2019 Volvo XC40 first drive review: fountains of hope, and crossover SUV potential

Shooting through the streets of Barcelona behind the wheel of the 2019 Volvo XC40 is doubly appropriate.  

Not only because the Spanish city has been dubbed “Gothenberg South” after regular visits by Volvo engineers, but also because the XC40 is the automaker’s version of Juan Ponce de Leon: The crossover is built to search for springs of youth in new worlds.

Take a look at the vivid Lava Orange interior for proof. Not convinced? How about the pale Amazon Blue exterior with white roof and white wheels, or the automaker’s recently announced Netflix-like subscription model?

The XC40 is looking for renewed, younger life—Florida or beyond.  

According to the automaker, the average age of a Volvo buyer is well into the 50s, highly educated, and flush with cash. That looks good on paper, but the countless new buyers willing to parlay a bundled $600-a-month payment into a car, insurance, and maintenance (including wear-and-tear items such as tires) like their cellphone plan looks better.

Capturing attention from those younger buyers is no easy task. Month-to-month subscription plans can be a big ask from the generation that considers “Family Guy” drawn out like Dumas.

For the day-to-day flash, the XC40 features smart ideas that seem like they should have been done already. There’s a small, removable trash bin in the center armrest that’s waterproof (ask me how I know). Several card slots near the driver’s knees can hold parking tickets or gas cards, and USB ports are paired with tabs located not far from the plugs to bring order to messy cords. All XC40s get a standard 9.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the doors lack bottom-mounted speakers to adequately hold a 15-inch notebook computer.

The XC40 is a trendy rucksack on wheels.

Underneath is a competent crossover that’s surprisingly better than the sum of its clever parts.

Riding atop Volvo’s new, smaller CMA platform, the XC40 is nearly a foot shorter than the XC60 with almost seven inches trimmed between the wheels. The XC40 is surgically sized between the BMW X1 and Jaguar E-Pace, its two most likely competitors when it goes on sale in March.

Despite the smaller size, the XC40 is still passenger and cargo friendly. The rear seats adequately hold two adults with 20.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind them. A configurable cargo floor can lay flat, perch upright to offer more grocery hooks and trap bags between the seatbacks and cargo area, or store the hatch’s parcel shelf when more vertical space is needed.

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There is opportunity here for Volvo and other automakers. Small and affordable compact crossovers likely will be red hot for new buyers, cannibalizing sales of compact sedans and picking their teeth with small wagons—both segments where Volvo has done well in the past.

But those 240s and 850s are all forgotten in a millennial’s memory, and what have you done for me lately. The XC40 is sized right, with room for 6-footers to sit behind other 6-footers, stare at their phones, and cross town to the other tapas bar.

Did I just describe a Volvo, or a day in Barcelona?

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