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2020 Volvo XC40 apt to add plug-in-hybrid versatility to its many charms

2020 Volvo XC40

2020 Volvo XC40

What changes will make the 2020 Volvo XC40 different?

The likely addition of a plug-in hybrid version as step toward eventual introduction of an all-electric variant. Volvo has confirmed it’ll add the electrified models to the gas-only versions of its newest crossover SUV. The XC40 debuted for model-year 2019 as the brand’s first entry in the premium-compact crossover segment, where its competition includes the BMX X1 and X2, Lexus NX and UX, and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

Volvo, the historically conservative Swedish brand, is being repositioned as chic, upscale, and environmentally responsible by Geely Auto, the Chinese company that acquired it from Ford in 2010. Geely says all new Volvos will be available with some form of electrification and it’s moving quickly to introduce plug-in gas-electric hybrid technology and fully battery-electric power. The XC40 is the first model to use Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), a substructure engineered to accommodate traditional gas and all forms of electrified powertrains.

Why should I wait for the 2020?

To audition the plug-in hybrid. Drawing an initial charge from a home or commercial outlet, it’ll be able to travel 30 miles or so on electricity alone. After that, it’ll perform as a conventional gas-electric hybrid, automatically mixing engine and battery power to optimize performance and fuel economy. Expect it to be called the XC40 T5 Twin Engine E-AWD, following the naming convention Volvo uses for plug-in-hybrid versions of its XC90 midsize crossover, XC60 compact crossover, and S90 full-size sedan.

Offered only with all-wheel drive (AWD), the plug-in probably will be the most expensive 2020 XC40. It could well be the fastest, too, and certainly will be the greenest – until the fully electric model arrives. Volvo will launch its fully-electric era sometime in calendar 2019 with release of a compact hatchback car built on the CMA platform and designed to go 310 miles on a charge. Expect the fully-electric XC40 for model-year 2021 or 2022 as Volvo works toward a goal of 50 percent of its sales being fully electric vehicles by 2025.

Should I buy a 2019 model instead?

Yes, if you’re not interested in the plug-in hybrid. The gas-only models will return with no significant alterations, and buying one helps you sidestep the inevitable model-year price increase for what’ll essentially be an unchanged vehicle. Styled to stand out, particularly when ordered with the contrasting-color white roof, the XC40 has been a solid addition to Volvo’s lineup ranking third in sales behind the XC90 and XC60 through the first three quarters of 2018.

The 2019 XC40 comes in two model ranges, both with turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The T4 range has 185 horsepower and is available only with front-wheel drive. The T5 range has 279 horsepower and comes only with AWD. Both offer three levels of trim: base Momentum, sporty R Design, and luxury Inscription. Starting prices range from $34,195-$40,795, including Volvo’s delivery charge.

Will the styling be different?

Not for the gas-only models. The plug-in, though, will likely get subtle aerodynamic tweaks, its own wheel design, and a second fuel-filler-type door, this one on the left front fender over the charger-cord port. It’ll share a four-door, five-seat body that positions the XC40 about mid-pack in this class for overall length. It’s among the leaders, however, in overall height and wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles). Those latter dimensions mean no XC40 occupant is squeezed for headroom or legroom, although the rear seat cushion is too low to the floor and a little too thinly padded for best support.

Along with prominent vertical taillamps, as seen on Volvo’s other crossovers, the XC40 shares many of the brand’s newest styling cues, including standard LED headlights that integrate “Thor’s Hammer”-shaped daytime running lights. Befitting its appeal to younger-than-average Volvo buyers, the unique side profile is marked by back doors with a sharply angled kick-up that creates a thick rear-roof section. Despite appearances, the kick-up doesn’t unduly interfere with outward visibility for the driver or rear passengers.

