2020 Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design Review: SUVs Don't Get Better
Price & Specs8.5
Interior & Practicality9.5
Performance & Economy9
Ride & Handling9
Running Costs & Warranty7
What we like:
  • Punchy turbocharged engine
  • Insanely clever and practical
  • Excellent quality
What we didn't like:
  • Servicing isn't cheap
  • Annoying gear selector
  • Some options should be standard
8.6DiscoverAuto Rating

It’s been a long journey for Volvo. For decades, it was the automotive equivalent of flat-pack furniture and produced immensely practical but not really that exciting vehicles. Fast forward to the 2000s and Volvo started to get some curves in its design – yet didn’t shy away from its practicality-first design ethos. Small SUVs are typically ones to forget the ‘U’ in SUV (utility), so how do the traditional Volvo values apply to one? We tested the 2020 Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design to find out. 

The XC40 was released in 2018 and it competes with other entry level premium SUVs including the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLB and Jaguar E-Pace. Pricing kicks off at $46,990 plus on-road costs, but we tested the almost-top-of-the-range T5 R-Design.

Price & Specs: 9.0/10

We tested the most expensive petrol-powered XC40, the T5 R-Design (a more expensive plug-in hybrid is available too), which is priced at $56,990 plus on-road costs. While this isn’t exactly cheap, we think it’s good value because it comes with a very long list of standard equipment – much more than competitors.

Equipment highlights include 20-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting with cornering headlights, front and rear LED daytime running lights, dual-zone climate control, a 9.0-inch touchscreen with inbuilt navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, digital radio, wireless phone charging, an eight-speaker sound system, Nappa leather/textile upholstery, heated/auto-folding mirrors, electric front seats with driver’s memory functionality, auto headlights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a hands-free powered tailgate, keyless entry and start and an alarm.

Being a Volvo, safety kit is also strong – seven airbags, auto emergency braking with pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, cornering headlights with auto high beam, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, rear auto braking and a reversing camera are all standard equipment.

There are also a few option available for the XC40 T5 R-Design, starting with $1,150 metallic paint. The $900 Comfort Pack adds front and rear heated seats, as well as a heated steering wheel. A $3,000 Lifestyle Pack adds a panoramic glass sunroof, rear privacy glass and a 13-speaker Harman Kardon sound system (which we think should be standard equipment) while the $1,900 Technology Pack adds a 360-degree parking camera, auto parking, electric-folding rear headrests and adaptive dampers. A lot of these options are available separately but packaging them is much better value for money.

We consider the $59,500 Audi Q3 40 S-Line and $64,900 BMW X1 xDrive25i to be the XC40 T5’s main rivals. All are all-wheel drive and powered by 2.0-litre turbo petrol engines, though the Volvo is better equipped (than the BMW especially with safety kit) than either rival. 

Performance & Economy: 9.0/10

Like its rivals, the XC40 T5 R-Design is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, which produces a strong (for the class) 185kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It’s matched to an eight-speed auto and all-wheel drive. Compared with the 170kW X1 and particularly the 132kW Q3, the XC40 T5 feels quite brisk. Its claimed 0-100km/h time is 6.4 seconds, which is just faster than the BMW’s 6.5 second time but a whole 1.3 seconds faster than the Q3. 

Thanks to a responsive eight-speed auto, the turbo suffers little lag and when you’re punching it and the XC40 T5 really does hustle despite its 1,710kg weight (though this is 35kg lighter than the 53kW-less powerful Q3). Really, I think it offers more performance than anybody will likely be needing but gosh it’s fun! The only thing that annoys about the driving experience is the gear selector, which needs two pushes or pulls to go from Drive to Reverse, for example, which can be annoying when performing a three-point turn. 

There are multiple driving modes in the XC40, including normal, sport, eco and off-road – these tailor the steering and throttle response, as well as the stability control calibration in off-road mode. You may not notice it, but the driving modes can make a reasonable difference to the car’s character.

The 2020 Volvo XC40 T5 is rated at 7.7L/100km on a combined cycle, which is 0.6L/100km more than the X1, yet somehow 0.5L/100km less than the less powerful Q3 40. We averaged just over 9L/100km in combined cycle driving, which isn’t remarkable though if you’re after efficiency, the plug-in hybrid XC40 Recharge is also available and covers up to 46km on electric power alone. The XC40 T5 has a 54L fuel tank and you’d be seeing around 600km to a tank based on that fuel consumption – and like rivals, the XC40 needs premium unleaded fuel.

Ride & Handling: 9.0/10

The XC40 sits on Volvo’s ‘CMA’ platform, which allowed the company to create a car with exceptional use of space and also excellent driving dynamics. Seriously, this is a fun car to drive. The steering is perhaps the most surprising element – it’s actually quite light but quite fluid, which is refreshing compared with the usual heavy BMW steering in the X1. Body roll is almost non-existent, and the steering is also quite direct, which adds to the car’s overall dynamics quite positively. 

