• Car Review

Driven: 2019 Volvo XC40 Review

By David Undercoffler | October 5, 2018

Autolist rating: 4/5
But would we buy it? Maybe -- test drive it first
Price range: $34,195 - $42,795, including destination

Key takeaways

  • All-new model from Volvo for 2019 -- its smallest and cheapest vehicle.
  • Promises great style inside and out, plus plenty of comfort and useful space.
  • Annoying gear shift lever and error-prone infotainment system were major headaches.
  • Volvo’s reliability remains a concern.

What is it:

The XC40 is currently the smallest and cheapest vehicle that Volvo sells in the U.S. It’s a small luxury crossover that slots below the midsize XC60 crossover and the larger XC90 crossover in Volvo’s crossover lineup.

Volvo introduced the XC40 as an all-new crossover for the 2018 model year.

It competes against a wide variety of bite-sized luxe crossovers, including the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes GLA, upcoming Cadillac XT4, Lincoln MKC, Lexus NX, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX30, Jaguar E-Pace, Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport.

There are currently two engines available in the U.S. for the XC40; an all-electric version is expected sometime in 2020.

The base model is the T4, which starts at $34,195. It comes with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 187 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque.

The optional engine is the T5; for an extra $2,000, buyers can get a more powerful version of this 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that makes 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

Regardless of which engine you choose, the XC40 comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

This optional T5 engine comes standard with all-wheel drive, while the less powerful T4 engine is front-wheel drive only.

Both the T4 and the T5 engines are available in three trim levels: the base Momentum, the sporty R-Design and the luxury-oriented Inscription.

227703 New Volvo XC40 T5 plug-in hybrid

What’s good:

  • It’s different. Volvo’s current rebirth is succeeding because the automaker is designing vehicles that are compelling, luxurious, stylish and, at the same time, unique from many of the vehicles in the luxury space. This XC40 continues that trend; it’s different without being weird. We like that.

  • The interior. Despite its diminutive footprint on the outside, the XC40 packs plenty of space for both people are cargo on the inside. The rear seat, in particular, has a huge amount of legroom, while the headroom is adequate. The XC40’s insides were also quiet and comfortable throughout.

  • Design. This XC40 -- and, indeed, all new Volvos -- has great style inside and out. It’s at once urbane and rugged, handsome and sleek, stylish and useful. This is true inside too, where a thoughtful and modern dashboard layout compliments the exterior.

What’s bad:

  • Wonky infotainment system. During our week-long test of the XC40, we encountered several problems with the touchscreen infotainment system. It was slow to load or to respond to our inputs. The layout, the menus and submenus were hard to figure out (even when parked!), and the system crashed on us a few times, forcing us to restart the entire car to get it working again. Another time, the backup camera never displayed on the screen when we put the XC40 into reverse. Clearly, it was not a good experience, so, make sure you spend some time using the infotainment system on the XC40 when you test drive one.

  • Poor reliability. Volvo’s current crop of vehicles all offer plenty of style and sophisticated luxury, but none of them are particularly reliable, according to both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power. So, keep this in mind if you’re planning on buying or owning one without a warranty.

  • Stupid shifter. Many new vehicles have slick transmission shifters that require little more than a simple tap to put the car into drive or reverse. For some reason, that wasn’t good enough for Volvo. They require two taps to put the car in any gear from the park position. This may sound simple, but it was maddening at first. After a while, we got used to it -- begrudgingly -- but it still seems like an unnecessary annoyance.

216724 New Volvo XC40 - exterior

Five stars of execution:

Safety features? YES

  • Volvo has long centered its entire ethos around safety, so don’t expect that to change any time soon. In keeping with this tradition, the XC40 comes standard with active lane-keep alert and assist and pre-collision alert and braking.

Value? YES

  • We were impressed with the level of features the base Momentum model comes with (for details, see What’s it gonna cost me? below). It’s the best kind of base luxury model. It gives you just enough features, style and comfort to feel like choosing a Volvo is worth it over a mainstream brand, without making you feel like all you bought was the badge.

  • Our only gripe is that the higher-end trim levels start to get expensive: a loaded Inscription model can get close to $45,000 -- a high price to pay for a small vehicle like this, especially when the larger XC60 crossover starts at a tick over $40,000.

Efficiency? YES

  • The all-wheel-drive XC40 with the T5 engine has a higher fuel economy rating than most of its peers, including the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Lexus NX.

  • It's rated by the EPA at 23/31/26 MPG city/highway/combined.

Driving experience? NO

  • This was a mixed bag. Generally, the XC40 is quiet and comfortable in all types of driving. It’s also a great size for maneuvering into tight parking spaces. Plus, the engine we tested -- the optional 248-horsepower T5 version -- had more than enough power.

  • But the handling and steering aren’t great -- both were too numb for our liking. And the ride quality is too harsh. None of these issues are deal breakers, but it’s worth pointing out that there are rivals that will be more engaging and more comfortable to drive on a daily basis (looking at you BMW X1).

Execution: YES

  • Generally, Volvo did a great job with the XC40 by creating a desirable and practical small crossover. Its style sets it apart from a crowded field of competitors and is easily our favorite element of the vehicle.

  • Yet, there were details that bedeviled us -- namely the touchscreen infotainment system, the gear shift lever and the harsh ride/numb steering.

  • Ultimately, these issues weren’t big enough for us to say you should avoid looking at the XC40, but definitely test drive one first to make sure you could live with its idiosyncrasies.

216709 New Volvo XC40 - exterior

What’s it going to cost me?

A base XC40 starts at $34,195, including destination.

This model -- dubbed the Momentum -- comes standard with features like leather seats, a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and Sirius Satellite Radio, a power-operated tailgate, LED headlights, lane-keep assist, power driver’s seat and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Next in line is the R-Design version. This is the sporty member of the three XC40 trim lines. For an additional $2,500 over the Momentum’s asking price (for a total of $37,195), the R-Design gives you larger 19-inch alloy wheels, an in-dash navigation system, a digital instrument panel, power liftgate with hands-free option and various sport-oriented trim pieces.

Finally, XC40 fans looking for extra luxe amenities and refinement have the Inscription model. Starting at $39,890, it comes with a panoramic moonroof, stylish wood inlays in the interior trim, unique exterior trim and 18-inch alloy wheels and unique leather seats.

Each of these trim lines comes with the smaller T4 powertrain (187 horsepower and front-wheel drive). The only way to get all-wheel drive is to step up to the T5 powertrain, with the more robust version of this engine that makes 248 horsepower. This is an extra $2,000 for all three trim lines.

If it were our money on the line, we’d opt for the Momentum T5 for $37,695. It gives you everything you need and want in a small, entry-level crossover like this, plus the added power of the 248-horsepower engine and the security of AWD.

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Also consider:

As we mentioned, the XC40 is in one of the most crowded and competitive segments: the small luxury crossover. This means buyers have a lot of good options. While the XC40 should certainly be on your shopping list, we also like other well-rounded competitors like the BMW X1, Acura RDX, Jaguar E-Pace and Lexus NX. Our concerns about current Volvo’s long-term reliability and our frustrations with the shifter and infotainment system keep the XC40 off the top of this list.