2019 Volvo XC40 R-Design Group Review: An Upstart With Personality, Smarts, And 2 Things That Annoy Us

The Swedish-Chinese supergroup brings a really good knife to a knife fight.

Volvo

Two of The Drive’s editors—Mike Spinelli and Josh Condonrecently spent time with the 2018 Volvo XC40 R-Design. They discussed the finer merits and detractors of this compact crossover via Slack, an instant message program with a fun ability to summon random gifs based on what users type. The following is a partial transcript of that conversation.

josh
HEY WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE VOLVO XC40?

mikespin
NOTHING WOULD PLEASE ME MORE

josh
Can we stop yelling now?

mikespin
/giphy shhhhh

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josh
So, how weird is it that I want to write that this is a "typically pretty Volvo?" It's amazing how effectively their new-ish design language has made them into a sexy brand. One forgets how quickly that can happen; Kia did it in the space of a couple new products.

mikespin
It's true. We had the R-Design version with the black top, which, like Joel Embiid's mask, adds some mystery to the design.

Volvo

Volvo XC40 R-Design

josh
Is it me, or is this one for the Kidz? Seemed pretty youth-oriented.

mikespin
They're definitely going for millennial buyers. No stodgy wood trim.

josh
Yeah, all that aluminum inside. Which totally works.

mikespin
Totally. The Swedes really get modern design. Is that a new thing for them ; )

But seriously, it's classy and understated and still looks forward-thinking.

josh
Did you notice all the cleverness? There are so many truly clever details inside—that's the real charm of the thing.

mikespin
Apparently there's a takeout-food hook under the passenger seat. Did you see that? GENIUS

josh
Yeah, there's the hook on the glove box to hold a purse or a bag of delivery food—and if you exceed the weight limit, nothing breaks. It just detaches and you can re-attach. There's sliding bins under the back seat, for storage (in the Premium trim, which we had) and a removable garbage bin in the front console.

Volvo

Volvo XC40

mikespin
Oh yeah, that garbage bin was a total "why has no one done this" moment

josh
/giphy genius

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Also, I'm really glad Volvo finally found a vehicle that makes total sense for its turbocharged or twin-charged engine.

mikespin
YES

josh
Because that does NOT work for anything that's supposed to be a luxury vehicle. But in the XC40, it was perfect.

Well...not perfect. But it made sense.

mikespin
True. I didn't once find myself wincing at how thin it sounds.

josh
And a bunch of power for that small of a vehicle. That had, what, 248 horsepower?

mikespin
yeah, and 258 lb-ft

[After-the-Fact Check: The Volvo XC40 currently comes with one engine in the U.S., a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four making 248 hp and 258 lb-ft.]

Volvo

Volvo XC40 R-Design

mikespin
That chunky torque curve is truck-like anyway.

josh
Right. That thing motored.

mikespin
Now for the bad news. WHAT WAS UP WITH THE STOP-START? I couldn't get it to turn off, and it engaged really abruptly

josh
Oh that was so bad it was like it was designed to be terrible.

mikespin
/giphy born to be bad

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josh
Mercedes tends to have the most un-intrusive stop-start system; this was the opposite of that. I did get it to turn off, though.

mikespin
Really? How long did you have to hold down the button?

josh
I have no idea. I loathe stop-start, so as per usual I flew into a fit of rage the first time it cut the engine at the exact wrong moment in NYC traffic, everything went red, and when I came to the system was disengaged and I wasn't wearing a shirt. LOTS of feathers in the cabin, too. Like, too many for comfort. Something bad happened.

mikespin
haha

mikespin
I was in really bad traffic on the FDR and it engaged and nearly threw me into the East River.

josh
It's beyond rough.

josh
How did you use it? You carry anything around? Pretty good cargo room for such a small car.

[After-the-Fact Check: The XC40 packs 57.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the second row of seats folded down.]

mikespin
I didn't do much cargo hauling, but it made me want to. Such good packaging choices in there. You can tell they did a ton of real-world R&D.

josh
Same with interior room—felt a lot bigger front seat and back than the size of the vehicle let on.

mikespin
Seriously. It feels way bigger than the other crossovers in its small class.

Volvo

Volvo XC40 R-Design

josh
I hear you on real-world testing—it explains all the various clever storage and extra functionality bits.

mikespin
I mean, that against the BMW X1? It's like a compact more than a sub [and] the seating position feels really high compared to, say, the Infiniti QX30

josh
Right. Although vehicles like those just always beg the question: Why not just get a sedan?

/giphy People are dumb

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mikespin
ha

NOT THE SEDAN QUESTION?

josh
And it looks the business, too. That clamshell hood, like you'd find on a Range Rover, is an elegant touch, and surely not cheap.

mikespin
Yes. Really long hood compared too the competition too. Gives it a more elegant profile.