The XC40 is quite agile, and loves being thrown into corners. There’s plenty of grip from the huge 20-inch alloy wheels in the T5 variant, though the wheels do give a relatively firm ride. It’s not harsh, nor uncomfortable, though it can jiggle around on traditionally awful Sydney roads.

The Q3 40 S-Line and X1 xDrive25i do feature stiffer rides and as a point of difference, you can option both smaller wheels and adaptive dampers on the XC40 if you want more comfort. Aside from that, the XC40’s driving experience is positive with excellent all-round visibility and pretty low road noise levels too (despite huge 20-inch wheels).

Interior & Practicality: 9.5/10

I’ll say it right from the outside (and sorry for the spoiler): the XC40’s cabin is best in class. There’s very little wrong with it, if at all. The design is fresh and modern, the quality is excellent and unlike a lot of competitors, it’s a genuinely spacious and well-thought out space – as you’d expect from Volvo, really.

The XC40’s cabin is covered in high quality materials from the soft leather used on the steering wheel and the outside of the seats, as well as the lovely textile materials on the inside of the very comfortable seats. The plastics used on the dashboard and even the doors is soft to touch and even the texture used is quite interesting to look at. It’s a very characterful cabin, though it can be livened up further with no cost orange carpeting and door bin lining – we love it though it would get dirty very quickly. Regardless of colour, Volvo claims that the XC40’s carpet is made from 97 per cent recycled materials. 

Centre of the XC40’s cabin is a 9.0-inch portrait touchscreen, which controls a lot more of the car than a lot of rivals – even the rear headrests can be folded at the touch of a button. It features inbuilt sat nav, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring and digital radio. The screen itself is excellent quality, quick to touch and after you’ve gotten used to it, easy to use though some icons can be small and annoying to see while driving. 

There’s also a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display that displays traditional info such as a speedo, a rev counter and trip computer, though it can also display a map. Unfortunately you can’t get an XC40 with a heads-up display just yet. 

Our test car featured the $3,000 Lifestyle Pack, which adds a panoramic glass roof, rear privacy glass and a stunning 13-speaker Harman Kardon sound system – we think it should be standard equipment but it really adds a lot to the XC40 experience. 

As well as being comfortable and high quality, the XC40’s cabin is filled with plenty of practical touches. The door bins in all doors are huge (thanks to the speakers being cleverly located in the dashboard) and can genuinely fit a laptop in them. The glovebox is huge and features a hook that folds out when it’s closed. The centre console features a large space under the dashboard with a wireless phone charging pad, while the cupholders are a reasonable size too, and the central cubby space is massive and even features a removable bin. There’s even a box underneath the passenger’s seat to store hidden tidbits – is this a posher Skoda Karoq?

The rear seat is very spacious, especially with the huge amount of available headroom – leg and knee room for even tall passengers is good as well. Big windows help car sick kids, as do the wide opening rear doors. Unlike the flat seats of rivals, the XC40’s rear seat is sculpted and actually quite comfortable – there’s also a centre armrest with cupholders, rear air vents and even USB C charging points to keep passengers charged. 

The boot continues the practical theme. While its 460-litres of available space isn’t huge (the X1 can carry 505L and the Q3’s 535L), it’s still a long and wide space with a lot of under-floor storage. The boot floor itself is split and can divide the boot in two, while the two sets of hooks for shopping bags are quite sturdy and there’s a strap on the side to hold bottles and so on. There’s also a 12V socket to power a vacuum or car fridge, and the rear seats (which feature a ski pass through) fold completely flat at the touch of a button to open up 1,336L. 

Service & Warranty: 7.0/10

Volvo Cars Australia has improved its after sales experience since the XC40 was released and now all models come with a five-year/unlimited km warranty with five years of roadside assistance as standard, which betters the Audi and BMW by two whole years. 

Servicing the 2020 Volvo XC40 T5 used to be a sore point, with a five-year service plan costing an incredible $4,030 ($806 per year). Servicing now is covered by a $1,595 three-year/45,000km (a more reasonable $532 per service) plan that can be purchased with the car – we recommend getting it included in the price of the car.

While it is more reasonable than before, it’s still not exactly cheap – the X1 ($1,560 for five years/80,000km or $330 per service) and Q3 ($2,630 for five years/75,000km or $526 per service) are more affordable to service, and their service plans cover five years as well. 

2020 Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.6/10

In our opinion, the 2020 Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design is easily the best entrant (so far) into the premium small SUV segment. Not only is it well equipped and great value, but its combination of strong performance, youthful attitude, fun dynamics and excellent quality make it a winner.

Importantly, the XC40 is a small SUV that doesn’t let its size dictate its practicality – there are clever touches everywhere that have migrated from larger products such as the XC60 which you just don’t find on competitors.

Yes, it does cost a lot to service, it’s not that fuel efficient and some options should be standard, but the XC40 has such a long list of attributes that those small issues fade away. And unlike a lot of competitors, the XC40 is such a characterful car that it becomes one of the family. It really is that good!

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