Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s smaller XC40 SUV celebrates cutting-edge design (column) |

Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s smaller XC40 SUV celebrates cutting-edge design (column)

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

The reinvention and renaissance of Volvo as an incredibly style-forward automaker continues at a brisk pace as the Chinese-owned Swedish car company has produced the XC40, the third all-new SUV it has unveiled in just a few years.

Premium and very stylish in its functional, city-oriented design, XC40 is also more affordably priced than its larger 60- and 90-series cousins, allowing newcomers to cruise in Volvo class for as little as $33,200 — not bad considering the competition, or even the price of your average compact domestic SUV nowadays. Volvo is also hoping to attract folks who find themselves swimming around in too-large full-size SUVs and want a little more style and practicality in their ride.

We spent a couple of days tooling around Austin, Texas, in the new SUV and discovered that at 174.2 inches in overall length, it doesn't feel particularly tiny or even particularly lower on the Volvo food chain.

Exterior design is splendid, with all of the style-forward elements seen in the two larger models — glowing LED headlamps and distinctive tail lighting, aggressive angles and a sharp but tastefully scaled mix of proportions. An available contrast-colored roof and mirror caps also give the XC40 a pretty slick and sport look.

Inside, it has the same very futuristic but subtle mix of contemporary details, including a very funny little wedge of a shift knob on the center console. But, as mentioned, there's no feeling of cramped or overly compacted comfort, especially as Volvo's designers worked very hard to maximize on effective use of space.

By relocating the speakers in the lower front doors, you're left with what might be the largest storage and utility bins I've ever seen, big enough for a small laptop. The center console even features a small trash bin with a lid —not magically self-cleaning, sadly, but it's one of many subtle, driver-friendly touches, like a flip-out hook atop the glove box that allows you to secure a take-out food order.

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For the U.S. market, engine choices are both 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline motors, including the 187-horsepower version standard on a front-wheel-drive model set to arrive this summer, and the 248-horsepower engine matched with a $35,200 (base) all-wheel-drive model that arrives at dealers in the next few weeks.

Our cruise through the city and then out into the twisty roads of the Hill Country demonstrated that the bigger engine is perfectly suited for both environments, with lots of torque on hand for your own uphill expeditions. Like most new 2.0-liter setups, the car's built-in auto-stop function can seem a little jarring at first, but that's par for the course with current-era motoring.

Steering is concise and the ride smooth, despite a relatively short wheelbase; it's a compressed experience that doesn't feel small.

Volvo's longstanding reputation for safety is of course entirely present here, though the much larger package of crash-prevention systems does require adding a few options to the base price.

The slightly eerie Pilot Assist program, which veers into light autonomous driving, can be added, and the iPad-styled Sensus Connect navigation and entertainment systems can be sent upscale with a specially engineered Harmon/Kardon audio setup. Wheels as large as 20 inches, a full-sized sunroof or even four-corner, adjustable suspension can also be added.

In its interest in attracting new buyers who've become used to a life full of subscription-based, cancel-at-any-time consumer experiences (Netflix, Amazon, iPhone and Blue Apron junkies), the XC40 will also be part of the new Care by Volvo program.

In addition to buying, financing or leasing the vehicle, the new program allows busy and easily distracted folks who absolutely loathe negotiating with dealers the option to have car payments, insurance, taxes and all of those traditional automotive annoyances rolled into one easy monthly payment ($600 or $700, depending on the trim package), for up to 24 months. All the details can be handled online and the car virtually FedExed to your house. Welcome to the future.

That might also be ideal for consumers who'd like to swap their car out like they change their phones, allowing them to check out some of the 16 color combinations, four different interior leather schemes or the extremely vibrant Orange Lava carpeting.

2018 Volvo XC40

MSRP: $33,200 (FWD); $35,200 (AWD)

Powertrain: 187- or 248-HP 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines with 8-speed automatic transmission