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Sweden and Norway in a Volvo XC40 – 1/3: Kustvägen

Our Volvo XC40 matching the fishing cabins in Lörudden on the Kustvägen.

For the third year in a row, Volvo has been kind enough as to lend me one of its models, and after taking the XC90 to North Cape and the V90 to the Norwegian fjords, I now can wrangle the XC40, winner of the prestigious European Car of the Year award in 2018, one year after the Peugeot 3008 we recently reviewed. We got to drive the XC40 in September of last year as the summer slowly settled into Autumn, allowing for stunning sunny days. Hitting the bullseye of the European soft spot for smaller but posh SUVs, the XC40 has helped make Volvo one of the greatest performers on the continent recently, with the brand posting sales up 7.2% to 321.239 in 2018 and up 12% to 50.479 so far in 2019. The XC40 itself was Volvo’s 5th best-seller in 2018 at 47.536 units but jumps up to 2nd best-seller in 2019 at 10.853 (#80) below just the XC60 at 12.800 (#65). Such success warranted a test drive, and the model we have at our disposal for the next week is a Volvo XC40 D4 AWD 190 Geartronic diesel priced at the equivalent of 38,140€ or US$45,000 in Sweden but 45,100€/US$50,900 in France for example. This is a very significant price cut compared with the 69,900€ or US$81,400 of the V90 CC we drove in 2017 and the 61,400€ or US$65,000 of the XC90 we drove in 2016.

But first, onto our annual catchup with best-selling monthly local magazine Auto Motor & Sport who have supported Best Selling Cars Blog from the start and continue month after month to quote our site in their statistics page, with this month’s data featuring Scotland. It’s always heartwarming to travel the world and find mentions of BSCB in the local automotive press, so once again thank you Auto Motor & Sport!

Our itinerary for Part 1 of this review takes us from Stockholm to the northernmost tip of Sweden, via the famed Kustvägen.

Part 1 of our expedition through Sweden and Norway with the Volvo XC40 takes us on almost the entire length of the country from Stockholm to its northernmost tip in Kiruna. Once we agree on a nickname for the car (Sven), we kick off from the Volvo dealership in the Sollentuna suburb of Stockholm, and the main attraction of this section of the journey is the beautiful Kustvägen alongside the Gulf of Bothnia, visiting the picture perfect fishing hamlets of Mellanfjärden, Hårte, Skatan and Lörudden. We then cross endless steppe forests to reach Arvidsjaur, then plow on northbound to Gällivare and Kiruna, ending across the Norwegian border in Bjerkvik.

Volvo XC40 creature comforts

Stepping inside the XC40, I rekindle with the unassumingly sophisticated atmosphere that characterised the previous Volvos I drove over the past couple of years. Sort of a miniature Volvo SUV, the XC40 hasn’t lost its Swedish flair in the process with most features having tricked down from the XC90 and it’s great to see. As such, the dashboard is almost identical to the previous models I tested, with its large touch screen and very intuitive navigation. To its credit, the XC40 adds lots of smarts inside, giving off a feeling of hard-working engineering. An example is the storage bins alongside back seats near the door in a location I had never seen in any car before. Breaking with a mind-bogglingly inconvenient wand on the Peugeot 3008, cruise control commands are located on the steering wheel in the XC40 (alleluia!) and have pushed their ease of use up one notch with one quick touch changing the cruise speed by km/h instead of one long touch on other cars where you never know whether you overshot and pressed too long and therefore constantly have to double check that you’ve changed the speed to the amount you wanted. None of this here, you can change the cruising speed without looking. Also, in the couple of years since the XC90 and V90 were released, Volvo has managed to squeeze a very impressive “no hands” function on the steering wheel (see video below).

Look mum! No hands!

