Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 Volvo XC40 R-Design T5 AWD

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

The following is a list of reasons I find Volvos enjoyable to drive when it’s really cold and wintery:

As childish and slippery, or as planted and surefooted a thing to drive as you like.

  1. The spray-bar windshield wipers kick ass all across the land.
  2. The ride quality and suspension noise seem almost totally unaffected by extreme cold.
  3. Volvo puts really good headlights into almost everything.
  4. It will start at 34 below, not plugged in, and not even sound mad about it.
  5. The heated seats get so hot after 60 seconds that you need to turn them down.

I’ve never been disappointed when driving a Volvo in the snow, and the just-launched 2019 Volvo XC40 continues the trend. In fact, it may be one of the most entertaining Volvos I’ve ever driven in the winter.

More important things, first; the XC40 is a small machine with two very big jobs.

First, this little-guy crossover debuts Volvo’s presence in the small luxury utility segment, which is extremely hot right now. If you sell luxury rides in Canada, this segment is a party you need to be at.

Second, the XC40 becomes the new gateway Volvo, since it’s their lowest-priced machine. It’s poised to put the brand on the radar of new luxury vehicle shoppers, and (not accidentally) it exists smack in the middle of a market segment where many of those shoppers are looking.

The styling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s unquestionably unmistakable as anything other than a Volvo, though the love-it-or-hate-it design gives it an appearance that’s somewhat unconventional. It ranges from simple to elegant to blocky to toy-like, depending on the angle.

Beyond all of that, it’s understated – as is often the case with the brand’s machinery. If you prefer your luxury crossover sopping with glitz and capped by a shouty grille, this isn’t going to cut the mustard. If you prefer a luxury crossover that’s discreet looking and visually quiet, you’ll smell what the designers are cooking here.

The interior is much the same.

Playful use of colours and shapes gives it a feel that’s more “Mini Cooper” than “Mercedes-Benz”. It’s more youthful and less serious, and styled to put colours and textures and shapes in the spotlight, rather than glamourized high-tech and bling. The cabin is a colourfully condensed and energized take on Volvo’s modern interior design. More importantly, it’s strongly unique.

Hello, my name is Justin Pritchard and I am a Canadian man of about average build, wide in the shoulders, and about 5'10" – and four of me could fit on board the XC40 with little issue. We wouldn’t have room to stretch out for miles, but we’d each have generous headroom, ample leg- and kneeroom, and nobody would be chomping on their thighs or elbowing each other in the kidneys. The blocky shape and tall roof mean headroom is better than you think, and that’s even with my tester’s sunroof. It’s comfortably (not constrictingly) snug for four regular-sized adults. From the driver’s seat, I appreciated a tall windshield, good outward sightlines, and an alert and upright driving position with a commanding forward view.

Nearby, I had storage to spare for smaller things I like nearby while I drive, with a perfect spot for my wallet, phone, camera, Dentyne Ice, and large dark roast, two milk.

Also, there is a built-in, removable covered trash bin! It sits behind the cupholders and blends in so well you’ll think it’s a big ashtray before you open the cover. But it’s not an ashtray, it’s a garbage can. Rejoice! No more spent ketchup packets or parking slips in the cupholders! Everything has its place in the Volvo XC40, even litter.

The folding rear seatbacks are a mixed bag. On one hand, they fold fully flat, which is handy when bringing longer or flatter items on board. On the other hand, they’re concrete-heavy, and will likely break off any appendage that gets in their way. Thankfully, they’re also motorized – just like the tailgate behind them.

Between said tailgate and the heavy seatbacks is a cargo space that should cause no stress in carrying four or five smallish baggages, or a half-decent Costco run, provided you skip the Nissan Micra–sized case of toilet paper. Notably, the cargo hold is wide and square and tall, which helps users capitalize on the space available.

The XC40 is a small crossover, remember. Think luxury car with a little more room, traction, cargo space, and ground clearance, and you’re in the ballpark.

If you’re running a day’s worth of errands and frequently parking, loading and unloading people and things, you’ll love those motorized seatbacks – as well as the small turning circle, zero-effort low-speed steering, and a full 360 degrees of high-definition camera coverage with parking radar. If you somehow manage to hit something, go get a lottery ticket. The XC40 is a parking lot ninja.

