Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The entry-level 1.5-litre T3 petrol's 161bhp starts to runs out of puff at motorway speeds, so our recommended petrol is the 2.0-litre T4. Its power output isn’t that much higher at 187bhp, but it’s a gruntier four-cylinder engine (that’s one more cylinder than the T3) and pulls more strongly from low revs. More importantly, it has the welly to accelerate you out of a tight spot on the motorway.
The 148bhp 2.0-litre D3 diesel is the best all rounder, though. It's more flexible than the petrol T3 at low engine speeds, and while that doesn't make it any quicker flat out, it definitely contributes to a more relaxing drive. The 187bhp D4 is decently quick and even more fulsome from the bottom of the rev range, so it’s a good option if your XC40 will be full of passengers and luggage.
A manual gearbox is standard with the T3 and T4; the more powerful T5 petrol and D4 diesel get an automatic gearbox, which can be a little hesitant when pulling out of junctions. The optional Polestar Engineered upgrade (available on the T5 and D4 four-wheel drive models) increases the gearbox's responsiveness and the engine's throttle response. Not enough to make it worth the extra cost in our book, though.
Suspension and ride comfort
The XC40 is more comfortable than its chief rivals, such as the firm-riding BMW X1 and the unsettled Jaguar E-Pace. It also betters relatively comfortable alternatives, such as the VW Tiguan and Range Rover Evoque.
Why? Well, at speed, the XC40 breezes over ripples and expansion joints and also manages to take the sting out of razor-edged potholes around town — even on the whopping 20in alloy wheels that are standard with the more expensive trims. It's also more settled on motorways, which is great for you and any snoozing passengers.
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 sway along uneven roads with either suspension set-up, but this is the case with the vast majority of tall SUVs. The optional adaptive suspension, which stiffens or softens depending on which mode you're in, is good but frankly unnecessary.
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's certainly on par with the Range Rover Evoque through corners. R-Design models are slightly more composed than the other trims, thanks to that 'sports' suspension we mentioned above, although the difference isn't huge.
The Polestar Engineered optional upgrade to the D4 and T5 four-wheel drive models puts more power to the rear wheels. That's meant to make the handling livelier and more engaging, but you hardly notice it.
Still, all Volvo XC40s change direction capably and have plenty 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 oodles of fun in the process. There are certainly tidier-handling SUVs in the class: the BMW X2 and Seat Ateca spring to mind most readily.
Noise and vibration
The entry-level T3 petrol is relatively hushed at low revs, although even gentle use of the accelerator will elicit whooshes and whistles from its turbocharger. It starts to sound quite thrummy when you rev it harder, which clashes with the XC40’s serene character. 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 latter works away peacefully in the background, even when you push it hard, and it is the smoothest-sounding XC40 at idle. Meanwhile, the D3 and D4 diesels are quite grumbly at idle but, once past 1500rpm, become smoother than equivalent engines in the BMW X1 and Volkswagen Tiguan. The Evoque D180 is quieter, though.
Meanwhile, the suspension goes quietly about its business around town and there’s only some mild wind buffeting around the windscreen at higher speeds. It's road noise that the XC40 falls down on — there's a noticeable amount more than you get in the quieter Evoque, particularly with 20in wheels fitted. The XC40 is still nowhere near as raucous as the X1 along a typical stretch of motorway.