Don’t fear the Volvo XC40’s touchscreen

The 2021 Volvo XC40 on a road in the dark. It is parked next to a building.
Credit: Volvo

The good-looking 2021 Volvo XC40 has earned its share of great reviews.  Reviewers have praised it for its styling, practicality, and performance.  This sporty, midsize SUV landed on my radar because it can tow 3,500 pounds.  That’s more than enough power to pull my little bass boat! 

However, it has earned a common critique by some writers who have taken this snappy overachiever for a spin. The touchscreen was described as “complicated”, “laggy”, and “troublesome”.  Today, most car manufacturers have had the chance to refine, sharpen, and even supersize their touchscreens. Did Volvo really miss the mark with theirs?

This smaller entry into the Volvo lineup borrows from its siblings, the XC60 and the XC90.  The XC40 perfectly balances class and athleticism. I chose to test drive the R-Design, which offers larger wheels, a panoramic roof, and black accents on the roof and mirrors. (This design is similar to the 2020 Toyota Highlander.)

The seats are comfortable, and the armrests line up with my elbow, even with the seat all the way back (at 6’ 4”, I find this to be a feat rarely achieved in most SUVs). The leather is nice and soft, but the middle section of the R-Design’s seats is suede. You will have to look at the Momentum or Inscription trim packages to avoid this unique feature if you don’t like it.

These Swedish automakers offer two options for their four-cylinder engine: the T4 and the T5.  The sporty R-Design I chose to drive had the T5 under its hood, with 248 horsepower.  This snappy, turbo-powered motor helped me have more fun than I have ever had (on the road) in an SUV.

Although I wish Volvo made the towing package more readily available, I am quite impressed with just about everything else this SUV offers.  It offers a built-in trash can placed right between the shifter and the right armrest (brilliant…why doesn’t every non-sportscar have this?).  Also, it comes with an actual stereo equalizer that made me nostalgic for the oversized stereo racks that young men crammed into their bedrooms and dorm rooms in the 80s and 90s. The XC40 also has a navigation screen that appears front and center between the speedometer and tachometer.  My only complaint is found in the subwoofer level adjustment, as there was no real difference between -10 and +10!  

So, what about that clunky touchscreen? Is it something most drivers can overcome, or is it just too…touchy? I did not find any circumstances in which the system lagged, and I really liked that the options I selected remained in that position, even after I turned the SUV off.  For example, as a gas-saving feature, the engine has an option that allows it to shut off when stopped.  But that can (and was!) promptly turned off and it remains in that position.  While I did find the touchscreen to be user-friendly, I can understand why some might call it troublesome.  Early on in my test drive, I found my way into the equalizer feature and was able to set it up just like I did when I was ten years old!  It was a thrill.  But since then, after many attempts, I have not been able to find my way back to that specific screen.  (I am glad I did it pretty well the first time!)  

To get a second opinion, I decided to recruit a test subject for my test drive.  My wife was able to conquer that screen in about four and a half minutes.  (Yes, I timed her…and somehow the data on my learning curve was lost between the time of the test drive and the writing of this article.)  

The Volvo XC40 is smart, classy, and sporty, and in my opinion, there is no need to fear the touchscreen.