Tuesday 21 August 2018

Volvo XC40 is a fast forward SUV with just the one reverse

Huge array of tech, but watch price climb

Enjoyable: Volvo XC40
Enjoyable: Volvo XC40
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

A long-time colleague, now sadly deceased, used to have a great phrase to announce he'd changed his mind about something. "Reverse ferret," he'd exclaim, invariably prompting ripples of laughter. Those were the days...

I thought of him at the start of my first Irish drive in Volvo's newest, and most compact SUV, the XC40.

I'll tell you why in a minute but I better put some sort of context on the car and the memory prompt first.

The XC40 is a compact SUV (I know, I know there doesn't seem to be any other sort these days). A rival for the likes of the BMW X1, Audi Q3, Range Rover Evoque, etc, it is Volvo's first car on their new mid-size platform and it benefits greatly from that. Many more will follow.

I was more than surprised to find it such a striking piece of metal; it is much bigger, more powerful looking than I'd remembered from driving it abroad last year.

And I was to find the interior had the sort of space and feel that lets them call it 'premium' with justification.

Just remember, however, I was driving a really high-spec version. There are some extraordinary hi-tech pieces of safety and comfort - the sort a growing number of people insist on. But for most of us, €45,000/€50,000 is loads for a car like this. For that, importantly, you still get lots of spec. Just watch the price climb.

Apart from decent room inside, they have made strenuous efforts to winkle out little alcoves of useful space, too: a storage box under the driver's seat, centre under-floor cargo and so on. There was a shopping-bag hook in the double-level but disappointingly small boot of my version; and a removable waste bin in the tunnel console.

So what's with the "reverse ferret" talk? Well, for all its accomplished, excellent elements (and there are more to come) I found one, in particular, dominated negative territory.

I struggled, initially and too often subsequently, to pop the auto-gearshift handle into Reverse and, sometimes, Drive without having to make two/three/four attempts.

Now I'm used to stuff; I get the hang of things like that quickly, but this frustrated me for too long for my liking. I know it seems relatively small in the overall scheme of things, but trying to find Reverse in a tight parking area when discovering one is 'still' in Drive is more than a little annoying.

Some instances may have been my fault. I'll take a share, but not all, of the blame. To put it frankly, I was ill-at-ease with it sometimes over the first few days. And that poses the question. Would I "reverse ferret" on the XC40 on that basis alone?

I've already made a substantial case for not doing so. And there is more. This was a strong, clean-cut drive with loads of road feel and balance. There was a solidity, a smoothness to it on good and bad roads. It swished us along the motorways and took the heavy punches from bad surfaces quite well (the Woodfield Bog road sorts the good from the bad, I can tell you).

The 2-litre diesel was a little coarse on start-up but at cruising we could not discern anything other than a quiet hum. It could have been a petrol.

We had All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) for added traction/grip and we successfully negotiated some off-roading on that basis.

You sit nice and snug in the car (I managed to get a high seating position) and feel cocooned not just by knowledge of all that safety stuff, but by the way the dash and console are designed to provide a sense of protection.

The central iPad-like touchscreen lets you do all your 'interactivity' and I'm delighted to say the Voice Control, among other things, let me call who I liked, handsfree. Like ease of gear selection, these things are great when they work.

Sadly for me, I must revert to the reverse momentarily because even though I had trouble less frequently as the week wore on, it really should not be an issue at all.

Now I fully expect Volvo to come back and say I didn't put enough pressure on the brake pedal before nudging the lever (8spd box by the way). I did. I'm more-than-used-to that. And I knew there was an info display in front of me showing what gear, or non-gear I was in. But should you have to look at that when trying to turn on a narrow suburban road or jammed near other cars?

My advice to you is: give the XC40 serious consideration because I found it not just impressive but enjoyable. A lovely package.

My other bit of advice is to make sure you are completely happy with that auto-shift. I expect some, maybe most, of you will wonder what in the name of God that Cunningham fellow is on, talking about "reverse ferrets".

Maybe it is just me. But check it anyway.


Volvo XC40 compact SUV R Design AWD auto 2-litre diesel, 190PS, €280 road tax.

Starts €38,900. Car tested: €63,425.

Spec includes: 18ins alloys, electronic climate control, 12.3ins TFT display, dynamic chassis, rear-park assist, leather-faced upholstery, City Safety (pedestrian/cyclist detection, front collision warning, etc), lane-keep aid; ISOFIX (outer rear seats), 9ins centre t/screen, sensus nav.

R-Design adds leather sports seats, front LED foglights, etc. Options: 20ins alloys, spare wheel, panoramic sunroof, Harmon Kardon system, 13 speakers, smartphone integration (Apple Carplay, Android Auto), 360-deg surround view. Several 'packs'.

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