OH! Not a fan of the shifter.

josh
The exterior design story is really about the way the contrast-color roof panel dips halfway down the C-pillar and creates an upswing in the back. It's a powerful way to differentiate what is essentially a pretty conventional shape.

mikespin
Yeah, it's really become a thing with small crossovers, hasn't it? Look at that line on the Nissan Rogue or a Lexus, Toyota, etc. It's become the "interesting" zone. They'd all look about the same without that

josh
There's no other way to make that shape interesting. It's inherently boring.

mikespin
yeah—it's totally packaging driven

josh
Oh, wait, let's ditch the exterior design discussion and go back to the shifter. For a car that gets so much right, that shifter is utterly, aggressively wrong and stupid.

Volvo

Volvo XC40 R-Design

mikespin
I agree. So non-intuitive. In an era where ergonomics has become such a differentiator. oops!

josh
There's no travel so it never feels like it's engaging and it seems to force you into neutral (which you always have to cycle through). I was thinking that if you put a gun to my head and gave me three tries to get from Park into Drive with my eyes closed, I wouldn't be able to do it.

mikespin
I was always nervous that I'd be that guy who accidentally backed into the dry cleaners.

/giphy oops

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josh
It was like they decided to replace a traditional shifter with a three-pound computer mouse that only traveled a half-inch in one of two directions.

mikespin
A rare misstep in an interior that has so few. Missteps, I mean.

josh
You know you can edit in Slack, right?

/giphy Amateur

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mikespin
Now you tell me.

It was like the CEO's kid designed the shifter and no one wanted to tell him it sucked.

josh
Yeah, exactly.

mikespin
Light steering. And saying it feels a bit distant is kind of a rote thing to say now, isn't it? 

It's almost fun to drive.

/giphy almost

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josh
Well, again, this does bring up the sedan question. Any time I get into a vehicle like this and start to think, "Hey, this thing handles pretty well!" I just think of my wife's old Volkswagen Passat and how no crossover had half the feel of even that sedan.

mikespin
Right. No one cares any more. Fahrvergnügen is dead.

josh
Driving dynamics are a fundamental weakness of what defines a crossover. So the best we can say is it's aight. And it is—it's aight.

Holy shit I had no idea what you were talking about. I'm just remembering Fahrvergnügen for the first time in at least a decade. What did that mean, again?

mikespin

/giphy i'm old

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[After-the-Fact Check: The Drive's staff has no idea how old Mike Spinelli really is.]

mikespin
German for "driving pleasure."

josh
That doesn't sound right.

mikespin
That's what VW said it meant. It probably means "feels like spätzle between your toes."

josh
Let's go with that.

Okay, so it seems like, a couple of grave annoyances aside—namely, the shifter and the stop-start—we both agree the XC40 is a well-thought, well-packaged, charming, and capable vehicle that's handsome inside and out. Fair?

mikespin
That's fair.

josh
It's a lot of praise. It's also a lot of money. Volvo really isn't fucking around in considering themselves a luxury brand. It's priced like it.

mikespin
Conspiracy theory: I wonder if it's priced to drive people to their subscription model.

[After-the-Fact Check: While the Volvo XC40 starts at a base price of $35,200, it's also available through the company's "Care by Volvo" subscription model, which includes insurance, wear and tear, and road hazard protection coverage, for a price of $600/mo. for the Momentum trim and $700/mo. for the R-Design.]

Volvo

Volvo XC40 R-Design

josh
Our tester was R-Design, yes?

mikespin
Yep. R stands for...?

josh
"R" stands for around $45,000, if I'm remembering the Monroney correctly.

mikespin
Hoo-fa

josh
That's Audi, BMW, or Mercedes money for an AWD crossover. Worth it?

/giphy Make it rain

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mikespin
Luxury small crossovers are such a lease-y segment that it's not like real money anyway. Perfect for Volvo's sub model.

josh
Great point. But does the product compete with the German big guns? It's a new segment for new Volvo. How well did they do out of the gate?

mikespin
I think it's definitely in the same league as the BMW X1, the Merc GLA and Infiniti/Lexus

josh
I think it's better.

mikespin
Also, don't forget that Jaguar is in there now too

josh
Ah, good point.

mikespin
It's a knife fight in there

josh
HOWEVER

I'm only speaking of the loaded model we drove, but the vehicle is as good-looking as anything on the road, in my opinion has a better-designed interior than anything else, is probably packaged better, and certainly has more "why doesn't everything else have these?" features than all its competitors combined.

On top of that, it has plenty of power and is fine to drive.

mikespin
Absolutely. And the powertrain is no liability next to the other transverse-powered models in its class. In fact, it's probably top of that heap.

josh
Right. It's probably the vest value proposition for the money, as long as you don't overvalue any particular badge sitting in your driveway.

mikespin
So, those Geely billions have been well spent?

[After-the-Fact Check: Geely purchased Volvo from Ford in 2010 for $1.8 billion.]

josh
Volvo's killing it.

mikespin
Agreed.

josh
They were coasting on their reputation for quality and safety for a while there; now, they're a distinctive, personality-driven upstart in the mass-produced luxury space. I don't know that anyone saw that happening after the "Sold to the Chinese!" headlines.

Good on them. And on that bombshell...

/giphy That's all, folks!

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