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How The Volvo XC40 Is Changing The Face Of The Compact SUV Segment

Opinion / 3 Comments

Volvo has stormed through the front doors of the establishment wielding every bit of weaponry in its arsenal.

As vehicle prices soar, it's becoming increasingly difficult for premium manufacturers to appeal to a more youthful audience. They've had to downsize their vehicles, enter new segments, and reinvent themselves as hip and trendy in an attempt to lure younger buyers into parting with their hard earned cash. Volvo, as typically cool as we'd expect from anything out of Sweden, has somewhat struggled to achieve this breach into a youthful market.

Sure, the Twilight saga spurred sales of the C30 hatchback, but the general impression is that Volvo is for the elderly, or at least the more matured. The Volvo XC40 is Volvo's bold stab at a new market, against competitors like Audi and BMW who have already been trading in this territory for at least a couple of years now. But Volvo hasn't entered gently, tepidly dipping a toe in the market with an on-par attempt. Oh no, the XC40 has entered the market with a big Swedish bang, and it's going to change the compact SUV segment for good – I'd put my money on it if I were a betting man.

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Form Follows Function The 'form follows function' school of thought has been around for decades, centuries even; but when it comes to cars, the theory is applied loosely, with engineers and designers building cars based on what they think we need. Volvo decided that with the XC40 targeting a new generation – millennials – the rules needed to be rewritten, or rather tweaked, to suit day to day usefulness that other brands hadn't quite grasped. The devil is in the details, and its on these that Volvo has focused.

Consider the storage binnacles throughout the cabin – the rubbish bin in the center console, the drawer under the front seats, hooks in the glove box, and the door cards that can hold a laptop. It doesn't get more millennial than having a laptop holster in your car, does it? The XC40 follows on from the latest design language from the Swedish brand – so it's not really a surprise that it looks stunning. But to appeal to a youthful audience, the XC40 adds more verve to what could otherwise be a rather mature design language more in the same vein as the larger XC90.

Style With A Conscience It's admittedly not unique for the segment, but two tone color schemes and large accessory wheels show a dedication to appealing to a youthful market, while details like the Swedish flag tags on the hood add the kind of accessory the youth adore. The interior is just as adventurous – pairing the functionality mentioned above with the flair needed to appeal to a younger generation. Bold colors, textured surfaces, and technological integration fit into the lifestyle of modern youth perfectly; but we live in a society as much obsessed with image as it is with responsibility towards the environment.

It's the reason we've seen the push towards EVs adopted by the youth so easily, and it's the reason why cars like the BMW i3 uses recycled materials for its interior panels. But the i3's interior looks dull. The XC40, on the other hand, recycles plastic from the ocean into 'lava orange' carpeting that not only looks striking, but offers a sense of environmental responsibility that's becoming so vitally important to the modern youth – something competitors in this compact SUV segment have yet to grasp onto in an overt manner.

Big Car Tech Style is objective – you could very well argue that the Audi Q2, BMW X2, and Jaguar E-Pace all 'outstyle' the XC40 on the basis of personal preference – and to some the clever packaging and environmentally friendly interiors may not be appealing. But Volvo has done something with the XC40 that others have failed to do, and it may be to their own detriment. In their pursuit to access a market more concerned with affordability, the rest of the premium crowd has cut certain corners to meet price points.

You'll find a fair bit of tech crammed into rivals, but the XC40 manages to jam in just about all of the technology you'd be able to find in the halo XC90 that costs twice as much. In creating the XC40, Volvo hasn't merely shrunken down a design identity with cut-price materials, they've quite literally taken all the benefits of the larger platform siblings and packaged them into a city-friendly crossover with the price to match rivals and appeal to a new audience who never would've looked to Volvo in the first place.

The Complete Package Volvo hasn't neglected the things that matter when building the XC40 – ensuring a wholesome product rather than equipping tech at the expense of quality driving dynamics. Aspects of the XC40's personality unaffected by the more budget orientated price tag include refinement both in ride and noise levels. The XC40's cabin is as refined as larger more premium SUVs, whilst the suspension feels one of the most wholly developed in this segment, and several above. It's this that gives Volvo the benefit of the doubt against rivals, and it adds the finishing touches to an overwhelmingly impressive package that signals danger for other premium manufacturers.

Volvo has stormed through the front doors of the establishment wielding every bit of weaponry in its arsenal – and the XC40 is going to show up other premium manufacturers for having cut costs in their development of products to appeal to younger audiences. The XC40 almost highlights a lack of respect for younger buyers from other manufacturers – the belief that they can trade on brand cachet alone. They can't, and Volvo has proven this in one single compact package. Volvo's latest offerings have proven itcan roll with the big dogs in the market, but the XC40 shows us a different side to Volvo, that they can bare teeth and upstage the most established premium brands in the financial segment most likely to build or break reputations.

Mark my words, if when the X2, Q2, E-Pace, and Mercedes-Benz GLA come up for replacement, they don't offer the best their respective brands can produce, the buying public will soon realize that premium is more than just a badge on the hood of a car.