September 22, 2023


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Review: Volvo’s XC40 Recharge impresses for space, safety and value

The 2021 Volvo XC40 is a subcompact SUV/crossover, but far from a substandard effort. The premium XC40 is one of the most competitive and appealing choices in a fast-growing section of the automotive landscape. Its space, standard features, fuel economy, and safety are impressive, and its value stands it apart from rivals that often seem overpriced.

With most of the same equipment as its larger and more expensive stablemates, the XC60 and XC90, Volvo’s
 smallest crossover isn’t just a replica made smaller. The XC40 has its own particular character and driving experience, even while its interior quality approaches the lofty standards of those larger, more luxurious vehicles.

What’s new for 2021?

Volvo’s first-ever all-electric vehicle (EV) to go into production is a new XC40 variant, the XC40 Recharge. Recharge is now the name given to the company’s hybrid and future electric vehicles.

The inventory of standard equipment in the XC40 range increases. Active blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, full LED headlights with automatic high beams and active bending lights, LED fog lights, leather upholstery, power-folding/self-dimming side mirrors, two USB-C ports for rear passengers, and a programmable Care Key (allowing owners to preset limits for young drivers) are all now included in the base Momentum trim.

One more standard feature is Connected Safety. It means that Volvo vehicles can now communicate with each other to enable alerts for a slippery road or hazard lights up ahead. Some earlier Volvos can also be retrofitted with this function. 

What we like
  • Exceptional safety credentials

  • Clever use of interior space

  • Generous standard equipment

  • Distinctive style

  • New electric XC40 Recharge

What we don’t
  • Touchscreen has a bit of a learning curve

  • All-wheel drive not available with the base engine

How much?

$33,700 to $53,990, before federal and state tax credits

Fuel economy

Regular gasoline-fueled versions of the XC40 come with either the T4 or T5 drivetrain. Both employ 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engines and an 8-speed automatic transmission. 

T4 develops 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. It comes solely with front-wheel drive. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fuel consumption is estimated at 23 miles per gallon in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in combined driving, which is good for the class. 

Related: Volvo adds stylish new C40 Recharge to its electric lineup

T5 produces 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, with all-wheel drive as standard. It returns 22 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined.

The new-for-2021 XC40 Recharge has an EPA-estimated range of 208 miles. Also notable: Volvo says the lithium-ion battery can reach an 80-percent charge in 40 minutes using a DC fast charger.

Standard features and options

The regular 2021 Volvo XC40 comes in Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trim levels, with either the T4 or T5 drivetrains.

Momentum (T4 $34,695, T5 $36,695) includes 18-in alloy wheels, powered lift gate with programmable height settings, rain-sensing wipers, roof rails, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, active blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assistance, driver attention monitoring, slippery road/hazard light alerts, self-dimming mirrors, power-folding side mirrors, full LED headlights with automatic high beams and active bending lights, LED fog lights, automatic climate control, power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory settings, 60/40 split/folding back seat, leather upholstery, Volvo OnCall emergency communications, 12.3-in digital driver information display, selectable drive modes, rear parking sensors, programmable Care Key, 9-in vertically oriented infotainment touchscreen, Wi-Fi, Apple
CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, Bluetooth, HD/satellite radio, two USB-A ports up front and a pair of USB-C ports for those in the rear seats, plus an 8-speaker audio system.

This trim is eligible for a Premium package that includes navigation, hands-free liftgate operation, remote garage door opener, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable front passenger seat, removable/folding load floor with grocery bag holders, power-folding rear outboard headrests, front parking sensors, and keyless entry/ignition.

R-Design (T4 $39,945, T5 $41,945) has the contents of the Premium package as standard, then adds 19-in alloy wheels, a lowered sport-tuned suspension, special styling including a black-painted roof and trim-specific color choices, R-Design Nappa leather/Nubuck upholstery, and a sport steering wheel.

Inscription (T4 $40,445, T5 $42,445) reverts to the Momentum’s chassis tuning and steering wheel, then adds its own, more premium touches like real wood trim, leather upholstery, and a crystal gear shift knob.

All trim levels may be ordered with an Advanced package, bringing adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering assistance (Pilot Assist), 360-degree camera system, 12-volt outlet in the luggage area, wireless charging, and high-pressure headlight cleaning.

Among the other options are heated seats/steering wheel/wipers (T5 versions have heated front seats as standard, so the option in this instance would be heated rear seats), 20-inch alloy wheels (R-Design only), self-parking system (R-Design and Inscription only), and a Harman Kardon audio system (Inscription only).

The 2021 XC40 Recharge ($53,990 before credits) is very well equipped. It’s the first Volvo to use the Android Automotive operating system, which means it has Google
Assistant and Google Maps navigation. The XC40 Recharge also gets a 12.3-inch digital driver display, wireless smartphone charging, and heated front seats.

Also notable: The XC40 Recharge has a small front trunk, and it’s the first Volvo to use the company’s scalable Advanced Driver Assist sensor platform, which means it’s primed for future autonomy.


