The Volvo name has always meant two things to me – quality and strength.
In the 70’s and 80’s Volvos were the first choice of car for every self-respecting university lecturer, high ranking civil servant, antique dealer or middle management family man in the country.
Volvo built an enviable and justifiable reputation as one of the very few vehicle manufacturers who took the safety of passengers and the strength of their cars’ construction seriously. Volvo led the world in this regard, and all the other manufacturers had to follow their clever initiatives.
It’s amazing to think we have Volvo to thank for that, and amongst other things – safety cage construction, laminated windscreens, 3-point safety belts, dual circuit braking systems, rear safety belts, collapsible steering columns, side fitted impact protection systems and the list goes on. While driving a Volvo, you can travel with the family onboard with the full knowledge that you are in a thoroughly sensible, strong, well-made and reliable means of transport.
At the time, this was the brand that you bought into when you left the ‘bread and butter’ cars of Ford and Vauxhall and aspired for something better but could not afford the then Jaguars of this world. The fact that it was made in Sweden also enhanced its status. It was also the situation in some cases that some of the wealthiest people in the country drove Volvos by choice because of the image which it projected – solid, reliable, but not flashy.
Other well-known manufacturers start to follow suit. First, BMW and then Audi, swept into the market segment that Volvo occupied for so long, giving punters other options, broader offerings, and sexy, sporty derivatives. Plus, of course, German efficiency.
Volvo was to struggle in the following years to find its way. Sales not just in the UK, but around the world suffered as a result.
In 2010, Volvo was bought by the huge Chinese conglomerate, Geely Holding Group, and since then we have witnessed a massive reinvestment in the brand.
Interesting new products have been pouring off the production line, and last year Volvo was leading the industry once again being the first major manufacturer to announce that its production plans lay firmly and solely with electric and hybrid engines powering future models. Indeed, the CEO recently announced that the company aimed for 50% of all its sales be ‘fully electric’ by 2025.
This takes me onto my drive in the XC40, the newest Volvo to arrive on our streets. This was the lively D4 diesel engine car, while the other engine derivatives are due over the next 6-18 months.
Whatever way you look at it, this is a very stylish vehicle in what is a competitive compact SUV marketplace. Stylish, not in a brutal or masculine manner, but with fresh, sharp and distinctive lines. When shown over the vehicle’s controls, I was surprised that even I could understand them the first time around. The infotainment system was logic itself, seemingly a cousin of my iPad. The lack of multiple confusing switches and buttons on the dashboard and console was also refreshingly minimalist. All this combined with the high-quality finish and feel of the interior controls makes the XC40 easy to drive and feel at home in.
I liked the driving position – the visibility was good, and the front seats hugged you like a long lost relative. After some time at the wheel, it also struck me that there were no rattles, no squeaks, no wind noises, and the old Volvo build quality was showing through. I don’t believe any of the competition in its class can match the XC40’s level of finish, or equal its clever use of the interior space, like the deep iPad consuming door pockets, or pop out rubbish bins between the front seats.
The feel of the car on the road was one of reassurance. It always felt as if it was looking out for you, with its great visibility, sure-footed road holding, smart all-round cameras (optional), and illuminating warning lights in the wing mirrors to alert you of approaching vehicles.
I didn’t drive the car to excess, or on a track like you see in some of the magazines. What’s the point?
In my opinion, the car’s handling was more than adequate for normal driving, but I’m sure had the great Ronnie Petersen still been around, he would no doubt have gone around the Nürburgring faster in an XC40 than J. Clarkson could manage in any Ferrari.
The choice of interior colours are Scandinavian – our car had a black exterior with black leather seats and orange carpets – are more Bjorn Borg than Saga Noren in my book!
But in fairness, there are lots of choices. The leg room for rear seat passengers is very generous, and with the rear seats folded down (very simple operation), it seemed like there must be room for a Grandfather clock to rest on its back.
So, dear old ‘Lovejoy’ and all the other antique dealers – it’s time to come back into the fold.
You can see why this car has picked up so many awards: “What Car?’s Car of the Year 2018”, and “European Car of the Year 2018”, amongst others.
It’s a fine vehicle – beautifully styled, very well-built and finished to an exceptional level. With a 3-cylinder petrol engine due shortly, then the electric and hybrid models, it must give Volvo’s already impressive model range line-up a great opportunity to reassert itself into that marketplace that is now occupied by Audi and BMW. It’s also a big test of Volvo’s dealer network – get the basics right, listen to and look after your new customers, and potentially, they can stay with you and the brand for many years to come.
These should be exciting times for Volvo and its dealer partners… This Volvo XC40 is a level above the competition…
…it’s the “Georg Jensen” of compact SUV’s.