Effortless — but, in an age of hi-tech digitisation — that may be exactly what one would expect from a luxury car brand and the winner of multiple international car awards.
The brand is the accomplished Swedish carmaker Volvo and the word “effortless” more than adequately describes not one, but two of its subcompact luxury crossover SUVs: The sporty XC40 T5 R-design and the stately XC60 D5 Inscription model.
The South African was very pleased and even more impressed after recently getting hold of both models and quickly discovering that it was The South African and not the vehicles which was being schooled on quality motoring alongside the Eastern Cape’s formidable shorelines.
Spot the difference
Supplied by East Cape Motors — which hosts a thoroughly COVID-19 compliant and equally friendly and service-centric Volvo dealership in Port Elizabeth — The South African laid its eager hands on the XC40 first.
While the word effortless is bound to be a re-occurring thought for any driver of both SUVs, it first occurred within minutes of exiting the East Cape Motor’s forecourt in Volvo’s newest XC40 T5 R-design.
This was largely due, coincidentally, to having briefly drive two other vehicles (a two-seater of German origin and a near entry level, but very capable hatchback) before stepping into the test Volvo — the only automatic in the morning’s line-up.
The differences between the vehicles — each built for different applications and markets — were naturally obvious, remarkable and stark.
But one can’t escape the fact that each vehicle shares the singular primary purpose of moving people from A to B in the safest, most efficient and most comfortable manner it can.
This then provided unusual, but appropriate conditions to provide a practical and layman’s assessment and comparison of the vehicles against the vastly different XC40.
It also provided the XC40 with the opportunity to give The South African its first test: That of immediately adjusting to an automatic transmission on a main arterial route in dense morning traffic.
Having braced myself to counter those instinctive gropes for the gear stick and the skid marks and near misses that come with feet competing for a clutch pedal that is not there, I was awestruck to find that the transition was near seamless, and again, almost effortless — with this South African proverbially finding his feet just minutes into the drive.
In all of this and against the luxurious, but super-cramped sports car and the simple driveability and practicality of the hatchback, the XC duo has it all and can certainly claim that the destination is indeed the journey.
Volvo XC60 vs XC40: Exterior appeal
You know you are driving a looker when you catch the eyes and the admiring stares of pedestrians and motorists and really know for certain when random people whip out their phones and photograph your vehicle in a mall parking lot.
This is exactly what happened with the XC40 T5 R-design.
Aesthetically, the XC40 differs substantially from the XC60, which in my opinion has more “executive” appeal by comparison. The XC40 exudes a distinctly more sporty visual feel coupled with adventurous, but refined looks.
Irrespective, the XCs design ques, silhouette and proportions simply command attention and with striking front and rear light and body panel appointments, this is certainly from all angles.
With the XC40’s two-tone colour scheme, the vehicle offers a more “go-anywhere” look than its bigger price-tag sibling, although the ample ground clearance on both vehicles also enforce this impression one gets of both models.
By comparison to other popular SUVs, Volvo appears to have neatly nailed the proportions between ground clearance, the overall volume of the vehicle and its height, thereby avoiding the vehicle appearing top heavy in anyway.
The SUVs also exude a lineage reminiscent of the passenger vehicles the brand builds, rather than the more bakkie-like designs that other manufacturers appeared to have transferred from their pick-up ranges and into their SUVs.
The bottom line from an aesthetics point of view is that chance are exceptionally good that you will not only look good in the XCs, but also feel like you look great in them too.
The interiors of the XC40 and XC60 have much in common in that they are both spacious, uncomplicated, comfortable and refined.
Importantly, they both have highly functional and practical interiors, with just about every conceivable modcon and all digital or electrical and operable by barely flexing a muscle.
With exception of the rear — with that end taken care of with park assist and a handy camera — the cabin gives the driver clear, all-round vision which is naturally improved by the ride height of the vehicle.
