Volvo XC40 T3 R-Design (2019) Review

Volvo XC40T3 4

This T3 R-Design was a finalist in the Premium Compact category of the 2018/19 #CarsAwards and it's one of the most affordable derivatives in the local Volvo XC40 line-up. Nonetheless, it still costs nearly R600 000. Is there enough substance to its undoubted style? Is there merit in choosing such a vehicle equipped with a manual 'box?

We like: Refinement, quality, efficiency, practicality

We don't like: Slightly too firm-riding, you should really rather buy an automatic

Fast Facts

  • Price: R565 400 (August 2019, without options)
  • Engine: 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbopetrol
  • Gearbox: 6-speed manual
  • Fuel economy: 6.3 L/100 km (claimed)
  • Power/Torque: 120 kW/265 Nm

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Where does it fit in?

Stylish, and even more so in R-Design trim, the XC40 remains one of our favourite premium compact crossovers.

For a start, the market for manual-transmission premium crossovers is ridiculously small. According to Lightstone Auto, only 9 XC40 T3 R-Designs have been registered in the first half of the year, one of which we assume is pictured here. And it's not just Volvo... An obvious rival is the BMW X1 sDrive18i (also with a manual transmission), but BMW SA has sold the sum total of 1 (yes... ONE), of them in the first 6 months of 2019. 

And that's it... The new Audi Q3 will arrive on the local market soon and we already have pricing for the Ingolstadt-based firm's local line-up – check it out here – there won't be a manual derivative. We're pretty sure the next-generation Mercedes-Benz GLA won't be offered with a clutch pedal, either. So... we guess that if you really don't want an automatic, then at least the Swedes are catering to your preference. But, given the indications from the market (sales figures), we wouldn't be surprised if this particular variant quietly disappears from the price lists in the coming months/years. 

All of which makes this review quite tricky. So, we're going to look at the XC40 T3 R-Design in general, without focusing too much on the manual transmission (which is pretty good, to be clear), and imagine that you'd rather buy the automatic, which costs only about R30 000 more.

How it fares in terms of...

Design & Packaging

With its striking design, dual-tone finish and large wheels, the XC40's design hides very practical packaging. 

We're big fans of the design of the XC40 – it simultaneously manages to look premium and youthful, and its overall appeal is enhanced by the R-Design package. So equipped, most of the accented features become gloss or matte black, and you also get the dual-tone exterior paint finish that works so well with this car's design. R-Design brings 19-inch wheels as standard, but our test unit featured even larger 20-inch items (R15 500). The wheels look the part, but they may play a role in the slightly too-firm ride – remember R-Design includes a slightly firmer "Sport" suspension.

Compared with the more basic Momentum specification, the cabin of the T3 R-Design is suitably more "posh". It feels like a quality product from the moment you take a seat behind the height/reach adjustable, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Leather upholstery is standard on this derivative, and adds significantly to the overall premium ambience, as do the standard digital instrumentation and large Sensus infotainment touchscreen. 

But strip away the veneer of what is undoubtedly a very stylish offering, and you're left with a car that also offers impressive practicality. It's spacious all-round (rear legroom, in particular, is quite impressive), and the load bay is a sizeable 460 litres, expanding to 1 336 litres with the rear seats folded down. Suffice to say the XC40 is clearly not just a pretty face... it also can function as a practical – yet very stylish – family car, with aplomb.

Comfort & Features

Quality and "interesting" material choices imbue the XC40 cabin with a premium, but fun air.

For nearly R600 000 (base price) the T3 R-Design represents a decently equipped vehicle, although there are plenty of nice-to-have features that remain on the optional extras list. Still, leather upholstery is standard, the front seats feature electric adjustment (and memory for the driver), and there's a more comprehensive smartphone integration system included in the price, as well as an inductive charging pad. 

You also get dual-zone climate control (operated via the Sensus touchscreen), cruise control, rear park assist, keyless entry, navigation and a whole raft of safety systems; 7 airbags, ABS with EBD, ESP, hill-hold, hill-descent control, lane-keep assistance and Isofix child-seat anchorages for the outer rear seats.

