David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
Tow Car Editor
Volvo says its new XC40 will appeal to city-dwelling 30-somethings who are just starting a family.
There must be one or two road testers fitting that demographic at What Car?, as our colleagues on the other side of the office have made the XC40 their Car of the Year for 2018.
You don't have to live in Camden, have a toddler, or work on What Car?'s road test desk to appreciate Volvo's new model.
But what we want to know is what tow car potential it has. And although it is the smallest of Volvo's 'XC' family of SUVs, we are pleased to report that it has the makings of a very capable tow car.
What it costs
You will need deep pockets, though, at least if you want to pick up one of the 1200 First Edition models.
This limited run of high-spec XC40s is priced from £39,305 for the D4 AWD diesel, rising to £40,055 for the T5 AWD petrol.
Most of the First Edition cars have now been sold, but there's still time to snap one up if you get a wriggle on.
Regular readers will know our King Canute stance on diesel vs petrol tow cars, but even we can feel the unleaded lapping around our ankles, so let's talk about the T5 first.
What tow car potential does the petrol version have?
It's powered by a 250PS (247bhp) turbocharged engine with 258lb ft of torque.
Volvo quotes a mass in running order (which includes fluids and 75kg for the driver) of 1665kg, giving an 85% match figure of 1415kg. That's well within the 2100kg legal towing limit.
In solo driving, the T5 can really shift, so the engine should easily deal with any sensibly matched caravan.
Engine noise isn't intrusive unless you rev the engine really hard, and given that peak torque is maintained from 1800rpm all the way to 4800rpm there's little need to head for the upper reaches of the rev range.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly and promptly, and on some models there are paddles behind the steering wheel should you want to take charge of the gearbox for yourself.
(If that's a feature that appeals to you, it's standard on the First Edition, a £125 option on the R-Design and R-Design Pro, but isn't available on other specifications.)
Volvo says demand for the T5 has so far exceeded expectations, and we can see why.
But given that the official combined figure is 39.8mpg, don't expect great economy while towing.
The choice for caravanners
No, if you are going to tow a caravan with the new Volvo XC40, the D4 diesel looks like the more sensible choice, despite the tide shifting in favour of petrol power.
The official combined figure of 56.5mpg is much better than the petrol's, and should translate to better economy and a longer range while towing.
What's more, the D4 is cheaper to buy, sneaking under the £40k barrier and so avoiding the £310 per year VED surcharge which applies to the pricier petrol model.
At high revs the diesel is gruffer than the petrol, but with a generous 295lb ft of torque from 1750-2500rpm you can make brisk progress without the D4 grumbling too loudly.
The diesel weighs a bit more than the petrol, with a mass in running order of 1735kg. That gives an 85% match figure of 1475kg.
The legal towing limit is 2100kg and the maximum download on the towball is 110kg.
Behind the wheel
With either engine the new Volvo XC40 is enjoyable to drive.
The First Edition cars are based on R-Design spec, which has stiffer suspension than the other models. Volvo prefers to call it 'dynamic' rather than 'sporty'.
Even with the stiffened suspension the XC40 rides fluently. You'll certainly feel sharp-edged bumps, but the Volvo is refreshingly comfortable.
The steering is precise and the XC40 corners neatly. More feel from the wheel would make the Volvo more involving, but given the car's comfort-first approach that's easy to forgive.
At high speeds the Volvo is mostly quiet, with little wind or engine noise. However, the big wheels and tyres do make for a lot of road noise.
A sound driving position contributes to the XC40's credentials as a comfortable long-distance car.
Spacious and well made
There's plenty of room, even for a very tall driver, and lots of adjustment for the seat and wheel.
The cabin is well made, too, as you'd expect of Volvo, with a clean and modern design and high quality materials.
Despite being the smallest of Volvo's SUVs, and a rival for the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, the rear of the car is surprisingly roomy. It might be a bit narrow for three, but there's enough room for two adults without feeling cramped.
The 460-litre boot is there or thereabouts compared with the XC40's competitors – it's 40 litres bigger than an Audi Q3's luggage space, but 45 litres smaller than a BMW X1's.
The rear seats split and fold to leave a long and almost completely flat load space.
In terms of equipment, the First Edition cars want for little. Every option pack from the standard range is included on the First Edition models.
That includes Intellisafe Pro, which features the Drive Pilot system to steer the car for the driver to keep it in the centre of its lane.
This pack also includes adaptive cruise control, a blind spot information system, and sensors which detect crossing traffic while reversing and can brake the car to avoid a collision.
Luxury kit includes a panoramic sunroof, a surround view camera system to help when parking (or hitching up), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, wireless mobile phone charging, and a powerful 13-speaker Harman Kardon stereo.
Hybrid on the way
If you can live without some kit, prices start from £27,905 for the D3 FWD manual in Momentum spec. The most affordable diesel is the £28,965 D3 FWD Momentum manual.
The D4 AWD auto – which looks like the best bet for caravanners pondering what tow car ability the new XC40 has – starts from £34,655 in R-Design trim.
Later this year a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid will join the range in some markets, although it's not yet certain that the UK will be one of them.
Hopefully the hybrid will be sold here, but with or without it the new Volvo XC40 is as good as any small premium SUV.
And it's definitely not just for 30-somethings.