Volvo Cars has been in business since 1927. In 1999 Ford bought the Swedish company and then, as that company was undergoing a transition that resulted in a focus on “One Ford,” it was sold to Geely Holding Group, a Chinese organization, in 2010.
These changes brought about a notion at the Sweden-based company that it would probably be a good thing to focus on developing products—platforms and powertrains—that Volvo would control. So, for example, the company decided that it would offer no engine with more than four cylinders (the engines are under the Drive-E moniker; there is a three-cylinder but no longer a five or more). And the company developed the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) that underpins vehicles including the XC90 SUV and the S90 sedan.
And it developed a second platform, this one with Geely, as it is reported that the Chinese company will use it as a basis for vehicles that it produces under the Lynk & Co. brand, the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA). CMA, like SPA, is engineered for flexibility. That is, there is just one fixed dimension on the platform structure, which is the dimension between the center point of the front axle and the firewall. So the dimensions from the center of the front axle forward, from the firewall rearward to the center of the rear axle, and from the center of the rear axle back are all flexible.
The first vehicle to be based on CMA is the Volvo XC40, a compact SUV. As Axel Walter, 40 Series Product Manager, Volvo Cars USA puts it, “It may be the smallest, but it is still a Volvo.”
And the vehicle, which Walter says is designed and engineered to go up against products including the Audi Q3, the BMW X1 and the Mercedes GLA, clearly has appeal in the compact premium SUV category, as Volvo, on a global basis, presold more than 20,000 of the vehicles.
According to Anders Gunnarson, senior design manager for Volvo, who also happened to be the lead designer on the XC90, the biggest brother of the XC40 (there is the XC60 in between), said that because there wasn’t anything like the XC40 in the company’s lineup, they literally had the proverbial “clean sheet of paper,” that they were able to do something different.
“We didn’t just want to do a smaller version of the other two. We wanted to give the XC40 its own identity,” Gunnarson says. “We wanted to give the vehicle true SUV proportions.” He ticks off such things as a high seating position, short overhangs in the front and rear, and the wheels “where they ought to be, at the corners.”
While the XC60 and the XC90 do resemble one another in more than an overall architectural manner, the XC40 design team set out to create a vehicle with, Gunnarson says, “a youthful and fresh approach.”
Arguably, the freshest approach is not the exterior design of the car, with one notable exception, the two-tone paint scheme that is available. According to Gunnarson, in order to paint the roof a different color than the body (there is either a white roof and mirror caps on the Momentum trim or a black version for the R-Design trim), there is a massive masking task that goes on in the Volvo Ghent plant in Belgium, where the XC40 is produced. Although the plant is highly automated—363 new robots were installed to prepare the plant for the vehicle—some things just have to be done by hand. And also on the exterior, Gunnarson notes a couple of areas of note on the sheet metal: the doors have an under-wrap design, and there is an area on the doors above the sill where a light catcher is stamped into the sheet metal; on the tailgate there is, just above the rear fascia, what he calls a “negative space,” with, again, the sheet metal being formed so as to lighten the visual mass (and which was a challenge, Gunnarson says, to the stamping engineers, who didn’t think that they’d be able to accomplish the draw on the metal).
But to the inside.
One thing that should be pointed out is that there are technologies that are in the XC60 and XC90 that have come to the XC40, like the use of a 9-inch touchscreen in the center stack (the screen works with infrared technology so that people using gloves can interface with it: Sweden, remember?) and a 12.3-inch digital display (including navigation) in the gauge cluster.
But Volvo engineers worked with audio engineers from Harman (harman.com) and have taken the bass speakers from the insides of the front door panels and replaced them with what’s called “Air Woofer” technology, which is integrated into the instrument panel. By removing the speakers from the doors, this allows the creation of massive door bins. (Apparently, when the design team was doing research to what led to the XC40, they found, according to Gunnarson, that “storage is very important. So while there are things like the ability to fold the rear seats with the touch of a button in order to get more cargo room, a trunk divider with hooks and a locking storage compartment under the load floor—all the sorts of things that one might expect from an SUV—there are slots for credit cards, a place for a phone (including wireless charging), a storage drawer under the driver’s seat and more.
Most interesting is the use of a technical fabric throughout the cabin rather than the typical carpet and vinyls found in most vehicles. (There is also an illuminated (at night) metallic trim material that is used on the instrument panel and doors, providing a technical appearance.)
The engines available in the U.S. are both all-aluminum, turbocharged fours, the 248-hp T5 that is in AWD vehicles (the electronic all-wheel-drive system uses a BorgWarner (borgwarner.com) AWD coupling that ordinarily directs all power to the front wheels but can distribute up to 50 percent to the rear wheels when required), and the 187-hp T4, which goes into front-drive vehicles. Both are mated to a compact eight-speed automatic, the Aisin (aisin.com) AWF8F35.
And, of course, there is the topic of safety. Structurally, there is an extensive use of steel, including ultra-high-strength boron steel to form a passenger-protecting door ring. Technically, the XC40 has Volvo’s City Safety system. This includes Collison Warning with Full Auto Brake (the system detects cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles; if the driver doesn’t respond to the warning by steering or braking, the system kicks in), and Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection (similar to the previous; the system can also avoid or mitigate collisions with large animals). There is also On Coming Lane Mitigation; this operates at speeds between 37 and 87 mph. If the car drifts over a lane marking and there is an on-coming vehicle, there is a warning and steering intervention occurs.
All of which goes to what Anders Gunnarson says were the key pillars of the development for the XC40:
• Expressive design
• Ingenious storage
• Smart technology
All of the boxes are checked.