While some larger OEMs have lagged behind the bulging crossover curve, Volvo is launching its third in two years. The 2019 XC40, Volvo’s first premium compact CUV and its first global 40-series vehicle, is easily identified as a family member. Volvo calls it a design “cousin” (not a sibling) to its larger XC60 and XC90 stablemates, with its own character.
It is also the Swedish maker’s first vehicle on the new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform shared with Chinese parent Geely Automobile and the first available through an all-inclusive “Care by Volvo” subscription as an alternative to a traditional sale or lease.
During its media launch in Barcelona, Spain, Automotive Engineering asked XC40 program chief engineer Johan Taws how, other than its smaller size, the new CMA differs from the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) that underpins Volvo’s XC60 mid-size and XC90 large CUVs and other 60- and 90-series vehicles.
“The electrical architectures are more or less the same,” he said, “but the chassis are completely different.” While the SPA uses a double-wishbone front and a transverse-leaf-spring rear suspension, the CMA has a McPherson strut front and multi-link with coil springs rear. “Structurally, the boron steel in the B-pillars and lower A-pillars, the crash beam, the way the side members absorb energy, all are basically the same, but in different scale,” Taws added.
Geely set up a company in Gothenburg (about 10 minutes from Volvo HQ) called China Europe Vehicle Technologies and staffed primarily by former Volvo and former Saab employees, to design and develop the CMA in collaboration with Volvo and Geely engineers.
“Many of the chassis components are similar or the same,” Taws explained, “but the tunable elements are unique. Their floor is basically the same but with a different length and wheelbase. Their priorities are a slightly smaller luggage capacity but more back-seat legroom, because typically in China with a car this size, the parents are partly financing it, then sitting in the rear being driven by the owner. The electrical architecture is the main difference. They have a completely different infotainment system.”
Assembled at Volvo's Ghent, Belgium, plant, the new XC40 launches in North America in two available trim levels, T5 Momentum and R-Design, both powered by a 248-hp (185-kW) version of Volvo’s “Drive-E” turbocharged 2.0L four that delivers a rated 258 lb·ft (350 N·m) from 1800-4800 rpm through an Aisin AWF8F35 8-speed automatic transaxle and standard electronic all-wheel drive featuring a BorgWarner AWD coupling. The R-Design variant boasts sportier trim and a stiffer sport suspension with tighter mono-tube dampers. A front-drive T4 model will arrive later in 2018 with a (smaller-turbo) 185-hp/195-lb·ft (138-hp/264-N·m) version of the 2.0L engine.
Hybrid and full-electric XC40s are also in development, but North America won’t see the Drive-E diesels or the three-cylinder available elsewhere.
Taws cited an intensive early concept research effort in Asia, Europe and the U.S. that used a full-size XC40 clay model and an interior buck to learn what potential customers liked and disliked vs. premium compact CUV competitors. “We were targeting the Mercedes GLA, BMW X1 and Audi Q3, and those cars are very nice but do not have true SUV proportions, which was important for this consumer group. Infotainment and connectivity were also very highly ranked.”
The XC40 is tallest and widest in its class with the highest ground clearance, “more to emphasize its SUV character than to go off-road,” Taws noted. “This is more a city SUV than an off-roader, but there are good capabilities with the all-wheel-drive.”
Also high on the priority list was safety. “We can’t bring in a new platform and a new Volvo without making sure to get the same safety capabilities as on our larger cars. So we basically took all of the XC60 and XC90 goodies and put them into the XC40. It should be best in its segment.” But packing all those features into the smaller structure was challenging from both physical packaging—fitting the same-size screens on the smaller dashboard, for example—and cost standpoints.
“From the cost point of view, to do that in this segment, we had to re-source,” Taws related. “For instance, the infotainment screen, instrument cluster, steering wheel stalks and many other things look and perform the same or better, but are from new suppliers.”
Volvo says its XC40 engineers and designers pursued three key focal areas, or “pillars”: expressive design, ingenious storage and smart technologies. The kick-up C-pillars and contrasting roof colors (standard black on R-Design, available white on Momentum) are examples of the first; laptop-size door pockets and customizable rear cargo storage embody the second; and a mobile phone app for sharing the car with trusted friends and family, a unique air-ventilated audio woofer (behind the IP) and the extensive suite of active and passive safety features demonstrate the third pillar.
The safety technology suite features standard City Safety, which includes pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle and large-animal detection with emergency autobrake. Also standard or available are Pilot Assist, Run-off Road protection and mitigation, Cross Traffic alert with brake support and a 360° Camera to help maneuver in tight spaces. XC40 customers get four years of Volvo On Call connectivity plus integration for Spotify, Pandora, Yelp, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Driving mostly on motorways and some narrow, curvy two-lanes in and around Barcelona, our test XC40 R Design was pleasingly agile yet quiet and comfortable. Its steering felt sharp and its brakes strong and linear, while the 248-hp T5 engine provided plenty of power on demand. Volvo says it sprints from rest to 60 mph in a quick 6.2 s. We are even learning to appreciate Volvo’s button-free touchscreen infotainment system more with each exposure to it, but the navigation system’s slowness to alert us of coming turns off of Barcelona’s myriad roundabouts was disappointing.
Initial U.S. pricing begins at $35,200 for the AWD T5 Momentum and $37,700 for the R-Design, while the late-arriving FWD T4 Momentum will start at $33,200. EPA fuel economy ratings were not yet available as of early January 2018.