Volvo XC40 estate performance
The cheapest engine is the 154bhp 1.5-litre petrol T3 that's available exclusively with a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive. It's aimed at those doing relatively low miles who drive mostly around town – and that's a good thing, because it's certainly no ball of fire.
There’s a pregnant pause before the boost from the turbocharger kicks in and, even then, it’s not as healthy a slug of power as you might like. You’ve got to wring out the engine to get motorway-merging performance, and this simply doesn’t suit the XC40’s breezy, laid-back attitude. The next-rung T4 is an improvement, with more low-down flexibility and more outright performance, but you still have to work it pretty hard before it feels as fast as the numbers suggest.
The 148bhp 2.0-litre D3 diesel is available with an automatic or manual gearbox and front or four-wheel drive, and is more flexible at low engine speeds than the T3. That means that although it doesn't feel any faster, you don't have to wring its neck quite so hard to make progress. It strikes the best balance between performance and cost, so it's our pick of the lineup.
The T5 petrol and D4 diesel engines – which get four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard – are much more muscular. Both can whisk you up to speed swiftly; in fact, the 2.0 D4 accelerates more quickly than a Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI 190. The T5 (also a 2.0-litre) feels even livelier when you rev it hard and is faster. However, the diesel is a stronger, more flexible performer at low revs, and that makes it more relaxing to drive in real-world driving.
So, if you want petrol power and the T5 sounds a bit too hot but the T3 sounds a bit too cold, is the T4 a perfect fit? Well, it's certainly smoother and far punchier than the T3, so is definitely worth considering, but the T5 is quicker and smoother still. We'd still steer you towards the diesels.
No matter the engine it's paired with, the automatic gearbox can feel a little hesitant when you want a quick burst of acceleration, but is generally smooth thereafter. It's a better bet than the manual gearbox, which is a little stiff and notchy.
Volvo XC40 estate ride
In many regards, the XC40’s ride is a level above its chief rivals' – most notably the firm-riding BMW X1 and the unsettled Jaguar E-Pace, but also has the edge over relatively comfortable competitors such as the Tiguan.
Why? Well, at speed, the XC40 breezes over ripples and expansion joints but still manages to take the sting out of razor-edged potholes around town – even on the whopping 20in alloy wheels that come as standard on some of the more expensive trims.
Curiously, the XC40 rides most comfortably on 'sports' suspension, which is fitted as standard to R-Design versions. The softer 'dynamic' suspension on other trim levels is still comfy, but isn't as well controlled over speed humps and crests. There's a bit of side-to-side movement along uneven roads with either suspension set-up, but since this is the case in the vast majority of SUVs, it's tempting to call it a matter of physics.
The optional adaptive suspension is best avoided, though. It causes the XC40 to pitch and wallow more along most roads and there's even the odd crash and wobble over potholes. Even when the stars align and it does what you want it to, it's not something we'd spend our money on as an extra.
Volvo XC40 estate handling
There are certainly tidier-handling SUVs in the class: the BMW X2 and Seat Ateca spring to mind most readily. But while the XC40’s body does lean a fair bit through corners and its steering isn’t particularly feelsome, drive it in a relaxed manner – as most people will – and it handles perfectly well.
It changes direction capably and has lots of grip. Indeed, the natural composure that helps the car ride well also allows it to flow down an undulating B-road easily. Just don’t expect to have much fun.
R-Design models are slightly more composed through corners than other trims, thanks to their standard 'sports' suspension, although the difference isn't huge.
Volvo XC40 estate refinement
The entry-level T3 petrol is relatively hushed at low revs, although even gentle use of the accelerator will elicit whooshes and whistles from the turbocharger. Rev the engine hard and it starts to sound a bit breathless and wheezy. At least you don't feel much vibration through the controls.
The T4 petrol offers more refined progress but can't beat the top-spec T5. The most powerful petrol works away peacefully in the background even when you rev it quite hard, and it has the smoothest-sounding idle of any XC40 engine. Meanwhile, the D3 and D4 diesels are a tad grumbly at idle but, once past 1500rpm, become much smoother than equivalent engines in the BMW X1 and Volkswagen Tiguan, fading almost entirely into the background at motorway speeds. You’re also isolated well from vibrations in all of the engines we've tried so far.
Better still, the suspension goes quietly about its business around town and there isn’t much wind noise at higher speeds. There is a noticeable amount of road noise, particularly on models with 20in wheels, but the XC40 is still nowhere near as raucous as the X1 along a typical stretch of motorway.