Just as cheeky is the white contrasting roof that should again be optionally available on all but the Momentum trim. Other visual distinctions for 2020 should continue to include brightly polished and matte-silver exterior accents for the Inscription and glossy-black trim for the R Design. Each grade should also continue to get its own alloy wheels, with 19s standard on the R Design and optionally available at around $800 in place of the standard 18s on the Momentum and Inscription. All 2020 XC40s should again be available with 20-inch alloys for around $1,000.

The plug-in model will get some unique instrumentation to display range, charge status, and other electrification data. It’ll otherwise share its cabin design with the other XC40s. It’s a distinctly contemporary look, with uncluttered lines and a dashboard highlighted by a 9-inch central display screen flanked by modernist-slim climate vents. That infotainment touchscreen is mounted portrait style rather landscape-horizontal, an orientation that’s usefully logical displaying GPS maps. On the downside, Volvo requires far too many taps, swipes, and menu-spelunking to access your desired navigation, phone, climate, or vehicle setting.

Leather upholstery should again be standard for 2020, each XC40 model grade getting its own variation, such as the nappa-and-nubuck combo exclusive to the R Design. Cabin trim will also continue unique to each, with the R Design dressed in metal accents, including a techy matrix of aluminum across the dashboard. The Inscription will again get real driftwood inlays, plus the Orrefors crystal gearshift knob Volvo uses on high-trim versions of some of its other vehicles.

The automaker is justly pleased with the XC40’s variety of in-cabin storage features, including dedicated cellphone space, small drawers integrated into the front seat cushions, and in the Premium Package option, a luggage-bay organizer and a handy bag hook that attaches to the glovebox door. At 20.7 cubic feet, cargo volume behind the rear seat will remain better than average for the class, although volume with the rear seat folded will again be a below-par 47.2 cubic feet.

Any mechanical changes?

Not for the gas-only models, both of which will continue with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The version in 2020 XC40 T4 range should return with 185 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, that in the XC40 T5 range with 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Both will link to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s augmented by driver-selected Economy/Comfort/Dynamic drive-mode settings and in the R Design by steering-wheel shift paddles.

The T4 range was introduced late in the 2019 model year and we had not tested one in time for this review. Like the ‘19 T5, the ’20 version should be an entertaining drive. Acceleration is snappy, but only after the turbo has spooled up enough to contribute its punch. Throttle response is lazy enough away from a stop and in around-town cruising that we advise compensating for the delay when attempting to zip across a busy street or pass in city or suburban traffic. Dialing up Dynamic mode (and toggling the R Design’s shift paddles) can reduce but not eliminate the effects of this turbo lag.

Handling should remain a selling point, with lots of credit due the rigidity of the CMA platform, a rock-solid foundation for the XC40s suspension. On the T5 models we tested, steering was direct and natural feeling and corners could be taken with verve thanks to good balance and grip. The ’20 R Design will again include a firmed and lowered suspension for even sharper moves, but the 20-inch tires fitted to our test model roared on coarse pavement and suffered some harshness over tar strips and expansion joins that XC40s with the 18s and 19s absorb with little fuss.

As with the 2019 model, AWD should remain exclusive to XC40 T5 models for 2020. We recommend it for its confidence-inspiring traction in slippery wintery conditions. Ground clearance will remain slightly better than class-average, at 8.3 inches, and T5s will again have an Off Road drive mode. But the XC40 isn’t designed for severe trail use – a tacit admission when the dashboard display identifies Off Road mode as a “Rough road” setting.

Full details about the 2020 XC40 T5 Twin Engine E-AWD plug-in hybrid were unavailable in time for this review. Expect it to combine a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engine with electric-motor propulsion for a net 247 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It’ll likely use a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It should feature a driver-selected mode to lock in electric-only propulsion, battery-charge permitting. The “E-AWD” suffix refers to a design that’ll locate the electric motor at the rear axle, where it’ll come on automatically to provide all wheel drive during acceleration and on slippery surfaces.

Will fuel economy improve?

