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Volvo XC40 R-Design vs BMW X1 M Sport

Introduction

Not every luxury car buyer wants the cheapest option they can afford, and to find out which premium small SUV is worth putting big money on, we have brought together flagship versions of the Volvo XC40 and the BMW X1 for a conclusive shootout. Say hello to the XC40 R-Design and the X1 M Sport – two of the poshest small SUVs you could buy right now, but which should you actually choose?  

Let’s start with the design. Parked side by side, it’s the XC40 that follows the SUV design manifesto more severely than the BMW. With no pretence of coupe-like appearance or sleekness, the XC’s upright stance and sharp creases are on point for this segment. What’s more, its 210mm ground clearance is way higher than the X1, adding to the commanding stance. 

The X1, on the other hand, is more urban in the way it looks. It’s sleeker and lustrous although less dramatic than the Volvo. Nevertheless, this M Sport version still has plenty of appealing BMW design cues such as that distinct kidney grille, three section air-intakes on the front bumper, and the characteristic twin barrel head lamps. Something that we particularly like about the X1’s design is the prominent crease which runs over the beltline and merges with the tail lamps to accentuate the width.

Compact yet luxurious

As seen here, the M Sport is the only X1 variant that can be had in the lovely Estoril Blue paint – it completely transformers the relatively old design of this car and for good. The cabin, on the other hand, looks dated. There is nothing really wrong with the ergonomics or the quality but when you pitch it against the XC40’s cabin, it’s nowhere as visually appealing. In fact, stepping inside the XC40 is a refreshing change because unlike the Germans who use plenty of beige and horizontally-biased surfacing for the dash, the Volvo primarily uses black to set the ambience and features vertically-stacked elements. 

The X1 also comes with an all-black cabin which goes well with the M Sport theme, however, it’s the finer details that work in favour of the XC40 – everything from the digital instrument panel, the lovely three-spoke wheel and the vertical touchscreen display and the air vents undoubtedly look more premium. 

Moving on to space and comfort, it’s a close tussle but there is a clear winner here. Up front, it’s the XC40 which is more comfortable thanks to its larger seats and better cushioning. The leather/alcantara seats even include manually extendable seat base for more under thigh support. Unfortunately, things don’t look as promising as you move onto the back. While the rear bench is well contoured for good lateral support and there is decent legroom and headroom, the cabin is quite narrow, making the XC40 a strict four seater. The ingress, too, is narrow which means getting in and out of the rear is bit of a task. Lastly, even though there’s a large sunroof overhead, there is no escaping the helmed in feeling that one may get from the small rear windows and the all-black upholstery.  

The X1 is more comfortable at the back and easily a better chauffeur-driven car. Despite having a marginally shorter wheelbase, the X1 utilises its length well to offer more legroom and a longer seat base. It can also accommodate three occupants more easily than the Volvo. All in all, the X1 feels roomier, has a more accommodating rear seat and a boot that’s more usable than the XC40 as well. It’s a better family small SUV than the XC40, for sure. 

Solid performers

The 2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine in the XC40 is Volvo’s sole ranger ever since the current gen XC90 came out. Offered across the range, this engine makes 190bhp and 400Nm in the XC40 and is paired to an 8-speed automatic. It offers smooth and relentless surge of power for the most part, making the XC40 quite brisk as a daily driver. The strong performance is aided by the 8-speed automatic that delivers silky smooth gear changes. The midrange pull in the Volvo is particularly strong and even at the top-end, this motor maintains a certain degree of zing. The overall refinement levels are also high with little in terms of engine and road noise entering the cabin.

The X1, too, has a 2-litre diesel engine that’s paired to an 8-speed auto. Although it’s slightly louder than the XC40 at idle, it is still a fairly smooth performer and there is no denying its strong pull and flexibility. It’s a willing performer and the 8-speed auto, in typical BMW fashion, is superbly calibrated to extract the most amount of grunt. Although not as linear as the XC40, the X1’s midrange pull is stronger which makes it a pleasantly effective overtaking machine. 

All in all, the X1’s drivetrain is more exciting whereas the XC40 is calmer yet potent nonetheless. Naturally, the BMW turned out to be quicker during our testing. It took 7.83 seconds to hit 100kmph from standstill, as against the XC40 which completed the same run in 8.37 seconds. In gear, it did 20-80kmph in 4.87 seconds (the XC40 took 5.46 seconds) and 40-100kmph in 6.31 seconds (6.50 seconds for the XC40).

Moving onto the more important aspects that is the ride and handling of these cars. The overall noise suppression is more impressive in the XC40. While you do hear the suspension working over sharp road imperfections, it’s the X1 that exhibits more squeaks and rattles from its cabin. As for the ride quality itself, again it’s the XC40 that offers more compliance and is way softer than the X1. The M Sport version rides on low profile rubber which makes the ride unusually stiff for the most part.  

The X1 M Sport, however, fights back as you approach a set of corners. Its pointer front end and nimbler steering makes it more fun to chuck around than the Volvo. It does roll a bit but then it’s also quick to settle down mid corner. The XC40 isn’t a bad handler at all – the body control is great and the steering weighs up nicely, too. It’s just that it’s not as agile or involving to drive as the X1. 

Verdict

2nd place 

BMW X1 M Sport 

Price: Rs 55.01 lakhs on-road Mumbai 

If you are prepared to pay mid-size luxury sedan money for a small SUV, it’s handy when the latter feels posh and is a solid performer. While it isn’t perfect, the X1 M Sport is a great all-rounder – it’s got a powerful motor, a smooth gearbox, plenty of comfort-based features and a credible badge. Better still, it’s quicker, more spacious and rewarding to drive than the XC40. However, in the overall scheme of things, it lacks behind the much newer Volvo. It rides stiffly and the cabin not only looks dated but also lacks the active safety systems that are standard on the XC40. 

1st place 

Volvo XC40 R-Design 

Price: 54.08 lakhs on-road Mumbai 

If you are after rear seat comfort then the X1 (or even the Audi Q3) would do the job better. However, if you want a small SUV that not only looks and drives well but is also incredibly safe and feature packed, then it’s the XC40 that should take up your parking space. It’s got the real SUV look on the outside and lots of high quality bits on the inside. Add in the smooth drivetrain and the overall refinement, and it’s a small SUV that’s truly luxurious and worth the mid-size sedan money.     

 

 
Pictures by Kapil Angane

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