David Motton
Tow Car Editor

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

The Volvo XC40 is a very impressive tow car, with a strong engine and comfortable at speed. So says our Tow Car Editor of this award-winning SUV.

Overview

The XC40 is the smallest of Volvo's family of XC SUVs. It competes against the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and BMW X1. We drove it at the Tow Car Awards 2018, where it was good enough to win Best Family SUV. Now we've had a chance to spend more time with the Volvo, because this XC40 is part of our long-term test fleet. Its first task was to tackle a full tow test.

What are we looking for?

We know from experience that the XC40 tows well. But will we be just as impressed after an extended tow on all manner of roads, and having driven the Volvo over long distances without a caravan behind it? And is it practical enough as a tow car and an everyday drive?

Towing

The XC40 is available with both front-and four-wheel drive, and a choice of petrol and diesel - the diesels are better suited to towing. The D4 is the more powerful of the diesels.

There's 187bhp and, more importantly, a healthy 295lb ft of torque - enough to handle any prudently matched tourer.

For a relatively small 4x4, the Volvo has a healthy 1735kg kerb weight. That gives an 85% match figure of 1475kg, well within the 2100kg legal towing limit. We matched it to a Swift Expression 635 with a MiRO of 1485kg. The punchy D4 engine pulled the caravan up to speed quickly and kept up momentum on hilly A-roads. The engine can be gruff if revved hard, but it's reasonably quiet at lower revs and hushed once cruising.

Given the car's strong engine, four-wheel drive and an automatic 'box, we had every expectation of easy hill starts - and so it proved. The electronic parking brake held car and caravan still and released smoothly, and the car pulled up the 1-in-10 slope without fuss.

There was also no fuss at motorway speeds. Occasionally there were very slight side-to-side movements on overtaking high-sided vehicles, but these soon ebbed away with no need for steering corrections.

Otherwise, the Volvo tracked straight and true on multi-lane roads and twisting back routes.

The R-Design model comes with sports suspension, and the stiffer set-up compared with other XC40 models is likely to improve stability. However, the ride remains comfortable.

Reach your campsite, and you'll find the Volvo easy to manoeuvre. The automatic gearbox creeps smoothly, and the engine and transmission are untroubled by reversing up a grassy slope. Thinner rear pillars would improve visibility when reversing, though. A 360-degree camera system is part of the £1600 Xenium pack, or can be ordered for £700 on its own. A rear-view camera is a £375 option. We'd like to see this fitted as standard.

The factory-fit towball deploys at the push of a button in the boot. It doesn't motor all the way out, though; you'll need to lock it by hand or push it into place with your foot.

The electrics are fitted on the side of the towbar, well clear of the bumper, so hooking up the 13-pin plug is very easy.

We're very impressed by the XC40's towing performance. The engine is strong, the car is stable, and it's comfortable and secure at speed.

Everyday driving

The XC40 is a comfortable and capable car in everyday driving. Its compact dimensions make it easier to thread through city streets than larger SUVs, and forward visibility is good. But a clearer view over your shoulder would help in reverse parking.

Sports suspension can lead to a harsh ride, especially at low speeds. However, the Volvo copes with lumps and bumps better than we expected.

At speed, it is comfortable and composed. Lean when cornering is kept in check, and there's plenty of grip. Dips and crests are handled well, with no lurching or heaving.

On A-roads and motorways the Volvo is comfortable, but road noise is quite pronounced, especially on rough surfaces.

Other sources of noise are well suppressed, though, unless you trouble the upper reaches of the diesel engine's rev range.

There's not much need to do so, with so much mid-range pulling power. The automatic gearbox responds promptly, and our test car was fitted with paddles behind the steering wheel so the driver can take charge. But it is odd these are a £125 option, given that the R-Design is marketed as the sportiest version of the XC40.

There is another quirk to the gearbox - the lever returns to one position after switching between drive, reverse and neutral. You need to tap the lever twice when moving from drive to reverse and vice-versa, rather than once. It's easy to select neutral by mistake until you get used to this.

