Our Volvo XC40 on the Vildmarksvägen in Sweden.
This is Part 3 of our adventure in Sweden and Norway with a Volvo XC40. You can see Part 1: Kustvägen here and Part 2: Lofoten Islands here. Having reached the high point of our trip in the Lofoten Islands, we are now heading back towards Stockholm, but not without a last (but not least) detour in “The most beautiful road in Sweden”: the Vildmarksvägen, which translates as the Wilderness Route.
We start this last section of our Scandinavian adventure in Kiruna, and a night snowfall means our bright red Volvo XC40 has a sprinkle of ice sugar on it in the morning. How refreshing. Later than morning we would experience one of the spookiest moments in the entire trip. Stopping in the seemingly ghost-town of Tårrajaur nearby a massive mirror-like lake awaiting a rainstorm (see drone picture above), we drive through the tiny settlement as all houses seem unoccupied, but once again in Scandinavia people are so discreet that each house could hold 3 families each that we wouldn’t know it. As we get out the car to admire the stillness of the lake, we are met by a striking, haunting and almost caricatural howling sound. At first I think the sound being so close and loud, that it’s one of the village inhabitants taunting us so we leave quickly. But that doesn’t make any sense, especially coming from such a polite, kind and friendly people as the Swedish. And then it hits us: this is actually a wolf (doh!) – as we are basically in the middle of nowhere-forest in Sweden. It goes on for a while and adds a touch of black magic to an already mesmerising landscape.
Our Volvo XC40 under every possible angle on the snowy Stekkenjokk plateau, Vildmarksvägen Sweden.
The Vildmarksvägen is described on most Swedish guides as the most spectacular road in Sweden, which is an ambitious title as this country is filled to the brim with sumptuous nature. But it would turn out to be absolutely true. Starting in Vilhelmina and headed northwest, we run through the late-18th-century Sami church village of Fatmomakke, the tiny village of Klimpfjäll before hitting the Stekkenjokk plateau which is the piece de resistance of the Vildmarksvägen. Driving here is like skiing but on four wheels, with large plains on each side of the road entirely covered with snow, small streams trickling through the ice. We put our drone hard at work to study the car in every possible angle, as a video of the entire trip will show shortly. Here, everyone driving past waves and/or stops to ask if we are ok (as we would stop many times to control the drone, take it off or land it), so much so that I actually feel like in Outback Australia where everyone’s utmost concern is the security of their fellow humans.
Swedish countryside car landscape
This very peculiar part of Sweden is full-on, desolate and cold countryside in late September, so I can only imagine how freezing, dark and isolated it would be in the thick of winter. As such, almost all cars here have one set of added fog lights, whether it be a pickup, van, station wagon or sedan. The VW Amarok rules in this neck of the Swedish woods, with the Mitsubishi Triton and Isuzu D-Max also very popular (and one Mercedes X-Class spotted), alongside the VW Caddy and Transporter while among cars the Skoda Octavia and Superb wagon over-perform and Subaru is a lot strong now that we are back in Sweden. The Volvo XC70 is the most common car in the region, the legacy of almost two decades of domination of the local sales charts, and as opposed to our observations near Stockholm, here it’s the V90 CC 4WD that is the most common, not the V90 city slicker, which is understandable given the terrain.
CC or not CC, that is the V90 question.
Upon reading Part 1 of this Volvo XC40 review and my observations about the overwhelming popularity of the V90 in Sweden as opposed to the S90 (combined in official sales figures from Bilsweden), Swedish magazine Vibilagare‘s Editor Nils Svärd so kindly got in touch to quench my insatiable appetite for data and give us the truth about V90 sales in Sweden. Here goes. In 2018, out of 24.346 S/V90 sold in Sweden, 22.314 (91.7%) were V90 (+11.6%) up from 88.5% in 2017, and only 2.032 (8.3%) were S90 (-21.7%), down from 11.5% in 2017. That’s slightly higher than I observed but still very striking. 23.495 or 96.5% were automatic transmission (+12.2%) vs. just 851 and 3.5% manual (-48.3%), also very extreme. A rather balanced stat is the repartition by powertrain at 13.546 (55.6%) 4WD vs. 10.800 (44.4%) 2WD, very stable on 2017 which was 12.652 (56%) 4WD vs. 9.941 (44%) 2WD. Obviously all V90CC are 4WD but these are not the only 4WD variants of the V90 so this 4WD/2WD stat cannot be equalled to V90CC/V90 stat. Finally alimentation stats (I told you it would be stat galore), diesel dominates with 18.508 sales (76%) ahead of petrol (18.2%), PHEV (3.9%) and AHV gas (1.9%). The surprising evolution here is that petrol sales are on the up at +163.8% from 1.675 and 7.4% share in 2017 while diesel is down -8.2% from 20.167 and 89.3%. I will venture an explanation: petrol sales come from thebare bones variant priced at 329,900 SEK or 31,500€ we mentioned in Part 1. I thin that’s all the V90 stats we will ever get or need. Many thanks to you Nils!
