2019 Volvo XC40 first drive: a subscription worth renewing

February 26, 2018

There was molten lava under my feet, and it was relaxing. Harmonious, even, as it thumped gently to the music.

It wasn’t a trippy dream, but rather bright orange felt-like carpeting and a Harman Kardon subwoofer hidden behind the dashboard supplying mellow bass tones. The unconventional carpeting is the second-boldest thing about the 2019 Volvo XC40 I drove in a torrential downpour in Austin, Texas.

The wildest? That Volvo will encourage shoppers to subscribe to its new subcompact crossover, like they might to Dollar Shave Club, Bark Box, or Birchbox. Only instead of the mailman dropping off new goodies once a month, they’ll get a new XC40 every year.

MORE: Read our full review of the 2019 Volvo XC40

There’s little conventional about the 2019 XC40, Volvo’s pint-size, $34,000 crossover—not the least of which is how many will leave dealer lots. The automaker calls its subscription plan Care by Volvo, which sounds more like hospice than a flat-rate, everything-but-gas program that runs kind of like a cell phone plan. For $600 or $700 a month, depending on which XC40 subscribers choose, Volvo handles insurance and maintenance. It’s a two-year term that Volvo will offer in addition to conventional leasing and purchasing. Subscribers can trade up (or down) for another XC40 of their choice after a year, just in case they get bored with their current one. Subscribers need only interact with dealers on the day they pick up their XC40 and to schedule a concierge to pick up their vehicle for servicing.

It’s the $700-a-month XC40 that can be ordered with orange carpeting, which incidentally is made from recycled water bottles. That’s the XC40 R-Design, and it’s a gem for far more than what’s under foot and on the door panels.

Artfully arranged

The XC40 is Volvo’s smallest crossover, but its roomy, airy interior belies its trim dimensions. By the numbers, it’s almost a foot shorter than the larger XC60, which puts it in line with rivals like the BMW X1 and Jaguar E-Pace, and far more spacious than the Mercedes-Benz GLA. The standard leather-wrapped front seats are supportive, while the $2,500-more R-Design swaps in more bolstering and suede inserts in addition to upsized wheels, navigation, and keyless ignition. That orange-hued carpet runs an extra $100 on the XC40 R-Design. It’s money well spent, and if you don’t like it, swap it out for something more conventional next year. Commitments are uncool, anyway.

Rear-seat passengers are treated to plenty of room, as long as there’s no middle rider. The city-oriented XC40 is narrow, meaning three adults can’t sit abreast in the back seat. Behind the rear seat is about 16 cubic-feet of cargo storage—enough for a Target run, but not for a cross-country move.

2019 Volvo XC40

2019 Volvo XC40

A vertically arrayed, 9.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment serves as the XC40’s nerve center. It’s canted slightly toward the driver, and its software reacts quickly to swipes like a tablet. That tech story continues in the instrument cluster, a 12.3-inch LCD unit that’s standard on all XC40s.

The Harman Kardon audio system on the options list provides crisp, warm sound with an unusual footnote: there are no speakers taking up valuable real estate in the door panels.

Sound instead comes mostly from behind the dashboard, and that opens up big storage bins in the doors.

That’s all part of the smart thinking that Volvo has baked into the XC40’s interior with its unusually large number of useful storage bins and pockets. Now it’s not where to put your phone, it’s where did you put it?

In town, out of town

Both XC40 trim levels—Momentum and R-Design—will start as the T4 model with front-wheel drive and a 187-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4. For $2,000 more, Volvo tosses in a T5 badge, all-wheel drive and more boost—to the tune of 248 horsepower. An 8-speed automatic controlled by a chunky, pyramid-shaped lever is the only transmission on offer.

I spent the better part of a day shuttling around drenched Austin in well-optioned XC40s in Momentum and R-Design trim levels, both outfitted with the T5 powertrain. Despite its sportier styling, the R-Design neither rides nor handles differently than the Momentum. That’s just fine since both versions of the XC40 boast quick steering, ample power, and a composed ride. Even with the optional 20-inch alloy wheels fitted to the black R-Design, the XC40 reacted well to rough pavement in trendy East Austin. As it stretches just 174.2 inches from bumper-to-bumper, the XC40 is right-sized for urban spaces. That made it feel in its element in town, where its mid-mod styling fit in well among the bright murals adorning yoga studios and coffee roasters that line 11th Street. It’s places like this where Volvo hopes its XC40 will find a home, but the pint-size crossover was a happy companion slicing through corners on quiet backcountry roads west of town.

2019 Volvo XC40

2019 Volvo XC40

Among the few buttons on the XC40’s dash is one marked Drive Mode, which let me shuffle between a standard configuration and Dynamic, which added heft to the steering and held onto gears longer for more robust acceleration. Here, the XC40 was a hoot. Its little turbo spooled up to deliver good acceleration and the 8-speed triggered a pleasing bark as it slipped between gears. On the open road with the optional (but reasonably priced at $900 including a few additional goodies) Pilot Assist adaptive cruise control engaged, the XC40 steered itself and kept a comfortable distance from cars in front—cars that have drivers, not subscribers.

There are some gambles being made with the XC40, an unexpected move from a brand that has a reputation for playing it safe. My money’s on red—or molten lava, as it turns out.

Note to readers: Volvo provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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