2020 Volvo XC40 T4 R-Design: FIrst Drive Review

The Volvo XC40 becomes clean, and a bit lean for 2020. But in doing so, has it lost its desirability?

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From the opening picture, we reckon it would be hard for you to see why we’re driving the Volvo XC40 again. That’s because the difference isn't cosmetic. Volvo is on a mission to make our planet a better habitat by making our transportation safer and cleaner. That is exactly what the updated baby SUV in India plans to do for 2020. It now gets a BS6 petrol engine instead of a diesel as the only engine option. And while the price has been reduced to what it was when it first launched in 2018, it hasn't lost any of its vital safety features. But all of that later, first... let's see how it drives.

Diesel who?

The XC40 now gets a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol unit in the T4 tune. This makes 190PS of power and 300Nm of torque. The one it replaces was a similar capacity diesel with the same power but 100Nm more torque. Do you feel a lack of torque? Well, yes. But in a conventional petrol vs diesel kind of way. However, this engine gives you more reasons to not miss it.

First of all, it is mighty refined. Be it in its comfort zone or revved all the way, it remains very smooth. Even the engine note is something that you will enjoy. This rev-happy nature further helps it offer great drivability. It picks up cleanly from 2000 rpm and you won't be left searching for power for quick overtakes. Yes, this isn't a very quick or a sporty drive, but it’s enough to satisfy your traffic signal surges. Even on highways, the T4 XC40 can easily manage triple-digit cruising seeds.

The 8-speed gearbox is quick and smooth, with the shifts ensuring the engine remains stress-free. The paddle shifters are a fun way to take over shifts and get into the zone. And while the upshifts take a fraction to happen, the downshifts are snappy and fun. Overall, this petrol delivers a super refined and relaxed driving experience in the city but isn't shy of revving hard when you are in the mood for some fun.

You get a total of five drive modes. Comfort is the best balance and is ample for both the city and the highway. Eco is a bit lazy with the power delivery but still totally usable within the city. The Dynamic mode, though, likes to hold high revs, even with minimum throttle inputs. This doesn't achieve much and feels a bit unnecessary, especially in city drives. The last is Off Road, which we did not try in this brief drive. There is also an Individual mode that lets you configure the steering feedback, powertrain, and braking characteristics.

Tamed for the Urban Jungle

The Volvo XC40 is no longer an all-wheel-drive. Instead, it is now a front-wheel-drive SUV. Within the city, you will hardly notice the difference. In fact, this setup will help you get better efficiency, which isn’t a bad thing considering it’s a petrol. The SUV gets predictable and controlled body roll in corners, which will not bother you while driving at the same speeds. The steering in Comfort and Eco modes is light enough to let you cut through the traffic and you get a very good view outside the cabin as well, which further makes it easy to manoeuvre.

Where you will miss the all-wheel-drive system is while charging through corners. The XC40 T4 doesn't feel sporty or engaging to drive here. The steering weighs up in Dynamic but the feedback is a little shy. You have to be more mindful of approaching a corner enthusiastically. Grip levels from the Pirellis are still appreciable. Also, it’s when taking corners in the dark that the bending headlamps show their prowess. They really do improve visibility on turns by moving the beam with the steering.

The ride quality of the XC40 is better suited for well-paved roads. It remains a bit firm and you have constant feedback from the tarmac inside the cabin. But the good thing is that it does not get harsh. It takes on city roads at city speeds with poise and is quick to settle after speed breakers. It's only when the speeds get higher, or you get to a totally broken stretch of road, that the cabin tends to get a bit uncomfortable. A gentler ride would have definitely suited the SUV more.

Safety? It's a Volvo!

Though it is a baby SUV and has witnessed a Rs 3 lakh price cut, all of the radar-based safety systems from before such as Lane Keep Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control are still here. And it's super fun to let it steer itself back into the lane, while maintaining the set distance for the car in front. It's better that you don't take your hands off the wheel completely as it needs well-marked roads to operate and we all know those can disappear without cause around the next bend. It’s still great to have and is also a unique feature in the segment. You also get front, side, curtain and driver knee airbags, run off-road mitigation, hill start and hill descent control, and park pilot assist -- all as standard in this one trim.