Mellanfjärden on the Kustvägen

We can now start our Kustvägen exploration, and our first stop is in the small fishing hamlet of Mellanfjärden, population 115. If this looks familiar to you, that’s because you have a great memory and you remember we did take on the Kustvägen two years ago with the Volvo XC90. I’m normally adverse to visiting the same place twice, but I couldn’t resist here as this part of the world is just too beautiful to miss out on, with its tiny hamlets of red fishing cabins nested in quiet bays and surrounded by forest. Plus I had the added responsibility of showing this region to my co-driver Basir, as I believe it is a must if you visit Sweden. The good news is, nothing much has changed in two years: all fishing cabins are still impeccably painted in red with white awnings, the only restaurant/hotel in town remains closed as we are outside the Summer holiday season and the hamlet is still eerily quiet with only the sound of masts clinging, seagulls cawing and water rippling on the jetty. One single difference is that the main fisherman in town and owner of the only large boat on the harbour seems to have upgraded to a slightly more modern, white fishing vessel… You’ll have to carefully check the photos in the Volvo XC90 review to notice that though. If Mellanfjärden seems reassuringly frozen in time, we for once have news: our faithful drone has already been very busy snapping the panoramic shots of the hamlet you can see above.

Above: Skatan, cat sign and below: Hårte

Our next stop on the Kustvägen is Hårte which is so small it’s not even listed on Wikipedia. It is simply a sort of canal leading to the sea with a dozen traditional red houses on it, complete with bright doors for their boat garages. I didn’t get to push to Hårte last time I was here so I’m glad to have discovered yet another gem. There’s a little more activity in Hårte with a few fisherman fixing boats. Everyone here says hello. Next we must stop in Skatan, which is the picture perfect of picture perfects: every house still impeccably painted with gardens impossibly manicured with the restaurant in town closed but a few locals eager to inquire about the XC40. I have just noticed that the house on the right in the 2nd photo above is on Airbnb… It would sure make for a relaxing week of farniente or inspired writing for BSCB…

Car landscape on the Kustvägen

Driving across much of Sweden is a great opportunity to get an update on the staggering amount of station wagons on the road which makes Sweden the unofficial world capital of station wagons. Indeed out of 371 passenger cars spotted across multiple sections of the highway between Stockholm and Sundsvall, 212 or a huge 57% were station wagons, 18% were SUVs and 25% were other formats including hatches, sedans and MPVs. Case in point, if official Swedish data counts the Volvo S90 sedan and V90 station wagon together, I only spotted four (!) S90 in a full week of travelling around he country, so it’s fair to say that S/V90 sales figures are in fact almost exclusively V90 sales. Validating its first ever pole position in 2018, the Volvo V90 clearly leads in and around Stockholm, but less so in more rural areas. In any case it’s the V90, not the V90 CC, that is popular so far, thanks mainly to a “low cost” bare bones variant priced at 329,900 SEK or 31,500€ that most appropriately replaces the double-decade best-seller V70 in the hearts of Swedish buyers. For perspective, in France the V90 starts with the D3 manual at 46,350€, a huge 15,000€ dearer. Kustvägen inhabitants have held on to their treasured vehicles for dear life, with antediluvian VW Beetle and Land Rover spotted (see above).

Lörudden is the epitome of the traditional Swedish fishing hamlet.

We kept the best for last in this Kustvägen exploration with Lörudden, where all fishing cabins seem to have been repainted the day before in traditional red and white – totally matching our XC40 – with doors in shades of green, their windows tastefully decorated and every speck of surrounding grass seemingly exactly at the right spot. It doesn’t get any more perfect than this, especially when blessed with grandiose weather which was the case when we visited and not a given in late September believe you me. Kustvägen: you were delicious again and I’m sure we’ll meet again in the near future.

Through the Swedish countryside towards Lapland (click on the drone pic to enlarge).

Next is a passage in autumn-coloured forests near Örträsk which gave us the stunning drone image above (video to come shortly) while following the XC40 above the tree line in a slightly stressful moment for me, and we enter Lapland to spend the night in the aptly-named Lapland Lodge in Arvidsjaur. When told we are test driving a car, the hotel manager asks if we will come back in winter as apparently the town is a prized location for torture testing in extreme winter weather. Don’t give me any ideas! The breakfast is reassuringly Swedish, of course.

About to cross into Norway, past Gällivare and Kiruna.

We are now well and truly in Lapland, with the weather that goes with it. Unfortunately we won’t have time to explore Lapland fully this time but you can check our complete coverage of Finnish Lapland during the XC90 review in 2016 here. After Kiruna, snow starts to fall which to be honest took us by surprise as it was only the third week of September when we visited. This would escalate quickly to a full blanket of snow as we cross the border into Norway, but that is a story we will tell in Part 2 of this adventure. Stay tuned!

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