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.

byJosh Condon, Mike Spinelli| PUBLISHED May 9, 2018 5:50 PM
2019 Volvo XC40 R-Design Group Review: An Upstart With Personality, Smarts, And 2 Things That Annoy Us
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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

giphy

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 XC40 R-Design, Volvo

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 XC40, Volvo

mikespin

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

josh

/giphy genius

Giphy

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 XC40 R-Design, Volvo

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

giphy

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 XC40 R-Design, Volvo

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

giphy

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 XC40 R-Design, Volvo

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

giphy

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

giphy

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

giphy

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

giphy

[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 XC40 R-Design, Volvo

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

giphy

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.

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!

giphy