HIGH-END HATCH

Volvo’s first en­try in the com­pact lux­ury SUV seg­ment doesn’t stint on class — or price

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Swedish car maker Volvo has joined the city SUV crowd with a high-rid­ing hatch called the XC40.

About the same length as a Toy­ota Corolla and al­most as tall as a Mazda CX-5, it’s lux­ury-car in a con­cen­trate.

It’s a re­sponse to the seis­mic shift away from reg­u­lar pas­sen­ger cars and joins the Mercedes GLA re­leased four years ago, the Audi Q2 in­tro­duced a year ago and the BMW X2 that has just ar­rived in show­rooms.

Start­ing from a bit over $50,000 drive-away, it comes with a hefty pre­mium over most pres­tige peers that start in the low $40,000 bracket — and dou­ble the cost of city SUVs from main­stream brands.

The first batch to ar­rive, the “Launch Edi­tions”, will be dearer again be­cause they come with the works — start­ing from $58,990 drive-away and stretch­ing to an eye-wa­ter­ing $64,990 drive-away.

That sort of money could buy a BMW 3 Se­ries or a Mercedes C-Class. It shows our in­sa­tiable ap­petite for com­pact lux­ury SUVs.

Volvo ex­pects more than half of XC40 buy­ers will be new to the brand. With lim­ited sup­ply from the Bel­gian fac­tory due to global de­mand, dis­counts or cheaper vari­ants are not likely to ap­pear for some time.

Baby Boomers can ap­par­ently stretch to this sort of money with­out putting a strain on their mort­gage and the car com­pa­nies can smell the cash a mile off.

The good news is that it is a de­cent car. It is the first ve­hi­cle of this type for Volvo and it’s new from the wheels up, so it packs Volvo’s cur­rent best tech­nol­ogy and know-how.

How­ever, the brand that built its rep­u­ta­tion on safety still charges ex­tra for the com­plete safety pack­age.

Standard fare in­cludes seven airbags, au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing with pedes­trian and cy­clist de­tec­tion, lane keep­ing as­sis­tance (up to 15 sec­onds hands-free) a rear cam­era and front and rear park­ing sen­sors. There is a speed zone recog­ni­tion sys­tem but it re­lies on map in­for­ma­tion which can be­come out­dated, rather than a cam­era which spots road­side signs.

Op­tional safety equip­ment in­cludes blind zone alert, rear cross traf­fic warn­ing, rear AEB, 360-de­gree view cam­era and radar cruise con­trol. Volvo has in­cluded this tech­nol­ogy pack on the Launch Edi­tion mod­els, hence the higher start­ing prices.

The first batch of cars to ar­rive also get a tiny Swedish flag made out of rub­ber that pokes out from un­der the bon­net near the front doors.

It’s a de­sign touch that first ap­peared as a fab­ric tag on the seats a few years ago and has now made its way out­side the car.

Now that Volvo is owned by Chi­nese car giant Geely, it is keen to re­mind us the cars are still de­signed and en­gi­neered in Swe­den.

ON THE ROAD

The in­te­rior of the XC40 could be mis­taken for that of a high-end lux­ury sedan, from the soft­touch ma­te­ri­als on the dash and doors to the metal-cov­ered knobs dot­ted around the cabin.

The ver­ti­cal touch­screen is as large as a tablet com­puter and has “pinch and swipe” func­tion­al­ity just like a smart­phone. Ap­ple CarPlay, An­droid Auto, dig­i­tal ra­dio and builtin nav­i­ga­tion are standard. The in­stru­ment dis­play is a dig­i­tal widescreen, sim­i­lar to that used by Volk­swa­gen and Audi.

The cen­tre con­sole is small but the door pock­ets are huge. An in­ter­est­ing touch, the car­pet lin­ing in the pock­ets also stretches up the

door panel and be­hind the arm rest. Rear seat space is a touch tight and bet­ter suited to two oc­cu­pants than three, while the boot is a de­cent size, even with the space-saver spare un­der the two-tier floor.

The launch mod­els come with he con­ve­nience of a power tail­gate but this will be op­tional on cheaper mod­els in­tro­duced later.

The over-shoul­der view when park­ing or chang­ing lanes isn’t ideal be­cause of the thick rear roof pil­lars. Volvo says the 360-de­gree view cam­era fixes this po­ten­tial blind spot, how­ever the “birds-eye view” cam­eras are not standard on all grades.

Once on the move, the XC40 is sur­pris­ingly zippy. The only ex­am­ples avail­able to test on the me­dia pre­view drive were pow­ered by the high out­put ver­sion of Volvo’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol en­gine matched to an eight-speed auto and on-de­mand all-wheel drive.

It’s not quite as quick as a hot hatch but, to be frank, it’s not far off. The only down­side to all this grunt is a slightly big­ger fuel bill.

A 2.0-litre turbo diesel (140kW/400Nm) is

The XC40 is a class act but it comes with a hefty price. Per­haps wait for the ini­tial hype to sub­side so you don’t pay too much.

also avail­able while a cut-price turbo three­cylin­der petrol is due to join the line-up in late 2019 or early 2020.

The radar cruise con­trol works well and, as with other sim­i­lar sys­tems, the dis­tance be­tween you and the car ahead can be ad­justed at the press of a but­ton on the steer­ing wheel. The radar can be de­ac­ti­vated in the cen­tral touch­screen menu if you pre­fer old school cruise con­trol.

The XC40 was sur­pris­ingly quiet de­spite rid­ing on Pirelli per­for­mance tyres, even though grippy rub­ber can be noisy. En­gine noise was char­ac­ter­less but well muted. Lux­ury buy­ers prob­a­bly don’t want to hear the go­ings on un­der the bon­net any­way.

The steer­ing feels a touch too light at first but you quickly get used to it. The turn­ing cir­cle is big for a small car (at 11.4m, al­most up there with the Toy­ota Prado’s 11.6m), a con­se­quence of AWD hard­ware.

In dy­namic mode the steer­ing gets a bit heav­ier and starts to feel nor­mal. Even on the sportier set­ting, the sus­pen­sion doesn’t jar.

We tested two ex­am­ples — one on 19-inch wheels, the other on 20s — both with low pro­file rub­ber.

Each was sur­pris­ingly sup­ple over bumps yet cor­nered with pre­ci­sion, a com­bi­na­tion that not all brands in the class get right.

We are yet to do a back-to-back test but we have re­cently been reac­quainted with the XC40’s peers .

First impressions are that this could be the new bench­mark for the class in terms of ride, han­dling and com­fort.

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