Car Review

There's more to the Volvo XC40 D4 R-Design than just serious good looks

Thomas Falkiner answers some FAQs about Volvo's boutique SUV, the XC40 D4 R-Design

04 November 2018 - 00:00 By thomas falkiner
Volvo XC40 D4 R-Design.
Volvo XC40 D4 R-Design.
Image: Supplied

Wow, that's one fine-looking machine you got there!

Isn't it just? The Volvo design team dug deep on this one and in turn fashioned a boutique SUV to take on the likes of the Range Rover Evoque, Audi Q2, Mini Countryman and BMW X2. And I've got to say when it comes to exterior styling the XC40 has them all beat.

It is a fine piece of automotive sculpture: a steely blend of aggression and sophistication that speaks to both sexes, which is quite a rare feat in the car world. I had mine for a week and the compliments didn't stop flooding in.

If you're a dedicated follower of fashion, always hip to the next big thing, then the XC40 is the vehicle for you. Particularly this R-Design model that gives you chunky 19-inch alloys and (fake) dual exhaust pipes.

Good to know. Let's talk engines - what's behind that handsome visage?

In the XC40 D4 you get a 2.0-litre turbodiesel and it is, if I'm being honest, not one of the best motors I've ever experienced in my 10-year career. The problem is that it feels lazy - particularly at low revs where the turbocharger seems to take an unusually long time to come on song.

fast facts: Volvo XC40

• ENGINE: 1,969cc four-cylinder turbodiesel

• POWER: 140kW at 4,000rpm

• TORQUE: 400N, at 1,750rpm

• TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic

• 0-100kM/H: 7.9 seconds (claimed)

• TOP SPEED: 210km/h (claimed)

• FUEL: 11.2l/100km (achieved)

• CO²: 165g/km (claimed)

• PRICE: From R638,492

I'm not joking, there's enough lag on tap to trick your brain into thinking that you're piloting a turbocharged car from decades past. It's annoying, especially in cut and thrust driving scenarios when, for example, you're trying to overtake a dawdling Uber cab. The transmission, in an attempt to compensate for this inertia, is overly enthusiastic when it comes to dropping down cogs, so sudden bouts of acceleration are accompanied by lots of drivetrain jerk.

Fortunately things settle down out on the highway where the XC40 D4 gets into a more fluid stride. Yep, this is where it seems happiest.

Fuel economy? Again, this is another area where I found myself curling my brow in disappointment - 11.2l/100km is pretty poor in my opinion. Especially considering that I spent most of my driving tenure with the Drive Mode button stuck in Eco (the alternatives being Comfort, Off-Road and Dynamic.)

That's not good to hear. What's the driving experience like?

Surprisingly good for a Volvo. Though it's an SUV the XC40 proves quite nimble in the handling stakes. It feels pointy, turns in well and the quick steering provides one with a reasonable sense of how the tyres are engaging with the black stuff. Pushed hard through a set of twisties you'll also notice that body roll has been kept to a minimum.

The XC40 feels more like a sporty(ish) hatchback than it does a stilted city schlepper

Indeed, the XC40 feels more like a sporty(ish) hatchback than it does a stilted city schlepper. Ride quality is equally accomplished. Even with those large R-Design wheels my XC40 coped admirably with the poor road surfaces so commonplace here in Joburg. Cabin insulation levels are great too.

Apart from a little tyre noise at higher speeds out on the freeway, there's not much sonic hullabaloo to wear your senses down on longer drives. Oh, and don't forget about that all-wheel-drive system that provides an extra dose of grip across many different surfaces. Good to have in a car like this.

Is the interior as good as the exterior?

It comes close, yes. Volvo has drawn on all their minimalist interior design tricks to craft a cabin that is effortlessly cool and uncluttered. Quality levels are high and everything feels well screwed together and game for a reasonably long life of dealing with chores, children, cargo and all the other trappings of middle-class motoring life.

Sensus? Maybe I'm still in the minority here but I think Volvo would do better rebranding its infotainment system as Senseless

There's plenty of space in which to stash oddments (even a bin in the centre console for rogue chocolate wrappers etc), plus one of those crafty two-tiered boots that swallows up a surprising amount of luggage and/or groceries.

While the seats are comfortable and the driving position well judged, that Volvo Sensus infotainment system still gets my goat. Not only do I find it totally unintuitive but simple operations such as changing the temperature of the climate control require that you take your eyes off the road to swipe and tap that ridiculous tablet-esque screen stuck in the centre console. Sensus? Maybe I'm still in the minority here but I think Volvo would do better rebranding it as Senseless.

Hmmm, sounds like you're on the fence about this one?

Um, no, that's not entirely correct. Lacklustre diesel engine and frustrating infotainment system aside I really enjoyed this Volvo - especially its dapper styling. Seriously, this has to be one of the best-looking cars you can buy for under R1m. So from that point of view it has a hell of a lot going for it.

Matched to an above-average driving experience, smart interior packaging plus a bodyshell that, dimensionally speaking, doesn't prove a spatial hindrance in cramped urban environs, the XC40 (especially in R-Design specification) should now be the new default choice for image-conscious buyers seeking an alternative to the now predictable Range Rover Evoque and frankly absurd Audi Q2.