Seating is nappa leather in the XC60 which also sports individual seats for passengers in the rear. While the rear seating configuration is similar in the XC40, the configuration appears to be more forgiving in that one could imagine squeezing in an extra child or young adult without creating a sardine-can situation.
Perhaps one of the biggest take-aways from the interior is its simplicity — this in light of all its features — which are easily accessible and easy to manage from the comfort of the driver’s seat. There are a dazzling array of features in the touch-screen infotainment centre — far too many to describe here — and well-placed buttons for various functions centred around the steering wheel.
The instrument panel — with its GPS map laid out conveniently in a manner in which one can see everything at a glance — is one of the the range’s stand-out features, as is the heads-up display function – featured on the XC60 – which sees information such as speed appearing in a non-distracting manner on the windscreen.
The side mirrors – which are a technical feat in themselves – are naturally viewed from the interior and provide awesome features, such as blind spot warning lights that alert the driver to nearby vehicles and potential hazards.
Lane assists and semi-autonomous parking ability are also included in the hi-tech, high-spec package of digital and automatic features.
Cellphone integration and functions, exceptionally high-quality audio, electrical, fully adjustable seats with a memory function and everything one would expect from a comprehensive, modern infotainment system ensure that the Volvo duo have covered all of the bases.
In a word, both the XC40 and its sibling are a pleasure to drive — in an urban setting, the open road and should you find yourself on some gravel.
Without justifying the Volvo driving experience by expounding meaningless technical jargon, an aspiring XC40 and XC60 owner would need to know that both models – as automatics – are exceptionally capable in meeting almost every motoring need.
The duo are very responsive and provide power on-tap, quickly, and as, when and where needed — whether on steep uphills, or when a power boost is needed to get out of a tight spot or when overtaking.
The Volvo XC40 has all-wheel-drive with the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine producing 185kW and a hefty 350Nm mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. To top it off, it also has an “off-road” driving mode.
It may be semantics and vehicle-specific, but the XC60 appears to provide a slightly smoother ride over the XC40.
Powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel with 173kW and 480Nm of torque and mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the XC60 is a fantastic drive.
Road noise is very minimal, and zero when using the vehicles’ audio systems.
For those unfamiliar with the Volvo range, the fact that the XC40 and XC60 engines cut out at robots or when coming to a halt for a slightly extended period of time as a fuel-saving mechanism, might come as a slightly unsettling feature.
But, as your confidence that the engine will restart immediately – and it does – grows, drivers will acclimatise very quickly and go on to enjoy the fuel savings one will certainly want when budgeting for ownership of an SUV.
The mode shifts – park, neutral and drive and reverse – vary slightly between the XC40 and XC60, but the ease of use of both will undoubtedly leave a new Volvo driver in awe.
Considering the size of the vehicles in relation to tight parking spaces and closed environments, I was particularly pleased with the turning arc of both vehicles, especially when reversing in a tight space.
In a simple summation – both the XC40 and the XC60 deserve a round of applause and and two thumbs up for each model.
THE FACTS AND FIGURES
- The Volvo XC40 is a subcompact luxury crossover SUV manufactured by Volvo Cars. It was first unveiled on 21 September 2017 with manufacture of the first XC40s beginning in November of the same year.
- The XC40 was named Car of the Year by the magazine What Car? in January 2018, and it was given the European Car of the Year Award at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. The model was also awarded Carsales Car of the Year in 2018, and Irish Car of the Year in 2019.
- The starting price of the XC40 is R571 200 and R753 000 for the XC60 – with both prices including VAT and the CO2 levy.
- The vehicle boasts a top-of-the-range Harman Kardon Premium Sound audio system has 13 speakers for beautifully balanced, powerful sound.
- With a volume of 479 litres to the top of the rear backrests, the Volvo XC40 has one of the largest load compartments in its class.
- There is a smorgasbord of accessories for both the XC40 and XC60 and for the XC40, buyers can chose from a whopping nine different dynamic alloy wheel designs that range from 18 to 21 inches in diameter.