The seating position is superb, and it's likely to be that way for a driver of almost any size, because the steering column covers a generous range of rake- and reach adjustment, and the front seats (with manually extending cushions) are highly adjustable too. It is clear that careful attention to detail was paid to the layout of the cabin and particularly storage spaces – a well-sized pad is located close to charging outlets (2 x USB ports), plus the door pockets are sizeable and, in the case of our test unit, featured neat, durable-looking black carpeting. Nice touches abound...

Performance & Efficiency

Equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, this XC40 is claimed to consume an average of 6.3 L/100 km.

The XC40 appears quite compact in the metal, but it's longer and wider than a Mini Countryman, to name but 1 example, and every bit as large as the more conventionally-styled BMW X1. This means it's no lightweight – its kerb weight of 1 497 kg actually makes it heavier than the entry-level X1 derivative. So the plucky 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbopetrol underneath the Gothenberger's bonnet will clearly have its work cut out for it...

Having said that, the XC40 makes admirable use of the peak outputs (120 kW and 265 Nm of torque) at its disposal. Maximum torque is available from 1 850 to 3 850 rpm, and if you use the gearbox considerately, you will rarely stray out of the motor's ideal powerband. That said, most drivers will definitely miss having a self-shifter, particularly in typical city-traffic situations. Volvo claims a 0-100 kph time of 9.3 seconds and a 200-kph top speed, but all you need to take away from that is that the XC40 comfortably – and surprisingly, quietly – reaches swift speeds. 

One of the most important characteristics of this downsized motor is fuel efficiency. Volvo claims a consumption figure of 6.3 L/100 km; we achieved an indicated 7.8 L/100 km, but we still rate that as good, considering the mixed driving conditions the test unit endured during its time in our fleet.

Ride & Handling

The going is by no means harsh, but the XC40 rides better with the standard suspension and smaller wheels.

The XC40 is one of the higher-riding compact premium crossovers, with a ground clearance of 211 mm (compared with the Mini Clubman's 165 mm). The seating position is also quite high, so from behind the 'wheel you feel like you're in command of a bigger vehicle than you are. And yet, the XC40 never lumbers like an unwieldy SUV – it feels light and nimble. There's also a lovely uniformity to the way its controls are harmonised, and consequently, the Volvo makes an impression of quality, refinement and comfort. But its excellence could be further boosted by 2 things, however...

Firstly, though the ride is well-controlled, it's just a tad too firm on poor surfaces. It might be possible to achieve greater suppleness in your XC40 by not opting for the Sport suspension (part of R-Design) and bigger wheels fitted to this particular test unit. Secondly, while the manual 'box is a good one, we can't quite understand why this derivative exists, because an automatic transmission would far better suit the character of this vehicle.   

Price and warranty

The Volvo XC40 T3 R-Design costs R565 400 as standard, but there are many options to consider. The striking Fusion Red metallic of this test car is a R2 950 option, and the bigger wheels (which we would not recommend, unless an overly firm ride quality would not bother you) cost R15 500. There are also 3 comprehensive packs to choose from that bundle together attractive features, but you can individually specify items, such as a front and rear park assist setup (R5 750), a reverse-view camera (R6 400) and a high-performance Harman/Kardon audio system (R10 750).

The standard price includes a 5-year/100 000 km warranty and 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan which is, of course, excellent.


Given its all-round excellence, the XC40 deserves to sell in far greater numbers. But we'd suggest opting for an automatic derivative.

The Volvo XC40 has not garnered so many award nominations (and reaped the silverware, in many cases) without good reason. More practical than, say, a BMW X2, and more stylish than, say, a BMW X1, it strikes a perfect balance between practicality and stylishness. We can't really think of a reason why you should buy this manual-transmission variant, however, but we can recommend this car, in automatic guise, without hesitation. 

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Rival Comparison

MINI Countryman
Cooper S Countryman
R 696 354
Engine 2.0L 4 cyl
Aspiration turbocharger
Power 141 kW
Torque 280 Nm
Gearbox 7 spd automatic
Fuel Type petrol
Fuel Economy 6.7 L/100 km
0-100 Km/h 7.5 s
Load Volume 450-1390 L