Every 2021 XC40 comes with an impressive array of standard safety features that go beyond the usual allocation of air bags (front, front side, side curtain, driver knee). The forward collision warning and automatic braking system can detect pedestrians, cyclists and large animals at any time of the day or night.

Also standard are lane-keeping assistance, driver attention monitoring, active blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, rear collision mitigation (applies the brakes if it senses an imminent rear-end collision), slippery road/hazard light alert, and Volvo OnCall emergency communications.

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In the crash test program of the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), the XC40 scored the maximum five out of five stars in every major category except the rollover test, where it took a respectable four stars. This didn’t stop it from earning a top overall rating of five stars.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave last year’s XC40 top scores of Good in every major crashworthiness category, but with a reservation about the standard headlights. Now that full LED headlights are in the entry-level trim of the 2021 XC40, this is no longer an issue.

Behind the wheel

The base T4 engine is sufficiently muscular for a vehicle of this size, with a decent turbocharged low-end thrust. So the T5 is definitely not a necessity, more of a performance upgrade for drivers who appreciate responsive acceleration. If anything, the T5’s throttle is almost overly eager in regular driving.

The XC40’s driving experience is unusual when compared with other subcompact SUV/crossover competitors like the BMW X2, but it’s still enjoyable. The high driving position and body roll impart an almost trucklike feel, but the XC40 is also pleasingly light on its feet, stable and with responsive steering.

The ride quality is similarly impressive, but we encourage potential buyers to test-drive versions with different wheel sizes to understand how they affect the suspension.

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The XC40’s cabin is special. Although the quality of plastics is lower than that of pricier Volvos, it’s not glaringly obvious. And the switchgear is virtually the same, including an identical infotainment touchscreen, plus many of the same upgraded features and surfaces.

The interior design is something of a departure from its larger stablemates, but what it might have lost in elegance, it’s gained in practicality. Such as the center console filled with clever cubbies. There’s even one with a flap door intended specifically to be a small garbage can.

Technology is an XC40 strength, with a lot coming as standard, such as the large vertically oriented touchscreen. It does, however, take some time to get truly acquainted with it. The XC40 is not really a vehicle where anyone can just jump in and go. Pay plenty of attention during a test drive and, if you buy one, the delivery lesson.

Interior space is relatively good, despite the XC40’s modest exterior dimensions. Its tall aspect and correspondingly high-mounted seats result in generous legroom and headroom for the class.

Also see: Mercedes’ new EV squares off with Tesla Model Y in Europe

The cargo area is on the small side, stretching from 20.7 to 47.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Yet its squared-off shape may make it more practical than some rivals.

Other cars to consider

2021 BMW X1 — The XC40’s closest competitor in terms of size and price. The BMW
has a sharper drive, but the Volvo offers more for the money.

2021 BMW X2 — Interested in the X1, but seeking something a little more distinctive and stylish? That’s the mechanically related X2. (Read Volvo XC40 vs BMW X2: Which is Better?)

2021 Mini Countryman— The Countryman delivers plenty of distinctive styling and abundant customization choices. Also based on the BMW X1. Updated for 2021.

2021 Cadillac XT4— The Cadillac XT4 has one of the roomiest back seats in this class. It’s priced competitively, styled sharply and has a strong turbocharged base engine.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class — An all-new generation debuts for 2021, which is bigger than before and with more of an SUV attitude than a hatchback with a raised ride height.

2021 Lexus UX— Offers a hybrid version. Lots of convenience and safety features as standard. And Lexus build quality is always superb.

2021 Audi Q3 — Wonderfully spacious, refined and stylish.

Used Volvo XC60 — Someone checking out a new luxury subcompact crossover/SUV is probably making size a greater consideration than cost. But they might prefer the space of a compact because it still wouldn’t be unwieldy. The XC60 is superb and comes with more of the comfort, plus at least as many tech and safety features as the XC40. Check out Volvo’s excellent certified preowned program.

Questions you may ask

Is the 2021 Volvo XC40 safe?

Without a doubt. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) made it a Top Safety Pick. The XC40 can also be equipped with some of the most sophisticated driver assistance features available.

Is the 2021 Volvo XC40 expensive?

Volvo’s XC40 subcompact SUV/crossover for 2021 is priced in line with similar contenders from Lexus, Lincoln and Audi, while a bit less expensive than those from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Volvo also offers a subscription option called “Care by Volvo.” With no money down and, for example, $700 a month for the XC40 R-Design, this service covers insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance. Like a lease, customers don’t own the car. But unlike a lease, they can change vehicles after just 12 months.

Is the 2021 Volvo XC40 reliable?

Volvo has made big strides over the last few years to improve the quality and ownership experience of its vehicles. While not yet up to Lexus or Acura standards, the XC40 and its Volvo stablemates hold up well against most other luxury marques. As the XC40 was only launched in 2019, it’s still a little soon to know its long-term reliability in full.

Read: 10 compact SUVs with the best gas mileage

Autotrader’s advice

Denizens of the Snow Belt and people wanting the most power should consider the T5. Otherwise, the T4 is just fine. Thanks to even more standard equipment arriving this year, there isn’t really a forceful argument to go any higher than Momentum trim. 

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