At first glance the 2018 Volvo XC40, which arrives in the U.S. in May next year, bucks the conventional wisdom about how a modern Volvo should look. There’s no studied elegance to the exterior surfaces, no calming Swedish zen to the interior ambience. Instead, there’s a pugnacious swagger to the XC40 inside and out, with forms, materials, and colors that are reminders that not all Scandinavian designs are a riff on birch wood and mid-century furniture.
And that’s exactly what Volvo design chief Thomas Ingenlath intended. He says although the XC90 redefined Volvo for the 21st century, the XC40 provides an opportunity to further change the perception of Volvo and broaden the expression of the vehicles the company makes. “A family look doesn’t necessarily mean they all look like each other,” he says. The design language you see on the XC40 will be echoed on other small Volvos to be built on the new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) underpinning this compact SUV.
The XC40’s exterior is the work of young British designer Ian Kettle and is heavily based on a sketch he drew back in 2013, a year after he graduated from the Royal College of Art in London. So enamored with the sketch was Ingenlath the design went straight to a full-size clay for review, skipping the normal quarter-scale model phase of the design process. “It’s exactly the car we wanted to do,” he says.
The top-of-the-range Inscription trim level, with its own palette of more sophisticated interior and exterior colors (but no option of a separate roof color), will be made available after launch, and Volvo plans to expand the powertrain lineup to include a plug-in hybrid and even a full electric driveline.
The XC40 is the first addition to the Volvo portfolio since the launch of the XC60 in 2008, and the decision to debut the new CMA architecture under an all-new SUV reflects the a dramatic shift in consumer tastes—even in Europe—away from conventional cars to crossovers. Jonas Engstrm, the vehicle line director for the XC40 and other products to be built using CMA, points out global sales of compact SUVs have exploded from less than 100,000 vehicles a year in 2010 and are expected to reach 1 million a year by 2020. It is the fastest-growing vehicle segment in the world.
Against that background, the XC40 is not only designed to change perceptions. It’s also designed to be a game changer, pitching Volvo squarely against Audi’s Q3, BMW’s X1, and the Mercedes-Benz GLA in the fight for the hearts and wallets of a whole new generation of urban SUV buyers.