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Wheels of the Week: Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design

The T5 AWD maintains the appeal of a compact SUV, while revealing the impact of cutting-edge testing on its autonomous features, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

The original Volvo XC40 T5 represented a significant landmark for the Swedish auto company in 2019: it made it the first car manufacturer to offer plug-in hybrid electric/petrol versions across its entire model range. It was described as both youthful and upmarket, giving a sense of all the bases it covered.

In 2022, the R-Design AWD (all-wheel drive) model still makes a mark, as it maintains the appeal of its compact SUV, and adds a level of performance that would be befitting of a flagship model.

The real success story of this model is the extent to which it has maintained spaciousness inside the vehicle despite its compact format. The boot is roomy, the backseats are comfortable, and the front seats offer excellent power adjustments.

The infotainment unit offers a 9-inch portrait-style touchscreen, as an echo of the tablet and smartphone format we tend to prefer in our hands. Apple Car Play and Android Auto run along the bottom of the display, so full menu options are still available across the rest of the screen. Because it is so different from the usual infotainment unit in landscape format and typically with full takeover from Apple or Android, it’s worth spending time to get to know it before setting off on the first journeys.

Harman Kardon speakers from Samsung anchor a suite of sound apps and controls that help turn the vehicle into a satisfying multimedia environment.

It’s safety features, or what tech writers like to think of as its autonomous driving features,  includes automated pedestrian detection and forward collision alert, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control. It expands on these expected elements with a blind-spot monitor that includes collision mitigation, along with rear cross-path detection. All of these come standard with the XC40 T5 AWD.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given Volvo’s image for safety, but it does point the way to the standard features regulators will require before they allow self-driving vehicles to make much deeper, err, inroads.

The most fascinating aspect of this vehicle, however, is not one that can be observed.

Volvo uses gaming tech as well as a mixed-reality simulator to test and develop its newest safety technology.

Advanced driver-assistance features have been fine-tuned “using a combination of high-definition 3D graphics, an augmented reality headset and a full-body haptic suit that provides feedback from a virtual world”, says Volvo. 

“Using this technology, Volvo’s testers are exposed to imagined active safety and driver assistance features, upcoming autonomous drive user interfaces, future car models and many other scenarios, allowing them to stay one step ahead.”

Now, Volvo is partnering with Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite, using its Unreal Engine to support the development of the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) in its next-generation vehicles.

Meanwhile, the current 12-inch driver display gives a sense of what is to come. It is configurable, and adapts to how the driver uses it, with four distinct graphic modes from which to choose. The one surprise, given Volvo’s affinity for gaming an entertainment technology, is that this element is not included. The central infotainment console has become less about the driver than about passengers, and it is only a matter of time before they are entertained with more than just music.

However, while cars may not yet be future-proof, the XC40 T5 looks pretty future-ready.

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