Where’s My Orange?

One of the key identifiers of the XC40’s cabin was its bright orange wool-like carpet and door liners. They have now been replaced by a more conventional black carpet. Another trim that gets a conventional makeover are the seats -- now black Nappa Leather instead of the sporty Alcantara. Speaking of changes, the heated seats have made an exit while putting together this trim.

The all-back theme now makes the cabin feel a bit dark, but open the gigantic panoramic sunroof and you won't have a reason to complain. The glass area on a whole is quite impressive. The driver’s seat is very SUV-like too and gets a good view of the surroundings. It's only the large C-pillar where the visibility is a bit of an issue. The front seats offer good cushioning and support and will keep you comfortable on longer stints as well.

A typical Volvo dashboard includes the plain and premium piano black trim and a vertically oriented, super responsive and detailed 9-inch touchscreen. The XC40 further gets aluminium-like inserts on the dashboard, which reflect the lights hidden in the dashboard. All of this looks quite subtle at night. The ambient lights, however, are not so impressive. You also get a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which can change the dial colours and show navigation, music, trip and other car-related information in the middle.

All the touchpoints feel worth your money. The AC vent controls, volume knob, window stitches and all the materials on the dash and doors are premium, to say the least. Plus, the cabin is extremely quiet and you can barely hear the traffic outside. In terms of features, you get a dual-zone climate control, a brilliant 14-speaker Harman-Kardon music system, wireless charger, and touchscreen, which supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Ventilated seats, however, would have made the list feel complete.

At the back, things are not as comfortable as the front. That's mainly because of the upright seatback and a short seat base -- resulting in lack of under-thigh support. The cushioning too is a bit firm. As a result, city drives won't bother you but we will have to take the backseat on a road trip to see how that feels. Also, thanks to the gap between the side of the seats and the doorpads (the seat base width is reduced), it limits the ability to seat three abreast. And that’s because the gap does not allow the side passengers to shift over to the sides. This makes seating three at the back a cosy affair -- one that you won't want lasting for more than a few minutes. Seat two and you can enjoy the rear AC vents, a very supportive armrest, and the gaze out to the stars.

The XC40 packs several clever storage solutions. Like before, the front door pockets are large enough for 1-litre bottles and even a laptop! Then there is the under-seat storage space for the driver, to hide what needs to be hidden. The central armrest storage is deep and you also get cup holders for all four passengers. You even get a waste bin in front of the central armrest storage. The rear gets slightly smaller door pockets and storage on either side of the rear seats.

Pack it up

At 432 litres, the boot is sufficient for a family’s weekend luggage. A powered tailgate helps things further. You can even swing a leg underneath the bumper to open it if your hands are full. Underneath the foldable boot floor is the space saver spare that can accommodate the parcel tray. It can even fold up to make shopping bag hooks and become a luggage separator. The seats split 60:40 for storing larger items.

Hey handsome

Nothing has changed on the outside, and we are glad! It’s a good-looking SUV and still the most SUV-looking SUV in this space. Needless to say, it really does make the competition look like the crossovers they are. The main attractions are the boxy design, two-tone colours (courtesy of the R-Design trim),18-inch wheels, LED headlamps with the Thor’s Hammer DRLs, and the detailed tail lamps.

A Volvo to Remember?

While some bits have changed, the overall flavour remains the same. The petrol is impressive to drive and will make your city commutes calmer and more refined. You will not miss the all-wheel-drive in your daily affairs. Inside the cabin too, it remains quirky, premium and extremely practical. And then you have the class-leading safety tech, which gives you a peek into the future. The only niggle is that the ride quality, while not a deal-breaker, could have been better suited to our road conditions. Overall, the XC40 still remains pretty desirable. And yes, the lower price (Rs 39.90 lakh ex-showroom) at no real compromise to the Volvo experience is a welcome bonus.

Volvo XC40 2018-2022
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