Most subcompact luxury models feel a bit like cheap knockoffs of their bigger, pricier brand mates. The 2021 Volvo XC40, by contrast, is a break from the Volvo norm in a good way. It rides on a different platform from other Volvos, resulting in a small SUV that's a bit more playful to drive, but still possessing the solid, refined feeling one expects from the brand. Its design is more utilitarian and youthful, eschewing luxury materials like chrome and wood in favor of elements like contrasting roofs and more vibrant colors (you can get orange carpet!). Importantly, it's also one of the larger, more versatile vehicles in the segment and provides more features for the money. Basically, it's a desirable vehicle to buy on its own merits in a segment that often feels like you got it cause you couldn't afford something pricier.
And for 2021, it stands out from the crowd even more thanks to the addition of the XC40 Recharge all-electric model. Admittedly, its 208-mile range and overall efficiency are modest, but there are so few alternatives that it still merits consideration, especially for those who intend to stay closer to home.
What's new for 2021?
The XC40 gets some minor feature content changes, but the big news is the addition of the XC40 Recharge all-electric model (it was supposed to arrive last year). Besides its powertrain, the Recharge gets subtle styling differences and the same Android Automotive tech interface found in the Polestar 2.
What's the XC40 interior and in-car technology like?
Volvo’s interiors are very tidy and architectural in terms of design, and the XC40 is no exception even if its specific design diverges from the 60 and 90 series norm. It’s pleasingly simple, using nice materials, comfort and conservative modernism as its foundation. Leather is even standard, though we would like to see an alternative provided, such as the beautiful woven textiles found in Volvos' other cars.
Besides its design, one of the ways the XC40 differs from its siblings (and indeed its competitors as well) is its clever center console design. It features numerous large, grippy bins to store, secure and charge devices, plus useful cupholders and a sizable under-armrest bin. There's even a little compartment specifically designed to act as a garbage can. Clearly lots of care and thought went into the XC40.
There’s a lot of tech baked right in, too, from the standard vertically oriented infotainment screen to the digital instrument panel. We appreciate the embracing of technology, but we do have some qualms with Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system (below left). It looks great, and that large, vertical screen can display a lot of information at once. Some of our editors are not huge fans of the various menu screens, and find them unintuitive to navigate. It’ll take some getting used to before you remember how to switch between radio and Bluetooth streaming, for instance. On the plus side, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability is included as standard and the touchscreen's vertical orientation means they don't co-opt the entire display when in operation as is the case in most other infotainment systems.
The XC40 Recharge has a totally different interface, Google's Android Automotive OS (below right). As we discovered while testing it with the Polestar 2, it's remarkably easy to use and many are bound to prefer it to Volvo's own system.
How big is the XC40?
The back seat is a little small for larger adults, but is fairly standard for the segment. The XC40 falls into the smallest luxury crossover segment, a space shared by the Audi Q3, BMW X1/X2, Lexus UX and Mercedes GLB. With 36.1 inches of rear legroom, it’s more spacious than the Lexus (33.1 inches), equal to the Audi Q3 and slightly smaller than the X1 (37.0 inches). Rear headroom is in the Volvo is good, though. We found it easy to install a child car seat, even if our test kid didn’t have a ton of room to swing his legs around without kicking the passenger seat.
The XC40’s cargo space behind the second row is on the small side, but the area is tall, and it’s easy to load items into the large opening. Maximum cargo capacity is 57.5 cubic feet, which is bigger than nearly all of its competitors. The Mercedes GLB is most notable for being able to carry more stuff.
What are the XC40 fuel economy and performance specs?
There are three powertrains available for the 2021 XC40: the T4, T5 and Recharge.
The XC40 T4 a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, and is only available with front-wheel drive. It makes 187 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. Though not as peppy as the T5, it offers better fuel economy than most in the segment: 26 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined.
