The 2019 Volvo XC40 Isn't Sporty, And That Makes it Great

Finally, a small luxury crossover that's just happy to be itself.

Matt Tierney

Get in, and the whole world seems to slow down. Your pulse lowers just a bit. Fire it up—there’s a pleasant two-note chime, gently suggesting you buckle your seatbelt. A little turbo four-cylinder hums away in the background. Pull the leather-wrapped shifter into Drive and glide off, the noise of the outside world suppressed. This is the Volvo XC40, a relaxing little SUV perfectly comfortable in its own skin.

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Matt Tierney

The XC40 is not an enthusiast's car by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it's about as quick as a modern hot-hatch, but nowhere near as fun. And frankly, it's not the sort of car you came to Road & Track to read about. But that shouldn't stop us from appreciating it.

There's just something about the XC40. It warms its way into your heart, even if your ideal car is something more like a Lotus Elise.

The XC40 starts charming before you even drive. Where Volvo's new 60- and 90-series cars are handsome and staid, the XC40 is a bit less serious. It's definitely a Volvo, but one with a good sense of humor. Just look at the rubber Swedish flag attached to the clamshell hood—so whimsical!

Matt Tierney

Our tester's light gray-blue paint and white wheels, roof, and mirrors led R&T Digital Director Travis Okulski to call this a "surf wagon," and that's not far from Volvo's intent. The color is called Amazon Blue, a tribute to a similar shade offered on Volvo's defining 1950s-60s sedan, known to Americans as the 122S but "Amazon" to the rest of the world. This color scheme is a nod to the carefree car designs of the middle of the last century, bringing to mind the original Mini, and yes, the Amazon. It's not for everyone, but I found myself drawn to it more and more as my week with the XC40 went on.

The XC40 shares similar design cues with other members of the Volvo family, but it's more fun—a little less serious and more youthful than all its bigger siblings. Inside, however, the XC40 feels quite similar to the XC60 and XC90, with the same digital gauge cluster and portrait-oriented infotainment touchscreen. Compared to a Tesla's screen-only dashboard, you couldn't call it minimalist, but there's a refreshing lack of buttons and doo-dads here, a light, airy feel. The seats, as you'd expect from Volvo, are marvelous.

Matt Tierney
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In contrast to all the youthfulness expressed in the exterior styling, the interior feels mature. Perhaps not as fancy as some upper-trim versions of the XC60 and 90, but not terribly far off.

There's a refined maturity to the driving experience too. It's all too tempting for automakers to try to make crossovers that bridge the handling gap between high-riding SUVs and traditional sedans or hatchbacks. It's often a pointless effort, likely to ruin ride quality with no major roadholding payoff. Volvo hasn't bothered with this, and it makes the XC40 all the better.

Matt Tierney

Instead of trying to be hot-hatch like, the XC40 is just easy and comfortable—it's isolating, in the best way possible. I found myself taking the XC40 for drives around the neighborhood just because it was so relaxing. It moves gracefully, in a way you'd expect from a big luxury sedan, not a little crossover.

Currently in the US, the XC40 is offered with one engine—a single-turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It's a great fit for this car, and unlike in other Volvos I've driven recently, this motor and XC40's eight-speed gearbox are perfectly paired. Volvo engineers really nailed the transmission programming with this one.

At $44,315 as tested, this XC40 came with lots of big-Volvo tech including Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous assistance system with adaptive cruise control and an automatic steering function. I didn't get a ton of time to play with it in the XC40, but having used it extensively in other Volvo products, I can say it's an option you should really consider. It's great for making long highway slogs easier.

Matt Tierney
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Matt Tierney

Pretty often, this sort of SUV can end up being a cloying, focus-group-aimed vehicle. As a Brooklyn resident in my mid-20s, I suppose I'm sort of the target audience here. Or perhaps a family-and-dog-having version of me that works at a tech startup.

But while you can argue that Volvo is pandering to millennials—with things like a car subscription service and the general Active-Lifestyle vibe the XC40 sells—you can't argue with the XC40 itself. It's a lovely, relaxing thing that looks great inside and out, and seems to give up nothing other than size to the larger XC60 and 90. All things considered, it might be the best car Volvo makes today.

And for us, the XC40 is a perfect compliment to the stuff we usually write about. It's the sort of thing you'd love to have taking up the more sensible half of your two-car garage.

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Matt Tierney
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