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Review: The Volvo XC40 is the perfect entry-level luxury car

Key Points
  • The XC40 looks amazing, inside and out.
  • It drives like a true luxury car and offers a lot of features for the price.
  • It has a few annoying quirks, but it's undoubtedly the best entry-level luxury crossover on sale.
The 2019 Volvo XC40
Mack Hogan/CNBC

The Volvo XC40 compact crossover is the culmination of Volvo's revamped lineup under Geely, creating what is unquestionably the best entry-level luxury crossover on sale today.

The class-leading interiors, refined driving dynamics, fantastic designs and competitive feature sets were all impressive on the S90, V90 and XC60 we've tested.

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan

The good

There are a few things Volvo is historically known for. Safety is the biggest one, as evidenced by the standard automatic emergency braking, lane keeping aid, oncoming lane collision mitigation and driver fatigue monitoring.

On top of that, our tester had Volvo's tremendously helpful pilot assist semi-autonomous driving system, a blind-spot monitoring system and a 360-degree parking camera. The combination of technology and traditional crash safety earned the Volvo a Top Safety Pick + award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the highest honor the agency grants. Suffice to say, the safety box is checked.

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan

They're also known for comfort, another highlight of the XC40. Between a 10-day stint in Ireland and a winding trip through Pennsylvania and Ohio, we've put far more than a thousand miles on Volvo XC40s. While the suspension is comfortable and compliant, the real hero is the seat. Volvo has long been known to do the best thrones in the business, and the XC40's are no exception. They're soft without being overly squishy, with firm back support to really pack on the miles.

And you won't be complaining about extended trips in the XC40's cabin. Fully optioned, flagship products from Mercedes and Audi can best Volvo's interiors, but at this price range and in this segment nothing comes close. The XC40 Inscription we tested was a fantastic mix of real wood, gorgeous metal work, a crystal shifter and the aforementioned sublime leather seats.

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan

It's also enjoyable to drive. Our Inscription model was a T5, which means it comes with a 248-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine connected to an all-wheel drive system. In between, there's a quick-shifting, eight-speed transmission. This team makes short work of highway passes and is more than powerful enough. In fact, we sampled the 187-horsepower T4 model in Ireland and found it plenty quick, so if you're working with a limited budget, that may be the one to get.

The bad

The one thing you do notice on extended trips in the XC40 is some road noise, with a dull roar pretty much always present at highway speeds. The engine, too, is prone to unpleasant groaning if you need to merge onto a highway with some verve.

There's also the debatable point regarding the infotainment system. The interior is dominated by an upright touch screen that controls most of your key functions, including climate control, media and navigation. By all accounts it looks great, but many people complain about the difficulty of navigating the system.

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan

In our testing, it was responsive and relatively easy to sort out, but certain things are a bit too buried. For instance, it's far more arduous to adjust the fan speed and direction with Volvo's Sensus infotainment than it would be if you had a simple knob.

That, though, is far from the Volvo's most serious usability sin. That honor goes to the shifter, a beautiful piece of Orrefors Crystal that you come to hate as soon as you have to use it. Unlike every non-Volvo we've tested, the XC40 cannot be shifted into drive with one quick move. Instead, you have to pull twice back for drive or push twice for reverse.

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan

If you do it too quickly or the second one doesn't register, you end up revving the engine in neutral. That happened more often than we'd like to admit. Volvo decided to reinvent something that absolutely nobody had a problem with, an out-of-character move for such a pragmatic company.

How we'd option it

Unless you need all-wheel drive, we think the best value in the XC40 range is the T4 Inscription. It's still plenty powerful, but it's cheaper and gets better gas mileage. It starts at $39,890 with destination.

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan

We'd also add the $900 premium package to get pilot assist along with the $1,100 vision package to add blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors and auto-dimming mirrors. Finally, we'd spend $750 on heated seats and a heated steering wheel. Volvo's heated steering wheels are some of the only ones that get hot enough to be worth paying for.

All in, our XC40 would cost $42,640. However, that's not the only option. Volvo also offers a subscription service targeted toward young and first-time buyers, called Care by Volvo.

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan

Care by Volvo starts at $700 per month with $0 down and includes the car, taxes, maintenance, insurance and even wear items like tires. The only mileage option is for 15,000 miles per year and the term of the subscription is 24 months, though you can upgrade to a new Volvo after 12 months if you renew the contract. The Inscription model is not currently available via Care by Volvo.

Given the restrictions of Care by Volvo, we imagine most buyers will be best off doing a traditional lease or purchasing the XC40. However, depending on your insurance and mileage requirements, it is worth considering.

Final thoughts

The XC40 is phenomenal. While so many small SUVs feel cheap or lazily designed, the XC40 is full of nice details and amenities that make it feel like a truly premium product. From the fantastic seats to the little console-mounted, removable trash can, it's clear that the XC40 is designed to be as usable as possible.

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan

If you're looking to buy your first luxury car, it's a great place to start. It's small and affordable enough to serve as a great entry point without the sacrificed, dumbed-down approach of some entry-level products.

Rating:

Exterior: 5

Interior: 4.5

Driving Experience: 4

Value: 5

Overall: 4.6

Price as tested: $46,290

*Ratings out of 5

The 2019 Volvo XC40
CNBC/Mack Hogan