I tell you what, Volvo have come a long way in the past five years. Whilst being an enthusiast of vehicles my entire life, I've only ever really worked with them in that period. It's a fantastic period of history to be working with cars as well because frankly they have changed more in those five years than any other time in history, and there is no manufacturer who embodies that change more than Volvo.
I'm a bit of a statistic fiend, I love data and I love using it to draw conclusions and make predictions. I love it because normally those conclusions are without a doubt correct. Australia has an automotive data body aptly named VFACTS. VFACTS normally releases automotive sales data on both an annual and quarterly basis. According to VFACTS, during 2018 Volvo Cars Australia increased their year on year growth by 43%. I mean, 43% is absolutely massive. That's almost half of your total volume the year before. And I've got a theory as towards why.
As per normal I have an anecdote to go with that theory. I had a business meeting down the street the other day and made an impromptu decision to jump into a well specified Volvo XC40. Not because I really wanted to but because I hadn't really driven one and I'd only heard good things. With that in mind, my experience itself was nothing but good either. My normal ride of choice is either a Land Rover or a Jaguar. Doesn't matter which, but multiple friends would quote me saying that those cars are the easiest cars to drive on earth. Because in my opinion they are. You'd have to have an IQ of 20 to find driving an F-Type of any iteration confusing or difficult, sure they may be annoying, but they aren't difficult. I think those vehicles have a new contender for that title, one I'm tempted to give that XC40's older brother the XC60 as well because they're both just so good.
Anyway, back to my anecdote, I'm normally embarrassed to be found anywhere near a Volvo. I mean, I'm 26 years old. Volvo's are only meant to be driven by older gentleman who want space for their golden retriever in the back. Anyway I pull up to the cafe and my appointment was already in the front window sipping a latte. I saw her look of surprise as I got out of the significantly small Volvo XC40. As I sat down at the table she announced she was extremely surprised to see me out of a Range Rover Sport and in a Volvo, not just that but a small Volvo. She than proceeded to comment on how good the Volvo looked.
At this moment I had to pause and think about how to proceed. Do I sacrifice any testosterone in my male system for the truth? The fact that the car was probably one of the best small cars I'd driven in 12 months? Or do I make a complaint about how my massive head didn't fit in the drivers seat (pun intended)? I ended up proudly going with the former. Because I couldn't bring myself to lie about it. It's just so good.
I'll start with the steering and the steering wheel. Volvo's steering wheel iteration has been superb since they introduced it with the XC90 three years ago. It's plush leather and perfect round shape is non-intrusive and ridiculously ergonomic. Paired with it is the steering itself. I've talked before about the Porsche and Audi's SUV steering problems. Where they have issues with the suspension on said SUVs (they lean from one side to the other like an elephant). It feels like the Volvo should have a similar issue, despite it's low weight. The fact is it doesn't and I feel that it's because they've purposely made the steering solid but quite loose, making it forgiving for sudden movements. It's like you have a coach sitting next to you saying "it's okay, I've got your back. Let's turn again and see if you can get it a bit smoother this time". Instead of solid and responsive, meaning that if you move your finger a CM on the steering wheel it shunts the car from side to side as if you're carrying your worldly possessions strapped to the roof fleeing from a natural disaster.
The next thing you notice is the engine. This is another area Volvo has slowly been getting better at. I was driving the T5 R-Design, which runs a 2.0l 4 cylinder petrol engine. I've always said part of the problem with some SUVs is that you don't always feel in total control of the throttle. Even the Mercedes GLA feels like occasionally when you depress the throttle it has to decide whether or not it wants to put the hard yards in and make the car go. But the Volvo responds every single time. I find that really reassuring. I have to be frank when I say not even all sports cars give you that pat on the back. The car runs the 0-100 time in about 6.4 seconds, which is actually quite fast for a car of it's size. Though once the BMW X2M35i hits our shores in a couple of months that opinion will almost definitely change.
But this brings me to my favourite part of the XC40. Something that is beginning to become synonymous with a Volvo. The interior quality and comfort. I find that part to be quite surprising considering Volvo is now owned by a Chinese conglomerate. But at the same time I look at the Jaguar Land Rover example with Tata, and all that Tata have really done is make that brand better. Alike to the Volvo they've kept their country of origin the same and they're still considered the car of that country. I will continue to say though I was skeptical about Volvo's new infotainment system when they brought it to the XC90, but after using it a bit I find it much easier to navigate than for example BMW or Mercedes' infotainment systems. It's also become commonplace in cars like the Audi A7, the Range Rover Velar and the Volkswagen Touareg. So that feature gets a tick from me.
The leather is also fantastic. I'm no longer a fan of harder or softer leather, in my opinion leather needs to be stitched tight but ridiculously plush. And the XC40, along with the XC60 and 90's leather, is this perfect happy medium of plushness. It's fantastic. I thought to myself whilst sinking into this leather on the way back to the office that I could honestly drive this car forever.
And this makes my concluding point really unfortunate. Because whilst I owned up to it and was proud of driving that car the other day to my meeting. I still wouldn't own one yet. Consumer perceptions are still just too strong with that car. But with that in mind, I could very happily see myself nowadays at the age of 60 holding up the morning commute traffic because I need to get to the supermarket and buy my wheat crackers for the day.... in my Volvo. And that's not something I've ever been able to see or say before.