Test drive: Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design

By daryl, 06 January 2019
Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design

At time of writing, the PR folk at Jaguar Land Rover are putting the finishing touches on a grand launch event in London for the second-generation Evoque.

It’s hard to believe that the mini Range Rover has been on sale for over seven years. Its bold angles still look incredibly handsome by current standards, a colossal feat given that the basis of Gerry McGovern’s design was first publicly showcased in 2008. It’s a timeless thing of beauty.

But why are we rambling about a Range Rover in a Volvo review?

While posh SUVs weren’t unheard of in 2011, the Evoque was arguably the car that accelerated the frenzy surrounding compact luxury crossovers these days. The Volvo XC40 was conceived to monetise this trend amplified by the British outfit with the help of a certain Victoria Beckham. In launching the XC40, Volvo even axed the V40 from its product range, such is the demand for vehicles riding higher than the run-of-the-mill hatchback.

Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design

However, the XC40 is more than just a product born out of recent market inclinations. It does a splendid job of luring the unbiased into Volvo showrooms, and fashionably so. From its strong shoulder lines that anchor the full-LED light clusters to the striking indents that draw attention to the raised side profile, the XC40 presents one of the most original yet fetching crossover designs since the Evoque.

 It’s a big call – one influenced by the two-tone colour scheme, perhaps – but the XC40 packs all the right cosmetics to win over fashionistas with Posh Spice’s appetite for all things beautiful.

There is a hint of deception in the way the XC40 looks, though. The natural expectation for a car that displaces the V40 as the smallest and most affordable car in Volvo’s catalogue is for it to have equally compact proportions.

If that were true, its RM256k asking price would have been an act of daylight robbery. But at 4,425-mm long and 1,863-mm wide, the XC40 occupies a substantially bigger footprint than the similarly-priced Mercedes-Benz GLA. It’s also 13mm taller than the GLC which supposedly battles the XC60 in a higher segment.

As a result, the XC40’s cabin is one of the most spatially welcoming interiors in its class. Passengers have plenty of room to stretch inside the unassumingly big Volvo, but equal thought has been given to non-human entities commonly transported in cars as well.

 Up front, each door bin will easily swallow a 15-inch laptop while a removable bin near the armrest is useful for the disposal of tissues and food wrappers. Around the back, a power-operated tailgate hides 586 litres of boot volume. This doesn’t even include the nifty under-floor compartment big enough to keep the pesky tonneau cover completely out of sight for when you’re visiting IKEA.

The practicality gained from the XC40’s surprisingly vast dimensions is superb. But it also means there’s more metal to guide through traffic and into parking lots, which isn’t great news for city dwellers.

...every bit of safety tech and semi-autonomous driver aid found in the XC90 – the brand’s flagship SUV – is also equipped in the XC40.

The XC40 isn’t exactly blessed with the tightest of turning radiuses either. Factor in its tall window line that gives the side profile its visual edge at the expense of potential embarrassment at parking barriers and you have a car that takes quite a bit of time to get used to – Volvo’s touchscreen-dominated minimalist cockpit is a different challenge altogether.

Occasional five-point turn aside, the drive is otherwise straightforward and mostly pleasant. The T5’s four-pot turbo exhibits a touch of lag right off the bat, but its segment-leading output (252bhp/350Nm) is a delight on the straights once momentum is established.

However, sustained spirited driving can confuse the eight-speed automatic from time to time. It’s a competent powertrain no doubt, but the chemistry between engine and transmission just isn’t up to the near-telepathic standards of certain German rivals.

Volvo has never made any performance claims it cannot substantiate anyway. For all the strides the Swedish carmaker has taken in driveability and design, its emphasis on safety has never wavered.

We say this in full confidence knowing that every bit of safety tech and semi-autonomous driver aid found in the XC90 – the brand’s flagship SUV – is also equipped in the XC40. The fact that the sole variant on sale here is a conventional AWD lends an extra sense of assurance for when Malaysia’s unpredictable weather isn’t on your side.


On the superficial side of things, R-Design items – grille, 19-inch diamond-cut alloys, nubuck leather seats and carpets – that really sharpen the XC40’s aesthetics inside out help justify the crossover’s price tag, not that it’s of any grave concern.

If all the players on the field are judged objectively for their specs and features, the XC40 easily comes out tops by giving you the most luxury and the most SUV for your hard-earned Ringgit. It is locally assembled after all. But even the XC60 and XC90 might struggle to make an impact beside the XC40, such is the genius in the entry model’s packaging.

The apathetic buyer may call for a watered-down variant in order to save a few more bucks. Sure, the spec sheet is long enough for some items to be ditched without removing any semblance of a luxury compact crossover.

But as things stands, the Volvo catalogue, now bolstered by the effervescent XC40, is like a five-star hotel. The grandest impression is made at the entrance.


Volvo’s volume getter looks great, is surprisingly practical and packs XC90 levels of tech. It’s just a good drive short of excellence.


Still on sale despite being based on the old W176 A-Class. Aging, but it’s the XC40’s most direct AWD rival.


  Engine   1,969cc, 4-cyl turbo,  252bhp, 350Nm
  Price   RM255,888
  Performance   0-100kph in 6.4 secs, 230kph
  Economy   7.7L/100km, 176g/100km CO2
  Weight   1,704kg