Not for the gas-only models. Expect their 2020 XC40 EPA ratings to repeat model-year ’19 numbers: 27/33/27 mpg city/highway/combined for the front-wheel drive T4 range, 23/31/26 for the AWD T5 family. Those ratings would keep the ’20 XC40 among the segment leaders for fuel economy. Expect Volvo to again recommend premium-octane gas for the T5.

Under ideal conditions, Volvo anticipates the 2020 XC40 T5 Twin Engine E-AWD plug-in hybrid could travel 31 miles on electricity alone. Running as a gas-electric hybrid, its EPA ratings should exceed those of the gas-only XC40s.

Will it have new features?

Not beyond those associated with the plug-in hybrid, which probably will be offered in trim comparable to the Inscription grade. In addition to the equipment cited above, every ’20 XC40 will again come standard with Volvo City Safety, a suite of driver assists that includes autonomous emergency braking that can slow or stop the crossover to avoid a frontal collision with another vehicle, a pedestrian or a cyclist. The system can activate the brakes if the XC40 is about to turn into the path of an oncoming vehicle or apply steering correction if you veer from your lane into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

We’d urge Volvo to consider making blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking standard on all 2020 XC40s. For 2019, these driver assists were part of the $1,100 Vision Package, which also included automatically dimming interior and exterior mirrors, power-retractable outside mirrors, and hands-free autonomous parking.

Apt to again be optional for all models as part of the Premium Package will be Volvo’s Pilot Assist Semi Autonomous Drive System. This automatically keeps the vehicle in its lane at speeds up to 80 mph, requiring only occasional steering input from the driver. The package also includes adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, a power folding rear-seat backrest, wireless phone charging, heated windshield wipers, and the aforementioned cabin and cargo storage accessories. Expect the Premium Package to again be attractively priced at around $900 for R Design and Inscription models. It should return at around $1,400 for Momentum models and add such items as the power passenger seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, and hands-free power liftgate that are standard on the R Design and Momentum.

Apply CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity will return as standard across the board, with imbedded navigation capable of real-time mapping in the absence of a cell signal standard on the R Design and a $1,375 option for the Inscription in a package that also includes a 13-speaker harman/kardon audio upgrade .

Among other notable options expected to return for all ’20 XC40s: heated front seats and steering wheel, at around $750; the Advanced Package with a 360-degree surround-view camera; and steering-linked headlamps with washers, at around $995. Look for the R Design and Inscription to again be available with Volvo’s ride-enhancing Four C Suspension with continuously controlled damping, at around $1,000, and a panoramic moonroof, also at around $1,000.

How will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll increase, with the gas-only models remaining price-competitive with rivals of similar power. The plug-in hybrid would be among the first in the premium compact crossover segment and carry a price premium of perhaps $5,000 or so over its gas-only XC40 counterparts.

Estimated base prices here include Volvo’s destination fee, which was $995 on the 2019 XC40. In the T4 range, expect starting prices of around $35,200 for the Momentum, $37,700 for the R Design, and $39,800 for the Inscription. In the 2020 XC40 T5 range, estimated base prices are $37,200 for the Momentum, $39,700 for the R Design, and $41,800 for the Inscription.

The ’20 XC40 will again be eligible for Care by Volvo, an alternative to buying or leasing. It’s a down payment-free subscription service that makes a new XC40 available for 24 months at 15,000 miles annually and includes insurance and maintenance costs. For 2019, the plan made available an XC40 T5 Momentum and T5 R Design at $600 and $700 per month, respectively. Participants have the option to upgrade to a new XC40 each year for the same all-inclusive monthly fee.

When will it come out?

Expected release date for the 2020 XC40 is in the third quarter of 2019.

Best competitors

Audi Q3, BMW X1 and X2, Buick Encore, Cadillac XT4, Jaguar E-Pace, Land Rover LR2, Lexus NX and UX, Mercedes-Benz GLA and GLB, Range Rover Evoque

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]