may seem, and the two-tone look of blackened roof and black floorline — with a whomping character line indent in the middle of the cabin — is certainly strong stuff, especially considering the XC40's short wheelbase.
From the rear (or the nose, even), it's pretty classic Volvo, heavily updated, with boomerang-shaped brakelamps, oversized exhaust ports and a grab from the potentially mag-chloride-encrusted bottom liftgate.
Seating space gets a bit of a squeeze from the bigger models but is still comfortable and supportive.
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