Space

For an SUV of this size, the Volvo is very practical. The driver and front seat passenger have plenty of space. Even with the panoramic sunroof (part of the Xenium pack), there's reasonable headroom.

With the seat at its lowest, the driver still sits relatively high, with plenty of under-thigh support. Tall and short drivers alike should be comfortable, thanks to a range of movement for the seat and steering wheel. Electric lumbar adjustment is standard on all versions - this is a big plus point if you suffer from a bad back.

We've come to expect a high level of finish from Volvo, and the XC40 is very close to the standard set by the the larger XC60 and XC90. Plastics are plush, yet robust, and the design is appealing, even if the 'lava orange' carpets - a £175 upgrade - won't appeal to all tastes.

The dashboard is dominated by a nine-inch touchscreen, which operates the Sensus infotainment system. There's no doubting the quality of the display, or the uncluttered look it brings to the dashboard.

However, some of its icons are small and take a bit of effort to hit first time while driving, and the screen isn't always as responsive as it could be.

There's a lot more room than you'd expect in the back of the car. Legroom in particular is very generous for a vehicle of this size, so adults have enough space to stretch out. Air vents between the front seats should keep those in the rear cool. The chunky transmission tunnel and relatively narrow cabin means two rear-seat passengers will be more comfortable than three.

When loading up the boot, there's no lip to lift items over, although the floor is quite high. Rear seats split 60/40 and fold at the touch of a button with the £350 Convenience pack, leaving an almost flat floor.

Seats up, luggage capacity is 460 litres - some way off the 505 litres in a BMW X1, but more than the 420 litres in an Audi Q3. With the back seats down, the boot increases to 1336 litres.

Running costs

The range starts at £29,010, while the D4 AWD R-Design we're testing has a list price of £34,970. According to our colleagues at What Car?, with a little persuasion, you might get £1000 or so off that price.

R-Design is the sport version of the XC40, sitting between entry-level Momentum and the high-spec Inscription. There are also Pro versions of all three core models, with extra kit.

Features of the R-Design include sports suspension, high-gloss black trim, leather/nubuck upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, autofolding door mirrors, two-zone climate control, DAB radio and Bluetooth. But Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring costs an extra £300.

Official combined economy is 56.5mpg; we achieved 23.1mpg while towing.

What Car? estimates the XC40 should be worth a healthy 50% of its original price after three years and 36,000 miles on the road.

Technical specs

Engine size1969 cc
Kerbweight1735 kg
85% KW1475 kg
Towball limit110 kg
Maximum towing limit2100 kg
Power187.0 bhp
Torque295.0 lb ft
Official MPG56.5 mpg
Towing MPG23.1 mpg
CO2131 g/km

Verdict

The XC40 is a very capable tow car and we're looking forward to many tours with it.

The engine can grumble a bit at high revs, but there's no doubt of its mid-range pulling power. It tows a van weighing almost 1500kg very effectively.

In terms of stability, the Volvo is very secure. We'd be happy to use it to tow heavy caravans over long distances.

With or without a caravan, less road noise would be welcome on lengthy journeys. That aside, the cabin is quiet and comfortable on long trips, with excellent seats and a very comfortable driving position.

Without a caravan, the Volvo also drives very well. It's not as involving as the equivalent BMW, but it corners precisely and rides with firm assurance.

Inside, the Volvo is very well made and the interior styling is refreshingly modern. It's also spacious, so adults can travel comfortably in the back.

Boot capacity in the XC40 is reasonable rather than exceptional; you can certainly buy mainstream SUVs with much more luggage room for similar money. However, compared with its premium-badged competitors, we would rate the Volvo as being there or thereabouts.

It is priced competitively against other upmarket SUVs, will hold its value well, and comes with the additional reassurance of an exceptionally high score from the safety experts at Euro NCAP. All told, the Volvo XC40 is an extremely desirable tow car; stable with a caravan behind and practical for an SUV of this size.

Conclusion

Pros

  • A very capable tow car; excellent seats; priced competitively

Cons

  • Less road noise would be welcome on lengthy journeys; thinner rear pillars would help improve visibility when reversing

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