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First Drive: Volvo XC40 (2018) to challenge X1 and Q3

Compact premium SUVs. It’s the product segment where the ambitious – and successful – young money spends their wealth on a motoring solution for lifestyle and family.

Q3. X1. The competition is exemplary and for Volvo to start achieving the volumes required for sustainability, it needs to convert the brand awareness created by XC90, into compact SUV sales.

Enter the Volvo XC40. Built on a new platform shared with parent company, Geely, XC40’s CMA steel monocoque chassis has been designed for a battery future, but despite this, the cars we’ll be getting in South Africa by April next year, won’t be battery or even hybrid powered. Instead, you’ll have option on the proven 2-litre turbopetrol and diesel Volvo four-cylinder engines.

Conceptually, XC40 is not a confusing product debut. It scales everything that is appealing about XC90 (occupant centric design) into a size which is a lot less intimidating to navigate through a crowded city centre – or park in a claustrophobic parking garage. There’s nothing claustrophobic about the cabin, though, which features the distinctive use of materials, colours, textures and shapes which have generated acclaim in larger Volvos such as XC90/S90.

As a design, the dramatic L-shaped taillights, concave sill lines and contrasting roof options (either white or black) render an SUV which has the required road presence, without X1’s proportional awkwardness. Further differentiating XC40’s visual appeal are its wheel options, where you can size from 18- to 21-inches, and even have your hoops in white too, with matching snowy mirrors.

It’s an attractive SUV without being a pastiche of its rivals and inside, the Scandinavian logic and Sensus touchscreen intuition make XC40 a very comfortable place to be – whether you are stuck in traffic or touring those endurance distances between towns in the Karoo; routing from Joburg to Cape Town.

Both engine options due for South Africa feature an 8-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels and after testing both engines, you’d want to go with the 182kW petrol, instead of the 140kW diesel. The turbopetrol’s throttle response is superior in all drive modes, whilst the diesel often feels confused as to what you are demanding from it, reacting with apologetic surges of power when the moment requiring them has passed.

The other specification item you absolutely must configure correctly on any Volvo XC40 are the wheels. As mentioned, Volvo’s offering a massive range of these, but to best benefit from its new platform, the 19-inch wheel, rolling Continental’s Premium Contact tyres with a ’50 profile, are what you want. They look great, but also provide superb ride quality – absorbing all road imperfections without penalising occupants with any road noise or corner wallowing.

Featuring Volvo’s Pilot Assist system, Volvo’s XC40 brings a new level of semi-autonomy to the compact SUV segment and courtesy of some particularly ambitious Spanish drivers attempting to Alonso traffic circles, we can confirm that XC40’s safety intervention systems are very aware and tidily capable. The steering is overly assisted and too light, like most systems compromised by multiple drive modes, but it’s an agile car for its 1672kg. Not slow either, with sustained acceleration feeling every bit true to the claimed 0-100kph time of 6.5 seconds.

Pricing is unconfirmed, but Volvo’s aiming for a R500-R600 000 range when the XC40 arrives next year. It’s a very convincing mini-XC90 and evidence of its potential popularity are the 100 confirmed pre-orders Volvo’s received for the car locally.

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