My first taste of Sweden came roughly 18 months ago when I hooned around on a snowmobile through the Arctic Circle for a week. Shortly afterward, I had my second taste of Sweden, sampling Surströmming, regarded as the worst-smelling food on earth.
My third came in the form of the 2019 Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription, kindly loaned to me for a week by Volvo Australia. While the Surströmming left a foul taste in my mouth, the XC40 proved to be among the absolute finest things from the Scandinavian country and one of the best and most well-rounded crossovers I’ve driven.
The XC40’s larger brother, the XC60, was named the World Car of The Year in 2018, so it’s obvious from the outset that the Swedish car manufacturer’s smallest SUV has amazing qualities ingrained in its DNA.
An SUV that suits most – but not all
In Australia, Volvo’s range is exceptionally limited compared to some of its rivals, particularly those from Germany. The XC40 is its smallest vehicle and the example I tested was the mid-range Inscription, which slots in between the Momentum and the R-Design.
Only one engine is offered Inscription, the T4 2.0-liter turbo four delivering 187 HP and 300 Nm (221 lb-ft) of torque. The entry-level Momentum uses the exact same engine, but the Inscription gains all-wheel drive as standard which can come in very handy.
Buyers hungry for more go can opt for the XC40 R-Design fitted with the 248 HP T5 2.0-liter. The R-Design can accelerate through to 100 km/h (62 mph) in a brisk 6.4 seconds compared to the 8.5 seconds needed by the Inscription. Don’t let the figures fool you, though; even the Inscription is more than fast enough.
Sending the 2.0-liter’s grunt to the pavement is an 8-speed Adaptive Geartronic automatic transmission. This gearbox provides smooth and quick shifts and can be driven in manual mode by flicking the shift lever to the right or left to change up or down, respectively.
Speaking of the ‘box, it’s impossible not to talk about the crystal shift lever. Created in collaboration with Swedish glassmaker Orrefors, it gives the interior a unique feel and immediately catches the eye of everyone who steps inside. Some may find it too flashy, but I loved it. Not only does it look good in the day but, at night, it is backlit and glows white. It is also very cool to the touch and a nice change from the leather levers most other vehicles come with.
Another highlight of the interior is the infotainment system. Volvo has fitted a beautiful, high-resolution 9.0-inch display in the dashboard and the touchscreen is just as responsive as a flagship smartphone and a joy to use. They have also done a superb job laying out the menu system. In the home page, you’ll find settings such as those for the media, including digital radio, settings for the Harman Kardon audio system, and numerous online pages. Scroll over to the center and this is where you can choose to display the GPS, audio, phone Bluetooth, and fuel consumption, while the third page offers easy-to-find on-off toggles for the vehicle’s various safety systems, of which there are many.
Volvo remains the master of in-car safety
Our test car came loaded with an arsenal of safety features like Lane Keeping Aid, Park Assist, Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Monitoring, a 360-degree camera, an autonomous parallel parking system, Road Sign Information, Speed Sign Assist, Cornering Lights, Active Bending Lights, and Collision Avoidance Assistance. All of the functions can be found on the same menu screen and easily enabled or disabled. Finding settings is often a challenge that requires you to search through multiple menu systems on other cars, but not here, as everything is exactly where you expect it to be.
Other safety gear include Hill start assist, Hill Descent Control, Park Assist front and rear, and Pedestrian, Vehicle, Large Animals, and Cyclist Detection. Volvo’s Pilot Assist system is also featured and works in conjunction with radar cruise control to keep you in your lane when driving on motorways or country roads with clearly marked lines.
Lovely surfaces and a high-quality feel
The interior is filled with many other niceties, including a fully-digital 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. Heated front and rear seats are a nice addition as is an electric moonroof and vertical air vents with satisfying aluminum switches which are a joy to use. One aspect which also stands out is the steering wheel. Volvo could have done what most car manufacturers do and included text on the various buttons across the wheel; instead, there’s no text and just a bunch of symbols for the different functions. The minimalist design choice is very much welcome. The steering wheel isn’t perfect, however, and placing your hands at 9 and 3 does mean your thumbs will be resting on the metal accents of the two horizontal spokes.
My test car included the $2,500 Technology Pack which includes Adaptive Cruise Control, the aforementioned 360-degree camera, and Park Assist Pilot. In addition, it came with the Lifestyle Package alongside Tinted Rear Glass, Power Folding Rear Backrest, Heated Rear Seats, a Lockable Glovebox, and a $1,200 Harmon Kardon Premium Sound system. The addition of driftwood accents adds to the occasion.
Volvo quotes rear luggage space at 460 liters, which expands to roughly 900 liters with the rear seats folded down. Nevertheless, rear passenger space is cramped for a vehicle of this size. In fact, I couldn’t sit upright without my head firmly pressed against the headliner. At 6’1, I’m certainly taller than most, but I can comfortably fit into the much smaller Hyundai Kona’s rear-seat without issue. In addition to the rear seats being higher than necessary, they are also a little too upright.
A refined and relaxed drive marred by the engine
On an everyday basis, the XC40 Inscription is a car which can be a little hard to criticize from the driver’s seat. The suspension is very comfortable and the Swedish carmaker has managed to keep wind and tire noise to a minimum.
Volvo has also developed a very good steering system. It is exceptionally light but somehow, is also very direct and does offer a nice bit of feedback to the driver. It’s hard to pinpoint just why the SUV’s light steering is more pleasant to use than other vehicles in this segment with a similarly light feel, but it is. If drivers want a heftier weight, they can choose either the ‘Medium’ or ‘High’ settings.
Another nice (and surprising) thing about the XC40 is that there are two settings for the feel of the brake pedal, ‘Normal’ and ‘Dynamic’. I preferred Normal, but if you like a snappy brake pedal, then Dynamic could be perfect. You can also adjust the powertrain between ‘Eco’, ‘Comfort’, and ‘Dynamic’ to perfectly customize the driving experience.
‘Premium’ is the word that immediately jumps into your mind when driving the XC40 Inscription but there is one aspect which lets it down; the noisy engine. It may be snappy and responsive but if you hit the throttle and the revs start to climb, it’s noisy and unrefined. In fact, you could be excused for thinking you’re behind the wheel of class-leading diesel as the revs climb. If the engine was much quieter, it would be nearly impossible to fault the car’s powertrain.
The lump also isn’t particularly frugal. Volvo quotes fuel consumption of 7.4 liters per 100 km (31.7 mpg), which sounds good on paper but is extremely difficult to achieve in the real world. Driving primarily in ‘Eco’ mode on suburban streets, I averaged closer to 10.0L/100 km (23.5 mpg).
One of the best compact SUVs on sale
“Our” XC40 was priced at $57,820 AUD ($39,970,) but you can get one without all the options for $50,990 ($35,249). Combine competitive pricing with superb features, excellent styling, and class-leading ease-of-use, and the XC40 Inscription really delivers a well-rounded package. Congrats, Sweden; you’ve done it again.