25 September 2023

2019 Volvo XC40 Inscription Review – $50,990

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By Karl Peskett.

Small SUVs are a booming category, and one that manufacturers are cashing in on left, right and centre. When we say cashing in, we really mean it – who would have thought that people would pay more than 50 grand for something as small as a Suzuki Vitara?

And yet, here we are, with the splendid Volvo XC40, and excluding options (which can add several thousand dollars) this baby crossover is asking $50,990 plus on road costs. Despite this, here’s what you need to know – it’s worth every penny.

You see, the XC40 may be a little late to the party, with the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q2 having had the market to themselves for quite a while. But the arrival of the XC40 means that the others are going to have to either sharpen their pencils, or revisit their interiors – the baby Volvo is by far the pick of the litter.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s flawless. Look around and you’ll find a few things to pick on. The engine, for example, is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which makes 140kW and 300Nm. That’s not too bad in the power stakes, but it’s lacking in torque, considering most turbo 2.0-litre engines are making 320-350Nm with ease.

This is evident under hard acceleration. With a 2.0T under the bonnet, it should pick up and hustle along fairly swiftly, but you can feel it hasn’t quite got the pulling power to match the body size. Thankfully, the engine is very, very quiet and refined. The gearbox is likewise smooth, however when cold it can be a little jerky until it starts to warm up.

The fuel economy isn’t great in the real world, either. Listed on the government’s Green Vehicle Guide website as 7.4 litres/100km, in reality you’ll use 10.3L/100km. That may not seem like a lot, only a couple of litres or so, but it means an extra couple of hundred kilometres taken away from the XC40’s potential range. The rest of the car fares much better.

There’s an air of sophistication which was missing from the launch editions, which had the quirky rubber Swedish flag hanging out of the side of the clamshell bonnet. Cool idea initially, but it just seems a bit naff a couple of years later. Now, the XC40 has grown up and looks stunning, especially in Inscription form which has lots of chrome highlights, but without overdoing it.

Inside, the small Volvo is near faultless. The seats are perfectly shaped, with brilliant padding and bolstering, the seat heaters are welcome on these crisp winter mornings, the materials are all first class and the presentation is very Scandinavian.

The first thing you notice is an Orrefors crystal gearknob which illuminates at night, adding a cool glow to the cabin. The open-pore wood fascia feels wonderful, the piano black surrounds are high class and easy to clean, and the mobile phone slots hold your device in place until you need it. The space in the back seats is generous and the boot is 460 litres which is perfect for everyday needs.

Up front, the sophistication continues with its 9.0-inch infotainment display and 12.3-inch digital instrument display, which is shared with the XC60 and XC90. The centre screen gives a iPad-like experience, with swiping, pinch-to-zoom and home button, so it’s very easy to get used to. It’s intuitive and when coupled with the simply superb Harmon Kardon stereo, the infotainment feels suitably modern.

On the road the ride is soft (perhaps a little too soft, with a tad more body control needed), but supremely comfortable, the handling is quite good and the steering weight is excellent. It’s easy to park (and will park itself) and is soaks up city roads with ease.

The XC40 Inscription is a beautiful machine overall. It drives well, is beautiful to look at, beautiful to sit in and outshines its competitors for luxury and creativity. It has a few issues (service costs are simply over the top) but it’s a safe, quality alternative to the usual German small SUV set.

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