It’s also a snow assassin. My tester ran a 250 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive, and was wearing a set of my favourite Michelin X-Ice winter tires.

If you’ll tackle a winter trek in slow-and-steady fashion, the XC40 has your back. Pick Comfort mode for this, via the drive mode selector button on the dash. Here, the XC40 responds gently and cautiously to your commands, which helps drivers dial in the smooth inputs required for safety in the snow. The XC40 now feels a little light and sporty, but not light enough that you’ll wish it was heavier. Focus on the road, and your steering, and let the equipment do the rest: you won’t be wishing for more traction or a more secure feel.

Further, the AWD system extracts available grip from snowy roads with expert precision, exhibits little to no slipping or digging, and requires absolutely none of your attention. The brakes feel moderately precise and bite with a good chomp from the first bit of pedal input. It’s all systems go for a comfortable drive, and for leaving drivers feeling nicely backed up.

If you prefer to tackle winter roads in a sportier manner, use of the Dynamic drive mode (aka Sport mode) is advisable. Here, the XC40 responds more dramatically and intensely to your driving commands. The throttle goes hair-trigger, the revs are kept higher for quicker access to the turbo, and peak torque output is always within striking distance. Steering heavies up to near go-kart levels, too. Now, the XC40 feels like a feisty little sports car and encourages you to play – steering it with the throttle or brakes or flicking it around with small steering inputs that quickly trigger long and gentle slips and slides.

It provides a great setup for sporty winter driving, and encourages you to partake. This is some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a Volvo in the snow – with dialled-in stability and traction just a button-click away.

When the weather outside is frightful, the XC40 can be as childish and slippery, or as planted and surefooted a thing to drive as you like.

From the engine, expect torque-rich and quiet responsiveness when driven gently around town. Hammer down, and it’s a whooshy full-throttle feel, on account of a gulp of turbo-lag for just a moment before the XC40 fires along with nearly excessive urgency. It feels like a little pocket-rocket, though the engine isn’t much for high-rev thrills or pleasing sound effects. Still, I can’t imagine most shoppers wishing for more power.

Other notables?

The ride on rougher roads is sturdy and comfortable with minimal harshness transmitted back into the vehicle. It handles rougher roads like something larger, though the ride will be a touch stiffer than some will like, and rapid-fire potholes and cracks can knock the ride quality back a few notches further.

At highway speeds, noise levels are about average for the segment, and most won’t need to raise their voice for a conversation to occur at 100 km/h or so.

Some gripes have made the list of notables, too.

First, the paddle shifters are more a novelty. They call up a relatively sluggish gearshift after a nearly second-long delay. If you’re the type of driver tempted to use your paddle shifters at all, you’ll use these twice, and forget they’re there.

The fuel tank is small-ish, too. On one highway trip (in severe weather and extreme cold, mind you) I was nearing empty with less than 500 kilometres on the odometer.

Next, the rear-view camera and trunk release are both mounted just above the licence plate, about three feet above the road. As such, expect no more than 200 feet of driving before both become caked with road crud in winter months.

And finally, after a few frustrating arguments with the lane-keeping system about which lane I wanted to travel in, I wound up turning the system off. In good conditions, it works exceptionally well – but when road markings are partly obscured by patchy snow or standing slush puddles, the fighting starts.

So, a few niggles. Ultimately though, and especially if you’re in a northern climate, the new XC40 should be considered a priority test drive.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders H4
Peak Horsepower 248 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque 258 lb-ft @ 1,800–4,800 rpm
Fuel Economy 10.3/7.5/9.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 586 / 1,337 L seats folded
Model Tested 2019 Volvo XC40 R-Design T5 AWD
Base Price $44,100
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,015
Price as Tested $54,790
Optional Equipment
$8,575 – Vision Package $1,800; Climate Package $1,250; Convenience Package $1,600; Metallic Paint $900; Lava Orange Interior carpeting $100; Navigation $1,000; 20-inch wheels $975; Harman Kardon Audio System $950