To get all-wheel drive, you have to step up to the XC40 T5. It also has a 2.0-liter turbo inline-four, but it produces 248 hp and 258 lb-ft. That’s more power than the sole engine offerings in the Q3, X1 and GLB. The fuel economy penalty for the extra power and all-wheel drive is negligible at 22 mpg city, 30 highway and 25 combined.
The XC40 Recharge has a 78 kilowatt-hour battery and dual motors on each axle to provide all-wheel drive. It produces 402 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque. Its EPA-estimated range is 208 miles with an efficiency rating of 43 kWh per 100 miles. That's less efficient than many other EVs.
What's the XC40 like to drive?
The XC40 breaks from the Volvo 60 and 90 series norm – it still feels competent and stable, yet there's more of a pluckiness present. It feels playful and light on its feet, and although the steering is on the numb side, it's precise and appropriately weighted. Yet, paradoxically, the XC40 is also quite tall and narrow, resulting in more body roll than usual and a notably high seating position. It feels a bit classically SUV-like in this regard, especially when compared to overtly car-like entries like the BMW X2 and Mercedes GLA. In total, the driving experience is a bit unusual – some of our editors disliked it, others found it charming. Either way, the XC40 is certainly not boring.
After driving multiple versions of the gas-powered XC40, we've found that ride comfort depends greatly on the options boxes checked, including wheel sizes and the available adaptive suspension. It's generally on the firm side, but "firm" can easily transition into "unpleasant" depending on your specification and the road surfaces at hand. Make sure to try out different combinations when test driving the XC40.
The same goes for the engine. While the T4 is more than capable, the T5 with its 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque is actually fun. It’ll go from zero to 60 in just a little over 6 seconds. We're also eager to try out the XC40 Recharge that's even quicker, though we have yet to test it at the time of this writing.
What other Volvo XC40 reviews can I read?
2019 Volvo XC40 First Drive Review | The Masspirational crossover
This was our first crack at the XC40, specifically the T5 AWD version, tested in the city, country, mountains and seaside highways around Barcelona. It was clear right away that this attractive, small crossover is meant to garner mass appeal across broad demographics.
Here is our first take on the electric XC40, including details about its range, battery and performance.
How much is the 2021 XC40 price and what features are available?
Pricing starts at $34,795, including destination, for the 2021 XC40 T4. Despite its considerable extra power and all-wheel drive, the T5 is only $2,000 more at $36,795.
Standard equipment is generous for a subcompact SUV and indeed, the XC40 provides more features for your money than its top rivals. These include standard 18-inch wheels, rear parking sensors, a power liftgate, automatic wipers, power-folding mirrors, automatic climate control, eight-way power driver seat with memory functions and four-way lumbar, leather upholstery, a 12-inch digital instrument panel, a 9-inch infotainment touchscreen, Volvo's Sensus interface, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and an eight-speaker sound system.
From there, the T4 and T5 fork in two similarly equipped directions: the sportier R-Design and more luxurious Inscription. Although there are some equipment differences, they largely come down to style and interior materials differences. We go over each variation's extra content in this rundown of features, specs and local pricing here on Autoblog.
The Recharge is comparable to the T5 R-Design in appearance and feature content. It starts at $55,085 and is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit.
What are the XC40 safety ratings and driver assistance features?
In addition to the things like airbags and seatbelts, standard safety equipment on the 2020 Volvo XC40 includes front and rear collision warning, automatic emergency braking, a driver alert system that watches for drowsy driving, lane keeping assist and road sign information. Other available safety systems include active bending lights, blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, LED fog lights with cornering lights and adaptive cruise control with lane centering.
Besides the sheer volume of driver assistance aids, it's important to note that Volvo's systems work very well and make driving less stressful while putting safety at the forefront. We also like the available Pilot Assist with adaptive cruise control and lane centering that make for easy work of rush hour traffic jams.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the XC40 five out of five stars for overall, frontal and side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the highest accolade of Top Safety Pick+ for its best-possible performance in every relevant category. It even got a "Good" rating for its headlights, which is a rarity.
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