Volvo XC40: Swede success
VOLVO used to be synonymous with big, boxy estate cars, the sort of thing that Ian McShane's antique dealer Lovejoy got up to mischief in, writes William Scholes.
It still makes estate cars - and very fine they are too - but today Volvo has been transformed into a company known for its SUVs.
The XC90, XC60 and XC40 are each among the very best offerings in the size classes in which they operate.
The larger of the trio, the XC90 and XC60, each have a similar luxury, slightly aloof character. The smaller XC40, however, is a funky little thing, with a different identity to the other two.
It's a neat trick managing to be both premium and upmarket while also feeling youthful, but the XC40 manages it.
It has the same wonderfully low-key but beautifully judged aesthetic that has served Volvo so well in recent years, but here it's given a fun twist - in the colour combinations, the sharp upward angle of the side window line, the slightly less formal interior, the body's chunkier proportions.
Owners will appreciate the XC40's excellent refinement and comfort. It's not the sharpest handling SUV of this size - the Range Rover Evoque is perhaps a slightly more satisfying steer, though both trail Mazda's effervescent CX-5.
But the Volvo's laidback demeanour gives it an appeal of its own.
The XC40 has many of the same qualities as its larger siblings, particular an ability to sooth and calm.
It relaxes and cossets the driver and their passengers. These, it seems to me, are a perfectly admirable set of characteristics for a family car.
The XC40 sports the same large portrait-orientated touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard, from where you can control the heater, sat-nav, audio sources, phone and so on.
Many of the functions you use most often are duplicated on the steering wheel's buttons.
I tend to prefer old fashioned buttons and knobs to work things, but the Volvo set-up is among the best of this sort. It is more intuitive than most of its ilk.
The XC40 has excellent safety credentials - this is a Volvo, after all - to back up its strong, Tonka Truck vibe.
These are also beautifully built and finished cars, with a range of efficient drivetrains that include mild-hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric versions.
The full-electric model, dubbed XC40 Recharge, weighs in at £50k but is - as one would expect at that price - a very impressive machine.
The plug-in starts from £37k, which feels more reasonable, while the rest of the range starts at just under £26k.