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Road Test: Volvo XC40 D4 AWD R-Design Pro

Volvo’s first compact SUV should have old and new rivals feeling worried, says Alex Grant.

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SECTOR Compact SUV PRICE £34,050 FUEL 56.5mpg CO2 133g/km

From the moment the covers came off the concept almost two years ago, it was obvious that the XC40 was destined to be a turning point for Volvo. Entering a segment with volumes two and a half times larger than its best-selling XC60, this compact SUV would take at least a quarter of the 64,000 sales the carmaker was targeting by 2020.

If anything, that was a conservative estimate. UK cars arrived start of the year, and it’s already the fastest-selling Volvo ever, at more than double its forecast. Given that awareness is still building – something the restructured fleet sales and dealer teams will help with – this could single-handedly push Volvo past its 2020 target ahead of schedule.

Consider what it’s up against. Audi’s Q3 and BMW’s X1 are established rivals, and there’s competition incoming from the Jaguar E-Pace, BMW X2 and Lexus UX, albeit with a sportier slant. Plus the XC40 has the extra task of whetting consumers’ appetites for other 40 Series models – the platform, technology, engines and a little of the driving experience seen here will filter into whatever replaces the equally important V40.

Volvo has excelled here. The XC40 looks robust, ultra-modern and unmistakeably a product of the Volvo’s stylish new family design. It has presence beyond its size, yet somehow it’s not under-wheeled in lower spec as some rivals can be. Perhaps more important, is that it’s got its own sense of style compared to the XC60 or XC90, rather than following the Russian Doll approach particularly favoured by the German brands. So it won’t feel quite so common.

This has also allowed for some free thinking, particularly inside. The XC40’s cabin sets a new benchmark for this class; beautifully well built, neatly laid out and impeccably well finished, albeit with some loss of the silver accents for those sat in the back. R-Design versions include figure-hugging seats which are every bit as comfortable as in larger Volvos, and there’s a £175 option to brighten the cabin with carpets finished in a Seventies bedsit shade of orange. Our advice; be brave, go for it.

Styling aside, it’s a genuinely functional family car. Both rows have space for adults, with plenty of headroom thanks to the flat roof, though the upswept window line means children in rear-facing seats will be staring at black plastic. The boot is generous, and the rear seats fold flush with the load floor, but Volvo has used a parcel shelf instead of a roller blind, and it’s bulkier to store when the need arises to carry larger items unexpectedly.

SUV customers tend to have an appetite for high trim levels – particularly sports-focused versions like R-Design. Pro upgrades the headlights and adds heating to the front seats, steering wheel and windscreen, but doesn’t include more useful features like front parking sensors, a powered tailgate or Volvo’s Pilot Assist system, while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are optional too. Not great at this price point.

We’d suggest considering cuts elsewhere. Volvo’s 188bhp D4 diesel is more than enough power for a car of this size, even when it’s equipped with four-wheel drive, but the downside is sub-40mpg fuel economy at motorway speeds, in turn giving a limited range from its 54-litre fuel tank. However, that’s perhaps exacerbated by the attractive 20-inch wheels fitted to the R-Design Pro, which also have a predictable negative effect on low-speed ride quality. A two-wheel drive D3 R-Design could cure both issues, despite what the brochure economy figures suggest.

But the XC40 is every bit the turning point it once promised to be. Premium, stylish and unmistakeably non-German, if this offers a sign of what’s coming from the next V40, then the established benchmarks have some serious competition on the way.

What We Think:

The XC40 is easily good enough to steal customers from its closest rivals, as well as drivers moving out of the old XC60. It’s a stylish, practical and appealing newcomer, but not overly efficient in this guise.

FIND OUT MORE: To test drive the new Volvo XC40 and find out how it can benefit your fleet, visit the 2018 Fleet Show taking place on 9 May at Silverstone Circuit. Click here to register for free.

For more of the latest industry news, click here.

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.