2020 Volvo XC40 Review: A Refreshing Lack of Sport

I know it’s a little late in the year for it, but I want to talk about the Volvo XC40 and Halloween.

You know how terrible companies are willing to put a “sexy” spin on any inanimate object for the sake of a Halloween costume? Yeah, the car world has its own version of the issue, only with “sporty.” Everything is apparently sporty nowadays. I’m sure some unlucky PR person is in the middle of writing about the sporty key fob of the latest 120-horsepower, front-drive crossover. The word is in danger of losing all meaning, like “new,” “random,” and “literally.”

The 2020 Volvo XC40 is many things, but sporty ain’t one of them. The Swedish brand’s smallest crossover is cooly-styled, supremely comfortable, and reasonably priced. If you’re looking for a mobile oasis of calm to navigate the roadways, this could be just the ticket.

Mall crawling as an art form

For reasons I’ll not get into, my very first trip with the XC40 involved an extended tour around a crowded mall parking lot. The Volvo quickly earned its stripes, riding across the pockmarked surface with such grace I half expected to see the asphalt resurfaced in the rearview. It’s also easy to maneuver, thanks to that stubby nose, high seating position, and low window line. The chunky C-pillar does eat into rear visibility, however. At least the optional 360-degree camera helps put your mind at ease when it comes time to squeeze into that free parking space.

There’s little outside noise making its way into the cabin, either. No suspension shudders, little road rumble, a faint hint of the cars and people outside: the XC40 is one of the quietest cars I’ve driven this year. There’s just one exception: the brake pedal. For whatever reason, my sneaker’s sole had it squeaking at the slightest touch. Not the gas pedal either, just the brakes. Weird.

I wasn’t shopping, but had I been, the XC40 has myriad clever storage solutions to swallow up stuff. It starts up front, with a fold-out hook on the glovebox to hold a small bag, lest it roll around in the front footwell. A small slide-out drawer lies underneath the driver seat, too. Got a candy wrapper you need to get rid of? The tiny trash bin in the center console will take care of it. Pop open the power liftgate and you’ll find a divider system: the closest portion of the cargo floor folds up at 90 degrees, with more hooks for bags.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Review

Add all the above in with the generous door storage and regular cupholders, and the XC40 is a paragon of functionality. And isn’t that what crossovers are billed as?

The rest of the interior is pretty good too

Volvo has been nailing that cool, Scandinavian interior design look for years now, and the XC40 continues the trend. My tester’s blonde and charcoal look is calming, with a thin strip of matte-finish wood breaking up the tall dashboard nicely. A quartet of tall, narrow vents dot the dash too, with the two central ones flanking the 9.0-inch, portrait-oriented touchscreen. Canted slightly towards the driver, it’s Mission Control for nearly every feature in the XC40—for good and bad. While it’s fairly intuitive, it still requires multiple button presses to do some of the more basic actions, and that requires precious time with your eyes off the road. For a brand as keen on safety as Volvo, that’s a strange dichotomy. I also find the Sensus system a little laggy in comparison to something like Mercedes’ MBUX.

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I have no such complaints with the digital instrument cluster, though. It’s slick, changing slightly with the selected drive modes. Keeping the navigation front and center makes unfamiliar neighborhoods a cinch too.

Other interior high points include the seats—supremely comfortable, front and back—and that cool Orrefors crystal shifter. The Harman/Kardon sound system also deserves a nod for crisp notes. I’m less impressed by the weird protuberance housing the handful of physical buttons just below the touchscreen. It’s a weirdly cheap-looking bit of design in an otherwise elegant cabin.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 Review: First Drive

Rear seat space is adult-friendly, and they’ll appreciate the heated seats—though that’s optional too, even on this top-shelf Inscription trim.

Out on the open road

So the XC40 thrives in the parking lot, but what’s it like at speed? In a word: smooth. The 2.0-liter engine under the clamshell hood produces an ample 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s the latter figure that dictates the performance, with the torque arriving at just 1,800 rpm and remaining for another 3000 revolutions. The eight-speed automatic doles out the power cleanly, without any hiccups are hesitation. It’s a shame, then, that the pretty crystal shifter maintains that odd Volvo “double-tap” when shifting from reverse to drive. It never fails to make three-point turns feel awkward.

The steering wheel is expectedly light, yet accurate. Point the XC40 towards a tighter corner at speed and the body leans in, reminding you this isn’t a Polestar model. There are the requisite selectable drive modes on board, but the XC40 just doesn’t suit Sport. Select it, and the XC40 will rev higher and hold gears longer, but it feels like an act. Dressing head-to-toe in Lycra to ride my commuter bike in Toronto does not turn me into a Tour de France competitor.

Instead, leave the XC40 in its regular mode, and enjoy a comfortable ride. The Volvo feels in its element on gentle curves at highway speeds, where there’s less wind noise than you’d expect given its boxy shape. The smart cruise control (also optional) works as intended, keeping a consistent speed and distance from the car ahead. Enjoy reasonable fuel economy too: my week saw a 24 mpg average (9.8 L/100 km), not far off the quoted average of 25 (9.4).

Of course, there’s a båt-load of safety features on this XC40 tester. Standard-fit equipment includes automated emergency braking with pedestrian (and large animal, because Sweden) detection, lane-keep assist, regular cruise control, and rear park assist. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control, and swivelling front lights are also present. The XC40 earned a 2020 Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, and a five-star rating from the NHTSA.

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Verdict: 2020 Volvo XC40 Review

With so many option boxes ticked, the XC40 T5 Inscription rings up at $46,940 ($55,840 CAD), including destination. That’s a lot for a sub-compact SUV, placing it right in the thick of the segment against the BMW X2 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. To the Volvo’s credit however, it manages to still feel like good value, thanks to an incredibly stylish interior and calming road manners.

It might not have the sex appeal of something “sportier”, but on a day-to-day basis, I’m betting the XC40’s laidback demeanor is more appealing to more people. It’s not trying to be something it isn’t, and that honesty is a refreshing rarity in the segment.

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