If you’re after a luxurious compact SUV, the Germans offer the latest bells and whistles, while the Japanese provide bang for buck. On the left of the playing field is the 2023 Volvo XC40 Ultimate B5 Dark, offering the best of both worlds in a sensible Swedish package.
The Volvo XC40 may have entered the Australian market five years ago, but its design hasn’t needed many tweaks. The Swedish marque knows how to differentiate the car from its rivals, such as the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLB too.
The shorter wheelbase, paired with the unmistakable Volvo grille and ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlights, give the Volvo XC40 its road presence. Despite its compact size, the Volvo XC40 Ultimate B5 Dark is equipped with baller 20-inch alloys as standard.
These are wrapped in speedy Michelin Pilot Sport 4 SUV tyres. Available in nine mostly faded hues that appeal to business people, our test vehicle was finished in Fjord Blue, which is the teal equivalent of Audi’s popular Nardo Gray.
The interior is traditional Volvo, meaning it’s ergonomic, well-built, and most surfaces are soft to touch. The leather seats are comfortable for long journeys and outward visibility is excellent. Buyers have two colour choices for the interior: Charcoal or Blond.
At the heart of the cabin is the controversial Orrefors crystal gear shifter, which we think adds a little pizzazz. The car could benefit from some subtle, coloured ambient lighting though.
Volvo calls it ‘Interior High Level Illumination’, and it’s a feature available in other models, but not this one. Behind the wheel is a 12-inch screen, which displays your speedometer, tachometer and a map.
The gauge cluster lacks the configurability of Audi’s virtual cockpit, but is crisp and easy to read. Everything, except for your media shortcuts and defrosters, is controlled by a 9-inch portrait display powered by Google’s ‘Android Automotive’ system.
It’s lag-free and intuitive to use for the most part. However, without haptic feedback, it’s a faff to operate on the fly. Our vehicle was fitted with the optional 13-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, which includes a bassy subwoofer.
It’s great for most listeners, but it loses the fight against Volvo’s audiophilic 1110W Bowers & Wilkins system that’s offered in you guessed it, other models. Why it’s not a choice in the XC40 is beyond our understanding.
What you can opt for though is a panoramic sunroof, which lightens the cabin and mood. The list of standard goodies is decent too, and includes adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitors, a 360-degree camera and a cabin air purifier.
If you want heated seats, you’ll need to opt for the Climate package. Our tester had this fitted, and we can safely say that it’s perfect for frosty winter mornings. The rear seats are spacious enough for adults around the 180cm mark, with sufficient headroom and legroom.
That said, it’s a squeeze to seat three abreast. If you have little ones, there are two ISOFIX mounts and three top-tether anchor points in the rear, which are all readily accessible. The boot is decent at 452-litres too.
That makes it more IKEA-friendly than that of the 2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge Pure Electric we tested last year. We love that there’s no ‘load lip’ and that the second row seats can be stowed with ease as well.
Our only nit-pick is that rivals, such as those mentioned earlier, offer storage beyond the 500-litre mark. On the road though, the 2023 Volvo XC40 Ultimate B5 Dark is comfortable and composed.
The suspension is capable of handling Sydney’s pothole-ridden roads, while the cabin is well insulated for this class of car. Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers a smooth 183kW of power and 350Nm of torque to all four wheels.
It’s quick enough to overtake most vehicles on the motorway, and the car will hit 100km/h from a standstill in just 6.4 seconds. That used to be hot hatch territory once upon a time. However, make no mistake in thinking that this is a sporty vehicle.
There is body roll in the corners, braking is on the gentle side, and the 8-speed transmission takes its time with gear changes. The Volvo XC40 is strictly a luxury vehicle, and we love it for not being a half-hearted jack of all trades.
What we don’t love is the fuel economy. The “B5” badge denotes that this Volvo XC40 is fitted with a 48-volt mild hybrid system to enhance efficiency and offer up to 10kW of power and 40Nm of torque.
Volvo claims the car can achieve 7.2-litres/100km, but we consistently averaged above 9.0-litres/100km. That’s not ideal when the fuel tank only holds 54-litres. For comparison, the current Volkswagen Golf can hold 50-litres.
In theory, the hybrid system turns off the engine when the vehicle slows down towards a red light. You then stop. When the light goes green, the hybrid system seamlessly turns on the engine without you realising.
However, we found ourselves ‘stalling’ because the light went green before we came to a complete stop. Although this feature cannot be disabled, we wouldn’t consider it a dealbreaker, as the rest of the drive is excellent.
The 2023 Volvo XC40 Ultimate B5 Dark is priced at $64,990 plus on-roads, but our test vehicle kitted to a smudge under $70,000. It’s in the same price bracket as the entry-level Mercedes-Benz GLB 200 and BMW X1 sDrive18i.
Both those vehicles are front-wheel-drive. The only other real threat is the Mazda CX-5 Akera, which offers more equipment for less. The 2023 Volvo XC40 Ultimate B5 Dark is aimed at buyers who want a posh SUV with a stylish exterior.
It’s better looking than its less expensive rival, and a better value proposition than the German varieties. Despite its minor flaws, the Volvo XC40 remains a smart purchase for sensible folk.
Our test vehicle was provided by Volvo Cars Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Volvo XC40 Ultimate B5 Dark, contact your local Volvo dealer. Pictures courtesy of Nicholas Mok.