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April 27, 2021

Review: 2021 Volvo XC40 T5 R Design

Ask the average car buyer, and they’ll tell you that Volvo is best known for safe family haulers. While that’s not a bad image to possess, in the luxury space, the majority of buyers want a dose of excitement injected as well. This is where the Volvo XC40 and its off-beat creativity comes across as refreshing.

Compared to the Russian doll styling of its German rivals, the XC40 does design right. The Thor’s Hammer headlights, squarish profile, and hockey stick taillights are clear signs that it emerged from the Volvo design gene pool, but it doesn’t simply look as if it was just miniaturized to fit the premium compact space. Penned by thirty-something Ian Kettle (now with Tesla), it comes across as a genuine way to reach the SUV’s target demographic as opposed to coming up with a bad caricature (we’re looking at you, MINI Countryman).

The same vibe is found inside where the XC40 feels familiar, yet contemporary at the same time. It’s available with a wide variety of interior color combinations elsewhere, including one with Lava Red carpeting, so it’s a shame that local units are stuck with a somber black-on-black scheme. Still, everything’s well executed with plush-feeling controls and well-designed cubby holes scattered around. In particular, the expansive velour insert on the door panel not only gives visual warmth, but does so while providing padding that silences any racket caused by water bottles or umbrellas that may be placed there. The same is true with the arm rest console, cup holders, and utility tray as they’re all lined with thick, slip-free rubber.

Dominating the dashboard is a 9-inch table-style touchscreen powered by Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. It works in much the same way as an iPad, but in reality, swiping, pinching, and scrolling while on the move takes getting used to. Accomplishing simple tasks like changing the cabin temperature takes longer than it normally should. Still, there’s no denying that the display is crystal clear and that the 13-speaker Harman Kardon setup sounds awesome (some fiddling of the equalizer is in order though).

Despite being an urban-centric SUV, the XC40 offers a generous 211-mm ground clearance. However, the seats feel much more elevated than that. Overall, it offers a great view of the road ahead, helped further by the slim A-pillars and well-placed door mirrors. The R Design’s standard leather/nubuck seating is supportive with excellent adjustability to boot. Front seat space is excellent, while the wide rear bench can easily seat three abreast for as long as the person in the middle is fine to content with the fairly big hump on the floor.

In terms of numbers, the XC40’s cargo space lags behind some of its German rivals, but in practice, the square proportions of the backend make packing super easy. There’s no lip to negotiate, while a clever hinged panel on the floor creates a divider to prevent items from sliding around (it also reveals a sizeable underfloor storage compartment too).

The opposite is true when it comes to the XC40’s on-road performance though. On paper, this T5 variant makes a stout 247 horsepower and 350 Nm of torque—performance numbers that’s backed up by a 6.5-second 0 to 100 km/h time. Yet, from the driver’s seat, it doesn’t feel particularly fast. The powertrain doesn’t give that telltale turbo kick nor does it offer a strong sensation of speed. It doesn’t sound particularly great, either. What it lacks in sensory delight though, it makes up for it in absolute confidence in every overtaking scenario. It never runs out of breath.

Of course, only a fool would take the XC40 on a track so it’s not pointy and dynamic as a proper sportscar or even a sporty car. The agility it gives up on is returned though by a well-tuned ride. In town, it takes the sting out of sharp potholes with its supple springing and superb repose. On faster roads, it does things even better, breezing over ripples and expansion joints.

It handles perfectly well if driven in a relaxed manner, which most people who buy a premium crossover will. It’s not a sporty SUV though so when pressed more, the body leans a bit through corners, and there’s not much feel coming from the steering rack. However, once accounted for, the XC40 doesn’t lose any more discipline. Overall, it’s nicely calibrated, graceful even.

As with all other Volvos, the XC40 is laden with safety tech. It’s boring to list all of it at this point, but it must be said that aside from preventing a possible frontal collision with other vehicles (including bicycles) and pedestrians, it even helps distracted drivers from veering off the road. Perhaps the only thing lacking here is a 360-degree camera (it does have a rear camera and corner sensors though). Credit is due to Volvo’s Intellisafe system for working as it should, while also being smooth and highly functional. Compared to the herky-jerky nature of some of these systems, this one instills confidence, which is how these things should work.

Volvo may have made a name for itself when it comes to safe and sensible vehicles, but in a field of competitive premium compact SUVs, the XC40 manages to do more than just cut the mustard. Aside from blending generous passenger space and practical luggage space, it does so with top-notch interior quality and materials. Most important of all, it makes even the most mundane commutes more pleasurable, which is important given the amount of time everyone gets stuck in traffic.

2021 Volvo XC40 T5 R Design

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Ownership 2021 Volvo XC40 T5 R Design
Year Introduced 2019
Vehicle Classification Compact SUV
Warranty 5 years / Unlimited Mileage
The Basics
Body Type Compact SUV
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/AWD
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 2.0
Aspiration Turbocharged
Fuel Delivery Direct Injection
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 247 @ 5,500
Nm @ rpm 350 @ 1,800-4,800
Fuel / Min. Octane Gasoline / 95~
Transmission 8AT
Cruise Control Yes, Adaptive
Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed 9.52 km/L @ 26 km/h
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,425
Width (mm) 1,863
Height (mm) 1,652
Wheelbase (mm) 2,702
Curb Weight (kg) 1,574
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Independent, Multi-Link
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Disc
Parking Brake Electric, w/ Auto Hold
Tires Pirelli P Zero Vol 235/50 R 19 (f & r)
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 8
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes, with EBD
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors Yes, Front & Rear
Parking Camera Yes, Rear
Front Seatbelts 3-pt ELR with pre-tensioner x 2
Rear Seatbelts 3-pt ELR with pre-tensioner x 3
ISOFIX Child Seat Anchor Yes, w/ Integrated Child Booster
Other Safety Features Hill Start Assist
Hill Descent Control
City Safety (Collision Avoidance & Mitigation)
Lane Keeping Assist

Blindspot Information System w/ Steer Assist
Cross Traffic Alert

Run-off Mitigation
Exterior Features
Headlights LED, w/ Cornering Lights
Fog Lamps Yes, Front & Rear (LED)
Auto Lights Yes
Rain-sensing Wipers Yes
Tailgate Power
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt/Telescopic, Manual Adjust
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment (driver) Electric, 10-way, w/ Memory
Seating Adjustment (front passenger) Electric, 10-way
Seating Surface Leather/Nubuck
Folding Rear Seat Yes, 60/40
Sunroof Yes (None, As Tested)
Trip Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes, w/ Fold
Rear View Mirror Auto Dimming
Proximity Key Yes
Climate Control Auto, Dual w/ Rear Vents
Audio System Stereo
USB Type A x 2
USB Type C x 1
Smartphone Connectivity Apple CarPlay
Android Auto
# of Speakers 8 (13, Harman Kardon, As Tested)
Steering Controls Yes

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