When my bum hit the seat, it knew, instantly, it was a Volvo. It did not matter what Volvo, just that it was – and that is rather important in several dimensions from Volvo making particularly good car seats to the actual importance of a good seat to the driving experience.
With that portion of my anatomy on a different car seat every week in the process of conducting road tests, it has grown – over many years – quite sensitive to the nuances of different seats as supplied by the various automakers.
There is a very good reason for the expression “driving by the seat of your pants” and all too many drivers fail to listen to the messages being conveyed by their rear ends.
In this particular instance, it was plonked comfortably in the Volvo XC40 R-Design D4 Geartronic AWD – a mouthful that takes about as long to say as the oil-burner needs to accelerate to 100 km/h.
However, back to my butt. In the luxury segments of the market for both passenger cars and SUVs, manufacturers do pride themselves on high-tech luxury seating with the PR prose waxing lyrical about being ‘form-fitting’, ‘shaped to mirror the spine’ and ‘body hugging’ among the superlatives.
Throw in those offering multiple massage choices and it is clear seats do occupy a major space in the design process.
Some, however, just do it better than others do and Volvo is in this league. It just has an edge to making seats (for all it models) that combine the elements of shape, support and comfort a little better – certainly (as I do realise this is extremely subjective) when it comes to accommodating my specific shape and not very tall stature.
So why the discourse on seating? Simple really. While the XC40 will do the soccer Mom stuff and the grocery run with ease, it is designed to run the long kilometres, unbound of city traffic and able to roam freely across the country and back.
Not to do so would be to badly sully its DNA.
So, no surprise it has the title of 2018 European Car of the Year under its belt.
As a new evolution of Volvo’s latest design language, the XC40 has an expressive and unique exterior, while a bespoke interior inherits all of Volvo’s latest design elements, including the 9-inch Sensus Connect touch screen and digital instrument cluster.
New design elements such as the optional contrasting black or white roof, white mirror caps and wheels, Oxide Red leather and ‘Lava’ carpets, which are made from 100% recycled materials, allow XC40 customers to express a more individualistic style.
Functional practicality has also been a major focus on the inside of the XC40, where smart features such as a removable rubbish bin, a cubby hole hook, a dedicated smartphone storage area with wireless (inductive) charging, and a multi-adaptable boot floor, transform a typically cluttered and sometimes messy car interior into a place of serenity and organised efficiency.
City Safety is included as standard in the new XC40. This system senses potential collisions, even when it is dark, and can activate the brakes automatically should you not react in time. City Safety provides three levels of intervention; warning, brake support and full autonomous braking, and uses a combination of instruments and sensors constantly to monitor surrounding conditions.
The Pedestrian, Cyclist and Large Animal Detection technology detects and automatically brakes the vehicle in the event of a pedestrian, cyclist or large animal (such as cattle) stepping/swerving/jumping out in front of the car. The advanced sensor system scans the area ahead and will prompt you to act with a flashing warning light, along with an audible alarm. If you do not react to the warning and a collision is imminent, the car immediately brakes with full braking force.
Rearward facing radar detects if a rear impact is imminent and safety belts are tightened in advance in order to protect the occupants. Lights also start flashing to warn the driver behind and brakes are activated to help reduce the impact movement.
Lane Keeping Aid is a standard-fitted system that helps the driver keep the car in its lane by gently steering the car back if it is about to cross a lane marking, and if the car senses that the driver is not driving actively, or for example, not using their indicators. If the supplied steering intervention is insufficient, the driver is alerted by vibrations in the steering wheel. The system is active between 65 km/h-200 km/h.
Optionally available, the Adaptive Cruise Control feature (fitted to our test car) maintains the desired set vehicle speed but utilises radar to monitor the vehicle in front and automatically slows down or speeds up as necessary. In an evolution of this, Pilot Assist also takes care of the steering (up to 130 km/h and when lane markings are clearly visible) by continually monitoring the area in front of the vehicle, making the necessary steering, accelerator and brake inputs as required to keep to the desired speed, distance and within the lane markings.
All of this designed specifically to keep my precious rear safely in its comfortable seat.
The D4 twin turbo-charger engine has four cylinders and a capacity of 1 969 cc producing 140 kW at 4 000 r/min and 400 Nm between 1 750 r/min and 2 500 r/min. Driving all four wheels through an automatic gearbox, it is capable of 210 km/h and fuel consumption in the real world ranges on average between 5,1 l/100 km and 6,2 l/100 km depending on how robustly it is being driven.
The AWD part is no affectation and the XC40 will be happy tackling most off-road conditions short of major ‘donga’ diving exercises – certainly for those wanting to take the routes less travelled, it is both comfortable and capable on rural dirt roads.
On road it reacts well to driver inputs, straightens bends with ease and is happiest stretching its legs over mountain passes and eating up the kilometres on the open road – the Harmon Kardon sound system in our test car providing crystal clear audio ambience whether it was heavy metal or Sinatra crooning quietly in the background.
With the design that led to the XC90, Volvo has rather re-invented itself – and we like it.