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Volvo XC40 2019 review: Inscription T4

EXPERT RATING
7.9
Is Volvo's XC40 Inscription T4 the perfect combination of form and function? We found out.

The Volvo XC40 is the smallest and most recent addition to the Swedish brand’s SUV line-up and from the moment it arrived in 2018 it seems just about everybody hailed it as the best thing since smashed avocado.

Seriously, the praise was so high for the hugely anticipated car you could have been forgiven for thinking it could have been the new Dalai Lama or the Messiah.

But what’s it like live with? The XC40, not the Messiah.

We found out when an XC40 Inscription T4 came to stay for a week. During that time, I found out just how much fuel it needed, how much room was inside, what is was like to drive and what was missing from that impressive armoury of safety technology.

Volvo XC40 2019: T4 INSCRIPTION (AWD)
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.4L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$50,990

Is there anything interesting about its design?   10/10

Nearly everything about the design of the Volvo XC40 is interesting: from the way the bonnet sits flat and high, then leads to that sub nose with its modern grille, to the way the back door panel kicks up sharply to meet the rear pillar that’s hugged by long, angular tail-lights flanking a cleanly designed tailgate. It’s Volvo’s cool, minimalist design in a little SUV package.

The exterior dimensions show just how little the XC40 is at 4.4m long. The exterior dimensions show just how little the XC40 is at 4.4m long.

And the exterior dimensions show just how little the XC40 is at 4.4m long, about 1.6m tall and 2.0m wide (with the mirrors out). How does that affect space inside? We’ll get to that below in the practicality section.

As far as the design inside goes Volvo minimalism is present throughout the cabin. This cockpit has a stylish simplicity, with a high-quality feel to the materials and excellent fit and finish.

The Inscription comes with pale ‘Drift Wood’ in-lays on the dash and doors – it’s a light coloured, rough feeling wood, see the interior images for yourself. There’s a 'crystal' gear knob, plush carpet trim on the doors, charcoal leather seats and a leather-trimmed steering wheel, too.

The rear pillar is hugged by long, angular tail-lights that flank a cleanly designed tailgate. The rear pillar is hugged by long, angular tail-lights that flank a cleanly designed tailgate.

You can spot an Inscription from the outside by its 19-inch 'Double Spoke Black Diamond Cut' alloy wheels – again, check these out in the exterior images. While the R-Design grade above it has a two-tone colour scheme with a black roof, the Inscription comes standard as all one colour.

The hue of my test car was 'Luminous Sand Metallic' which is the most stunning shade from a limited choice of colours that includes 'Pine Grey Metallic', 'Denim Blue Metallic', 'Maple Brown Metallic', 'Bright Silver Metallic' and 'Crystal White Pearl'.

Compared to rivals such as the BMW X2, Audi Q2 and Jaguar E-Pace I think the XC40 is arguably the best looking of the bunch.

I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m giving the XC40 a perfect 10 because as far as small SUVs go right now, they don’t get better looking or as bravely unique as this inside and out.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

There are three grades in the Volvo XC40 line-up – at the top is the R-Design, at the bottom is the Momentum and in the middle is our test car, the Inscription, for $50,990 before on-road costs, except it had $6410 worth of options.

We’ll get to those options, but first, the standard features. The Inscription comes with a 9.0-inch vertical touchscreen, sat nav, wireless phone charger, digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather upholstery, crystal gear knob, dual-zone climate control, power adjustable driver’s seat, proximity key, roof rails, 19-inch alloy wheels and 'Hammer of Thor' LED headlights.

The Inscription comes with 19-inch alloy wheels. The Inscription comes with 19-inch alloy wheels.

The options fitted to our test car include the $2500 'Technology Pack' which adds adaptive cruise control, 360 degree camera and auto parking. There were heated seats ($550), alarm ($480), tinted rear glass ($700), power folding rear backrest ($250), heated rear seats ($350), lockable glove box ($30), heated steering wheel ($350) and the Harman Kardon stereo ($1200).

Is it good value? It’s about what you’d pay for an BMW X2 or a Jaguar E-Pace in a similar specification. Is it as prestige an offering as a Bimmer or Jag? Definitely.

Is it good value for a small SUV in general? Nope. Mazda, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia and even Volkswagen offer better value for money… so you’re paying a prestige premium with the Volvo. But you know this, right?

How practical is the space inside?   9/10

The XC40 is small at just 4.4m long and 2.0m wide, but space inside is outstanding for storage and people room.

Up front there’s plenty of room for me at 191cm tall to sit under the steering wheel with stacks of space in the footwell and great head-, shoulder- and elbow room.

Room in the back is also great – I can sit behind my driving position with more than a 20mm of space between my knees and the seatback, while headroom is plentiful, too.

  • Up front there’s plenty of room for me at 191cm tall to sit under the steering wheel. Up front there’s plenty of room for me at 191cm tall to sit under the steering wheel.
  • Room in the back is also great and headroom is plentiful. Room in the back is also great and headroom is plentiful.

Sitting back there I’m also happy to report that vision isn’t obstructed by the ‘kick-up’ in the door panel as it occurs just behind the back-seat passenger’s shoulder. I also had my four-year old son sitting in the back in his child seat and his visibility wasn’t affected.

Cabin storage is clever and makes use of the available space in the XC40 well.

There are giant bottle holders in the front doors and smaller ones in the rears,  there also four cupholders – two in the cockpit and another in the fold down armrest in the back.

The centre console bin is big and even has a small net for business cards or coins, then there’s the little trap door hidey hole in front of it and the giant area under the dash which also houses the wireless charging pad, 12-volt outlet and USB port. There’s a drawer under the driver’s seat, too.

Rear passengers have seat back net pockets, a USB charging port and directional air vents.

