Had we stayed in the confines of one or another of the hipster enclaves we encountered on our journey, the charming Volvo XC40 might have won this comparison test. Possibly by a significant margin.
It positively dominated the vehicle category of our final-results chart, finishing this section of largely static attributes 17 points ahead of the BMW and 20 ahead of the Jaguar. It looks great, inside and out, with the sort of friendly-tech vibe of Steve Jobs–era Apple designs. It’s the least expensive. It’s the most comfortable. It has the most maximum cargo space. It is well equipped. It glides smoothly down the expressway, tracking straight and stress-free. Its front seats are supportive and accommodating in that characteristically Volvo way. Its rear seats are the roomiest and the most comfortable with two in back, and no worse than the Jag’s with three across. Like many a recent Volvo, the interior design is cohesive and oddly calm while the materials used in its construction look and feel a price class higher than its direct competitors’. And it offers a plethora of clever bins and hidey holes. What’s not to love?
Well, once we exited the expressway for twisty, turny roads, we found a few things. If the Jaguar is the playful one, the Volvo is the befuddled one. Asked to exert itself beyond a casual pace, the XC40 reveals its uncoordinated nature. The steering system, which feels fine at high speeds, is massively overboosted at slower ones. It’s easy to lose touch with the goings-on of the front tires. And what’s going on with the front tires, all too often, is that they are losing purchase on the pavement. The Volvo actually develops more grip than the Jaguar, wearing the same model and size of tire, but it can’t match the Brit’s balance. The XC40’s front end just gives up in a way that the Jag’s doesn’t.
The Volvo’s power delivery is also the least linear of the three, surging and receding slightly out of step with throttle-pedal inputs. And that engine, which allows the XC40 to run neck and neck with the BMW all the way up to 120 mph, doesn’t actually sound like an engine at all. Instead, it emits a series of whooshing noises and horse farts.
But many people like horses.