First Drive: 2018 Volvo XC40

First Drive: 2018 Volvo XC40
 

The ramblings of a trend analyst provided riveting lunchtime listening while sitting in my first traffic jam of 2018. On the agenda was the subject of workplace hierarchy: apparently the traditional pecking order has no place in the modern working environment.

A chap with an enthusiastic voice called in to say that equality reigns at his company. He knows this, because everyone sits on the same floor, in an open- plan setup. He can watch the CEO through a glass window and pitch ideas without having to schedule a meeting.

A comparison of payslips and parking privileges would totally shatter his cheerful millennial sensitivities. This is me being grouchy from my allocated bay deep in the bowels of the office basement.

Truth is, there are more than a few reasons for professional upstarts to stay upbeat. Like the prospect of having the wherewithal to enter the league of the premium junior sport-utility vehicle: a category that Volvo hopes to exploit with its charming XC40.

It slots below the medium-sized XC60 and the full-sized XC90, which won the South African Car of the Year title in 2016. The newcomer will even introduce an innovative purchasing model. It involves a similar setup to that of a smartphone contract; with a fixed monthly cost that comprises insurance and car washes too.

This programme is still under consideration for our market — but be assured that the car is on the way. Expect it to land before the second quarter of the year. We sampled the XC40 at its international launch in Barcelona.

COMPACT, NOT TINY

The first thing you notice is the spunky aesthetic language of the Swedish tyke. It is far livelier than its bigger, more serious siblings.

Although perhaps it is incorrect to use words like “tyke” because the XC40 is not as diminutive as one might assume. Volvo claims it is targeting the likes of the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. Sure, these are compact within their respective line-ups — but not entirely “small” in the bigger scheme of things.

Put it this way: the average person is not going to feel claustrophobic in the XC40. Nor will they lack storage spaces for even the most arbitrary items one may need for daily life. The designers included a holder for a tissue box beneath the centre armrest, as well as a receptacle for dirt.

And instead of placing speakers in the door panels, they employed a single woofer in the dashboard. Which leaves a vast amount of space for stuff.

There are some elements that hint at the XC40’s status as the underling in the brand’s sport-utility vehicle range. Take the starter button, for example — a basic, circular switch instead of the exquisite twist-knob in larger brethren.

It could also be the first Volvo without those distinctive seats boasting integrated head restraints. Not that these measures feel cheap or inferior, just different. On that point of being different, an assortment of flamboyant shades can be had with the interior. That includes carpets in bright orange.

A LITTLE HELP WITH THE WHEEL:

While we mentioned those minor cabin quality contrasts, the XC40 has lifted some of the impressive features of its seniors. That includes the Sensus Connect digital interface, which works as intuitively and efficiently as a touchscreen tablet.

But more interesting is the availability of Pilot Assist, Volvo parlance for semi-autonomous driving. The car offers assisted steering and braking up to speeds of 130km/h — a handy (or handless?) feature for freeway stints. You still need to maintain a grip on the wheel, however. This makes the manufacturer a pioneer of laissez-faire motoring in the segment.

Taking the reins fully, one finds that the XC40 offers the same cushy, assuring and surefooted texture that can be found in any other contemporary Volvo product. The automaker’s Compact Modular Architecture foundation does duty here.

And it will underpin a series of models to come, including, possibly, a sedan to rival the three-box variant of the Audi A3 as well as the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class.

CHOICES, CHOICES:

When it arrives in our market, two trim levels and engine choices will be on offer. First up is the basic Momentum version, followed by the R-Design model with its sportier accoutrements.

The T5 engine (1969cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged) is good for 185kW and 350Nm. While the D4 (same displacement as the T5) delivers 140kW and 400Nm. The refinement of this oil-burner was most impressive, with minimal sound intrusion. Both derivatives are equipped with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Much like the C30 and V40 hatchbacks did, the XC40 will help Volvo seize the affections and wallets of a young, monied crowd.

The success of the model seems all but guaranteed. The crossover and sport-utility-vehicle genres are booming. Buyers are going to find the zesty execution of this new Swede quite endearing.

Expect pricing for the new Volvo XC40 to range between R500 000 and R650 000. – Brenwin Naidu