  • The cargo capacity is 460 litres. The cargo capacity is 460 litres.
  • It's a big boot for an SUV that’s only 4.4m long. It's a big boot for an SUV that’s only 4.4m long.

How big is the XC40’s boot? The cargo capacity is 460 litres which is big for an SUV that’s only 4.4m long.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

The XC40 Inscription has what Volvo calls its 'T4' turbo-petrol engine with all-wheel drive (AWD).

That’s your only choice for this grade. If you’d prefer a front-wheel drive (FWD) version you’ll need to step down to the Momentum grade which has the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine with identical outputs of 140kW/300Nm.

You’ll use more fuel with AWD, and to find out how much more skip to the section below on economy.

The T4 is smooth, quiet and had enough grunt to get up and move quickly when I needed to overtake or merge. There's a small amount of turbo lag, but that’s not a deal breaker.

'Dynamic' mode (the sport setting) sharpens the throttle response and gear shifts.

The eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth, but a little slow in the normal setting and a lack of paddle shifters is disappointing.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

The XC40 Inscription T4 feels good to drive. By that I mean, the steering is light, smooth and direct, with a quiet engine that has acceptable shove along with a comfortable and serene cabin.

These are the boxes that pretty much get ticked in every new Volvo I’ve driven in the past few years.

The steering is light, smooth and direct. The steering is light, smooth and direct.

If you’re after a sportier XC40 then skip the Inscription and head straight to the R-Design with its more powerful 'T5' engine and paddle shifters.

The T4 in the Inscription is fine, but with 140kW its acceleration isn’t mind blowing (0-100km/h in 8.5s) and I found the turbo lag to be frustrating at times.

Built more for comfort than handling the XC40 is easy to pilot, but that soft suspension, short wheelbase (no doubt) and high centre of mass also means speed bumps and pot holes cause a bit of bounce and body wobble at slow speeds over Sydney’s horrendous roads. There were times the family was jiggled cocktail-shaker style.

I was hoping for a better driving experience from the XC40 Inscription T4. It’s a small and relatively affordable SUV (compared to other Volvos), but can’t match the on-road refinement of its bigger siblings.

Then there’s the portrait screen which looks good and removes many of the buttons from the dashboard, but I found it difficult and distracting to use while driving. It’s not intuitive, the layout is book-like and too wordy for quick selections.

There were times I needed to pull over just so that I could work out how to do what should be simple things – like how to turn the stop-start fuel saving system off. Tesla has nailed the large portrait screen – Volvo take note.

Also, adaptive cruise control isn’t a standard feature. Our test car had it optionally fitted but I couldn’t help but fume about that.

Volvo is at the forefront of driving tech like this and making people pay more seems to be at odds with the portrayed ethos of the company.

So, it’s not quite an eight out of 10 here – I feel the driving experience is good but not outstanding.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

About that fuel economy – by choosing the Inscription T4 with its AWD you won’t use much more fuel than the FWD with the same engine.

Volvo officially says the XC40 Inscription T4's mileage over a combination of open and urban roads is 7.4L/100km (the T4 with FWD is 7.2L/100km).

After 175km of peak hour traffic and my test route through country roads I’d used 21.24 litres, which works out to be 12.14L/100km. Motorway kays would bring that number down a stack further.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

The Volvo XC40 scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was assessed in 2018 – but did you really expect anything less? Safety has been Volvo’s schtick for decades.

The standard safety equipment list is extensive. There’s AEB with pedestrian, large animal and cyclist detection; you’ve also got intersection collision and oncoming mitigation with brake and steering support.

There’s lane keeping assistance with collision mitigation, blind spot warning with cross traffic alert, plus front and rear collision warning with braking.

The Volvo XC40 scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. The Volvo XC40 scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating.

Now for the ‘what the heck?’ part. You need to option adaptive cruise control. You also need to option auto parking.

This seems ridiculous given the XC40 is armed to the hilt with tech and Volvo is a leader in pioneering autonomous driving. I mean, adaptive cruise and parking assistance is standard on a Volkswagen Golf.

The XC40 I tested had the $2500 'Technology Pack' fitted which gave it adaptive cruise and 'Park Assist Pilot'.

All that aside the Volvo still scores well for safety, of course.

For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tether anchor points in the second row. Installing my four-year old’s seat (top tether kind) was as easy as it gets.

Under the boot floor is a space saver spare tyre.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

The XC40 is covered by Volvo’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or 12 months.

Two servicing plans are available for the XC40. The basic 'Smart Care' plan costs $2165 for three years/45,000km, $3320 for four years/60,000km or $4230 for five years/75,000km.

Verdict

The XC40 Inscription T4 is beautifully designed while also being spacious and practical – yep almost perfect form and function. Then there’s the exceptional safety systems, but a lack of standard adaptive cruise control or auto parking is odd. That also affects the driving experience, which while good isn’t as refined as its stylish design may suggest.

Would you have an XC40 Inscription T4 over a Jaguar E-Pace or BMW X2? Tell is what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$50,990
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$44,990
Highest Price
$56,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
T4 INSCRIPTION (AWD) 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $50,990 2019 Volvo XC40 2019 T4 INSCRIPTION (AWD) Pricing and Specs
T4 MOMENTUM 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $44,990 2019 Volvo XC40 2019 T4 MOMENTUM Pricing and Specs
T4 MOMENTUM (FWD) 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $46,990 2019 Volvo XC40 2019 T4 MOMENTUM (FWD) Pricing and Specs
T5 R-DESIGN (AWD) 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $55,990 2019 Volvo XC40 2019 T5 R-DESIGN (AWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.9
Design10
Price and features7
Practicality9
Engine & trans8
Driving7
Fuel consumption8
Safety8
Ownership6
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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