Stockholm car landscape
We end our trip as we started it in Stockholm, and it’s the opportunity to discover the car landscape of the capital in a lot more detail as we only drove through at the start of this adventure. The fact is the XC40 is still rare which doesn’t quite match its position in the sales ranking at the time of our visit (7th in September and 10th after 9 months 2018). But it does feel like a Hollywood star with groupies roaming around and taking pictures: I parked the car in front of our hotel for a mere 15 mins to check in and people were snapping it in every angle, commenting to us on how good it looked. Another interesting observation is made while catching up with a Swedish friend Martin Svane who told me all about the Volvo car sharing subscription system he’s using (Sunfleet), paying 15€ per month to get the right to use any Volvo he want. His wife likes the XC40, he likes the XC60 but think the XC90 is best looking in its class. He only uses his subscription over weekends unless he has furniture to move during the week. He doesn’t feel the need to own a car in Stockholm, and with the subscription he doesn’t pay for petrol but pay by hour and by km on top of monthly subscription for the usage of the car. This is actually the first time I’m hearing of a valid subscription model with happy customers. Volvo is banking on the fact that Martin may decide to buy one of its models once he has children, and given he has tried them all, he has a pretty clear opinion on what he wants and all other brands are quietly kept out of his top-of-mind list. Sounds like a win-win situation, but I’m still not 100% convinced that this is an efficient way to lead to a sale.
Our faithful drone hard at work on the Vildmarksvägen
It’s now time to say goodbye, but not before a shoutout to our faithful drone that has been put to work like never before on this trip, thanks to the patience of my co-driver Basir. What started as a fun gimmicky purchase a year ago is turning out to be a very useful addition to BSCB’s photographic army and we will be producing more photos and videos in the near future when the countries we visit allow it (that’s the catch). We had one scare, so be it known to you out there who also own a DJI Pgantom 4 Advanced: at 9 min remaining battery (not 10, not 8, 9!), the drone just plain ignores everything you do from then on, announces “Landing!” and just automatically lands. Thankfully this happened above snow near the Vildmarksvägen so I was able to swiftly steer the drone back onto the road for a safe landing, but this was a pure stroke of luck as every single day before that we filmed almost exclusively above water… I have a question for you though, given I’m naming every car I test drive, I thought it would be appropriate to name our drone also. I’m thinking of naming it Albatros. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
Our final itinerary through Sweden and Norway
Our loop from Stockholm through the Kustvägen to the Lofoten Island and back through the Vildmarksvägen added up to a total of 4.092 km (2.543 miles) which we did in 8 days. I’ll end this review (before the actual review) by sending my warmest thanks to Annika Bjerstaf at Volvo Headquarters in Gothenburg, for so nicely lending me a Volvo three years in a row and thus enabling some unforgettable experiences with the XC90 to Cape North, the V90CC through the Norwegian fjords and the XC40 all the way to the Lofoten Islands. Thank you!
- The XC40’s exterior design is a shortcut of what makes current Volvos sen, modern and stylish, perhaps the best proportioned of the three Volvos I test drove so far: the XC90 is outlandish but a tad too large and the V90CC is low and long but the XC40 seems just right and its steeply sculpted silhouette loves the camera from every angle almost as much as the Toyota C-HR did.
- Inside also, Volvo hasn’t cut corners and the most attractive elements of the XC90 and V90 happily trickle down to the XC40. The sophisticated atmosphere is not lost despite a much lower starting price at the equivalent of 38,140€ in Sweden vs. 69,900€ for the V90CC and 61,400€ for the XC90. In fact, materials seems more plush to the touch than the other two vehicles.
- Very smart storage pockets, nets and boxes throughout the car maximises space utilisation: storage bins alongside the back seats near the door are located in an area I’ve never seen before in any car. Boot space is also much larger than expected. One negative is the excessively small glovebox.
- Cruise control command is on the steering wheel (alleluia!), with only one touch increases/decreases by 5 km/h (instead of one long touch on other cars, where you constantly have to double check you’ve changed the speed accurately.
- Active safety is of the highest standard as I have come to expect from Volvo with hands free steering wheel impressively autonomous and line departure assist 100% efficient. The car does leave the road if unattended which wasn’t the case on the XC90 and V90CC.
- As per the previous two Volvos, the touch screen navigation is among the most intuitive, fluid and flawless I have seen in any car. Helicopter view camera angle is particularly useful when treading narrow country roads and tight underground parking angles.
- Fuel autonomy is equivalent to the XC90 with a maximum of 1030km reached during the trip.
- Automatic high beams isn’t a default setting, is kinda hard to find and doesn’t work properly. It doesn’t recognise a faraway car on a straight line (had to cut off high beams manually after waiting 4 – 5 sec each time) It’s a surprising fail in an otherwise very tech-friendly car, and unfortunately in the case of automatic high beams it’s either perfect or useless.
- Relatively loud rolling noise when on highway tends to drown music inside. It’s not an engine noise, it’s the sound of the wheels on the bitumen. Might be related to an unusual abrasive surface on the road but surprising nonetheless.
- Eco drive mode isn’t set as default (or too hard to find that I couldn’t in one week of constant use) and has to be reset each time you start the car.
- Phone pairing is convoluted, and some addresses don’t come through when searching a destination on the GPS. Some updating required.
Next to come is a video of the best drone footage of the Volvo XC40 through Sweden and Norway. This might take a little while as I have a lot of footage to sift through. I will update it as a separate article as soon as ready.