2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
After 91 years in existence, Volvo is now as far away from its roots as a car company can be and still have the same name -- with one important exception.
Originally founded in Sweden in 1927, it was sold to Ford in 1999 and then to Geely, a Chinese holding company, in 2010. The iconic boxy styling has long since been replaced by sleek designs. The target audience has shifted from enlightened blue collar workers and associate college professors to the nouveau riche with taste. And the simple but not very fuel efficient engines have given way to sophisticated powerplants that are both strong and offer relatively high mileage.
One thing that hasn't changed, however, is Volvo's commiment to safety. The manufacturer that pioneered crumple zones and automatic braking is continuing to offer some of the most advanced safety systems on the planet, meaning Volvos are still a smart buy.
But for a compant that didn't used to follow trends, Volvo is now in think of the chase. The subject of this week's test -- the 2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design -- is a high performance luxury subcompact crossover, a market niche that is exploding as gas prices start increasing again. It competes directly against similar offerings from such long established luxury manufacturers as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Posche. It stands out by playing on Volvo's reputation for sophistication and creature comfort, providing a ride that is both refined and comfortable.
And did we say fun? Although earlier Volvos were more stodgy than enjoyable, our test XC40 was a blast to drive, thanks to the turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine that pumped out 248 eager horsepower. It is mated to a standard eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and multiple driving modes, from Eco to Comfort to Dynamic. It also came with all-wheel-drive and an Off-road mode for when the going gets tough.
To top it off, the R-Design package included 19-inch wheels with low profile tires, a sports chasis, and a black and red leather interior, and exterior touches like integrated gloss black roof rails. Premium, Vision and Advanced packages offered more goodies, including even more cutting edge safety systems that the comprehensive base lineup.
On the road, the 2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design was a delight. Unlike some competitors, the suspension was more supple than stiff, making it less punishing to drive over broken pavement. The ample power of the T5 engine was always on tap, whether taking off from dead stops, merging into freeway traffic, or just playing around on twisty roads.
The exterior lines are more fluid than those on most subcompact crossovers. The include a pushed in rectangular grill, sculpted sides and wide rear pillars that restrict visibility out the back a little, The overall results is very attractive, however, a radical departure from Volvo's earlier form follows function design philosophy.
Inside, the layout was both upscale and modern. The interior materials were of the highest quality and the fit and finish was immaculate, more proof that Volvo really has become the genuine luxury manufacturer it aspires to be.
The biggest challenge for new drivers is mastering the large swipe-and-touch infotainment screem now standard on all Volvos. Those who came of age was swipe screen smart phones should have little trouble figuring out how to use it. For the rest of us, some practice in the driveway with the engine running is in order.
The 2019 XC40 starts at $33,200 with a front-wheel-drive and a less powerful turbo four. Our fully loaded version was $45,935, which is very competitive for a genuine performance luxury subcompact crossover. And it is a large subcompact at that, more like a regular compact than its smaller cousin.
If you think you know Volvos but haven't driven any for years, you owe it to yourself to check out how much the company has grown. And the 2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design is a great place to start.
2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
Base price: $37,700
Price as tested: $45,935
Type: Compact crossover
Engine: Turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter inline 4 (248 hp, 258 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode
EPA estimated mileage: 23/31
Overall length: 174,2 inches
Curb weight: 3,756 pounds
Final assembly: Ghent, Belgium