Design review Volvo C40: ‘meets all expectations, and that is a problem’

Niels van Roij sees perfectionism

Volvo C40 design

Car designer Niels van Roij considers the Volvo C40 and the unique place that the Swedes occupy in the automotive landscape.

“Cars are driven by people, the guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo is and must therefore remain safety.” With this quote, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustav Larson, the founders of Volvo, set the tone for creating a unique concept. Exceptionally, in fact, in the car marketing world, where it’s rarely about the least attractive user scenario: crashing.

The above statement is based on the mentality of the Swedes and their way of living and thinking. An inherently modest way of working, without ostentation, excess or bravura.

The Volvo sales boost since being acquired by Geely is intriguing to watch. It’s a clear design-driven success story. Deployed from the second generation XC90, the first car of the Geely generation of products.

Volvo XC90

Pre-Geely Volvos were used diametrically opposite the market by then design boss Steve Mattin. The forced youthful performance cars were not discreet but loud, bad proportioned and equipped with wild surfacing and messy detailing.

Think of the LEDs mentioned by Volvo DNA lights, which were positioned between the grille and headlights. The full approach greatly diluted the brand DNA and posed a direct threat to Volvo’s future.

Volvo S60

Successive chief designer Thomas Ingenlath did what was necessary with Mattin’s work: a line through it! He brought the essence of the brand back to its status before Mattin came on board: relevance through superior Swedish-oriented design work.

The market has clearly expressed enormous appreciation for this vision, as evidenced by the sales results of the entire current Volvo line-up. Therefore, it can be argued that finding shapes for the successors of these cars is one of the most challenging tasks in the car design industry.

The problem lies in finding exactly the right balance between evolution and revolution. An overly cautious evolution can cause the brand’s momentum to stagnate. ‘Everyone’ thought the Jaguar XJ was a nice sedan, but nobody bought one.

Jaguar XJ

An overly cavalier approach – as we see with the Big German Three – could threaten Volvo’s reputation as the most consistent premium manufacturer.

BMW i7 M70 xDrive

Refreshingly understated progress seems to be the path chosen by Thomas Ingenlath’s successor Robin Page and his team. This recipe has been shown several times in concept cars such as the Recharge Concept and now also the EX90.

Volvo EX90

Which brings us to the exceptionally well-drawn XC40. The car that served as the basis for the C40 discussed here.

Basic ingredients of the XC40 and C40 recipe are simple graphicsupright, but not arrogantly imposing stance by fantastically drawn large wheels and refined surfacing with just enough characteristic details.

Volvo C40 Recharge

Volvo C40

At the front of the C40, Volvo designers have chosen to rely entirely on the characteristic diagonal bar logo. This creates the right impression without any frame. The DRG graphics with ‘Thor’s Hammer’ was updated and allowed to remain to flank the non-grille.

Volvo C40 Recharge

Volvo C40

Volvo C40

The exceptionally clean look and cool exterior atmosphere are reminiscent of product design, rather than automotive dynamism, through the calmness of proportions, surfacing and jewellery. Behind the B-pillar, the C40 is fundamentally different from the XC40, due to the sharply sloping aerodynamic roofline that results in a different graphic expression of the side window, the connection with the roof and the very flat L-shaped taillights. Well found.

Volvo C40

Volvo’s design work has been exceptionally well executed. Original and with room for different design interpretations, or models, within the shape spectrum. Volvo’s biggest problem is not BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi, but Volvo. The next generation of cars must go even further than the current perfectionism.


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