Love it or loathe it, the Range Rover Evoque has over the last eight years proved that there’s a market for small but luxurious SUVs.
Where it led, every premium brand has followed, with the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA among the models scrapping for a share of the rich market.
Volvo, too, is determined to compete on equal terms with these brands so, as well as its traditional larger estates and SUVs, last year it started production of the XC40 compact SUV.
Going after the Evoque, Volvo had to get the styling right but given the great designs of other recent models it was unlikely to mess this one up.
Volvo XC40 Momentum Pro
Price: £33,820 (£39,670 as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 124mph
0-60mph: 10 seconds
CO2 emisions: 142g/km
A couple of people I showed it to questioned the shaping of the rear end and the broad Volvo script but overall the XC40 has a chiselled, sophisticated look that stands out in its crowded market. I’m not convinced about the two-tone paint, though, especially our car’s white over powder blue.
The right cabin ambience is also key in this segment. Having switched from a V60 almost immediately into the XC40 it’s clear which is the baby of the Volvo family. The XC40 lacks some of the sparkle and fancy touches of the bigger models but it retains the feeling of quality and style that marks the brand out these days, and it’s a sophisticated and worthy rival to any of the major players.
Of course, being a Volvo, safety is a major element of the XC40. It was a runner-up in this year’s What Car? Safety award and the best car for passenger protection that Euro NCAP tested last year.
In common with its larger stablemates, the XC40 features city safe pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection as part of its autonomous braking system. It also includes oncoming lane mitigation designed to help you avoid turning into the path of oncoming traffic, and run-off road protection – which does what it says on tin.
However, the full Intellisafe Pro suite, including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and rear collision mitigation is a £1,500 extra.
In, fact our test car included £6,000 of extras. Some were high-end luxuries like a full-length sunroof and parking assist but others, such as the £300 charge for smartphone connectivity and £350 for keyless entry and start felt like they should have been standard on a “premium” model, no matter how junior.
At the wheel, there’s definitely a more lively feel to the XC40 than its larger siblings. Volvo deliberately wants a younger demographic for its smallest SUV and has set it up to be sportier and sharper on the road. It’s still no race car but it feels firmer and more controlled than other Volvos without giving up too much in the way of comfort.
It’s a shame that our test car was let down by its lumpen diesel engine.
Starting with the XC90 in 2015 the brand decided to offer nothing bigger than a four-cylinder engine in any of its cars. It argues that turbocharging means you can get the economy benefits of a four-cylinder but with the performance of a six-cylinder.
It’s a fine idea but Volvo’s four-pots are some way off the market’s best for refinement. The 148bhp D3 unit in our test car was noticeably noisy even under fairly gentle driving. It’s also hardly the last word in performance – 0-62mph takes 10 seconds – or economy – 52.3mpg is hardly stellar these days.
It’s a shame because that rough engine lets down what is otherwise yet another polished and appealing package from Volvo.