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Volvo's new baby SUV comes with mothercare
IT may be the new baby of Volvo's sport utility vehicle (SUV) range, but the XC40 is more like your mother with wheels. I don't mean that in a pejorative way, because we all love our mothers (or at least, we ought to), though not as much as they love us.
What I mean is the new Volvo is much like the other Volvos, in that it is utterly dedicated to the idea that its owner should never come to harm. The Swedish company's engineers dream that by 2020, no one will be killed in one of their products.
The XC40 thus inherits a number of the safety features from the bigger Volvos, with some new ones to show off. Most of these are of the "catch you when you fall" philosophy, so like a watchful parent at the playground, it has eyes, and it uses them to keep a constant lookout for danger.
Swerve into oncoming traffic, for example, and the XC40 can usher you back into your own lane via a bit of steering intervention. Same thing goes if it thinks you're about to roll off the road and into a ditch.
It keeps its camera peeled for pedestrians, cyclists and large animals, even some of my ex-girlfriends, and applies the brakes if you fail to spot them yourself and run the risk of colliding with them. I found that particularly handy, since I really don't want to run into my exes.
Uniquely, if you reverse out of a parking spot and fail to spot a car bearing down across the Volvo's rear, it stops itself to save you. At least it doesn't nag.
Only a serious amaxophobe would choose a car because it has a maternal instinct, however, so it's just as well that the XC40 has other things going for it.
For one thing, it's a striking looking car, with chunky lines and a big, upright grille giving it an attractive air of solidity. Slim windows and a black roof complement that solidity with some sleekness, and the way the wheels are pulled out towards the Volvo's corners makes it look sort of unfaltering and stable.
Size-wise, the XC40 is in the neighbourhood of Volkswagen's Tiguan or BMW's X1 (and its mechanical sister, the Mini Countryman). It has a longer wheelbase than any of them, so the rear of the cabin feels pretty roomy, and even though the rear window line sweeps up in a way that results in small windows, it doesn't feel dark or claustrophobic back there.
You don't get space from nowhere, of course, so the XC40 also has the smallest boot among its competitors, and its rear seats neither slide nor recline, unlike those of its rivals.
At S$205,000 (with COE) for the T5 R-Design version, it's also the most expensive of the lot, but it makes up for it by having the most oomph under the bonnet. A 2.0-litre turbo engine gives the driver 250 horsepower to play with, which lets the Volvo hurtle to 100km/h in a frisky 6.4 seconds.
Yet, the XC40 isn't much fun to drive. The steering is so numb, twirling it feels a bit like . . . actually, it doesn't feel like much at all, because it's numb.
The engine might have muscle, but it doesn't have manners, and its gruff voice and buzzy performance are enough to discourage you from giving it a workout. It's the least premium part of what feels like a premium car.
On the plus side, the Volvo's hold on the road is reassuringly strong, even though the suspension delivers a comfortable ride. Overall I'd say it handles much better than, say, a Range Rover Evoque, but is less engaging to drive than a Mazda CX-5.
If the XC40 is going to seduce anyone, it's likely to do it with its interior, which is full of high quality materials and a pleasantly uncluttered design.
It's also littered with thoughtful touches, such as a removable trash bin and a slot for your mobile phone (where you can't look at the screen, wisely).
The excellent sound system's subwoofers are mounted under the dashboard, which frees up space in the door bins for bigger items, such as a laptop.
The centrepiece of the cabin is a large, 12.3-inch touchscreen system that controls most of the car's systems. It wipes the dashboard clear of physical buttons, which looks ultra neat but also means that many of the things you want to do require a few presses of the screen.
Want to turn the air-con up? You have to call up the relevant sub-menu, make the adjustment, and close the resulting pop-up. Maybe a few more buttons might not have been a bad idea.
Our test car came with orange carpeting and some nice, racy bits of aluminium trim, but if you can do without the sporty R-Design elements and some features such as a panoramic sunroof, you can save S$15,000 and get the Momentum version.
That said, since design happens to be one of the XC40's main strengths, you might as well indulge in all the cosmetic upgrades you want.
Safety and technology are the other pillars that prop up the case for the Volvo, though the test car fell down a bit in one instance of the latter; the park assist system managed to steer the XC40 into a parking spot only once.
All other times, it abandoned the procedure halfway. That's only true to form, I guess. Tight parking spots befuddle my mother all the time, too.
Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design
Engine 1,969cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 250hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1,840-4,800rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100km/h 6.4 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.7L/100km
Price S$205,000 with COE
Agent Wearnes Automotive