Good: great design inside and out, safety systems and infotainment
Not so good: isn't cheap, its best safety tech is optional
If you were to walk out your front door to a Volvo XC40 every morning, we reckon you'd be quietly pleased. Its design is yet another Volvo masterclass, with the Swedish company seemingly able to do no wrong in the last few years. Where the flagship seven-seat Volvo XC90 is a classy, almost regal looking SUV, the XC40, in contrast, is every bit the youthful, contemporary offering that's expected in the smaller SUV class.
You can have the XC40 in a variety of different colour schemes, with contrasting roof panels and some even more vibrant interiors for those less worried about residual values. It's a car that looks chunky enough to tackle some mean offload stuff, though few are likely even to get more than a little muddy. Nevertheless, this is one Volvo that could almost sell itself on looks alone.
Just like its larger brethren, the attention to detail and build quality is top notch. Crowning the range is the Momentum spec, but this R-Design version still offers a fabulous interior. The seats hug you just enough to keep you in place through corners while offering up sufficient support to make long journeys comfortable.
Now common throughout the Volvo range, the Sensus infotainment system remains one of the most modern of its kind. Not only does it look genuinely top class, as a touchscreen, it responds instantly to inputs and has the same high gloss feel of an Apple iPad. The only downside is that it can end up looking a little grubby with fingerprints after a lot of use. First world problems, eh?
There is more substance to it than mere style, and this D4 model with all-wheel drive provides all the traction that you'll likely ever need driving on Irish roads year-round. Having that transmission does worsen the overall fuel consumption and, if you're sticking to urban driving, matching the official combined consumption figure of 5.0 litres/100km won't be easy. That said, despite the engine sounding gruff at times, the gear changes are smooth and react quickly to throttle inputs.
The ride quality on this R-Design model is on the stiff side, a trait often associated with trying to make cars seem either more premium or 'dynamic'. Unlike other XC40 models, the R-Design gets the 'Sport Chassis' treatment, bringing with it stiffer springs and tuned dampers. It isn't so hard that we'd fault it, but if your preference is for comfort than you're best considering the other trim levels. The upside of this feature is that it contributes to sharp handling. If you prefer more feedback from the road when driving, then the XC40 is best sampled with the sportier Dynamic mode selected, which increases the control weights a smidge.
Just like the larger models in its range, the XC40 isn't lacking in safety systems. All versions come with City Safety as standard, which can detect cyclists, pedestrians and large animals, alerting the driver and braking. There's also road sign recognition, so you always know the speed limit you're driving in, and a lane keeping aid.
Our test car was also equipped with the Intellisafe Pack that includes Volvo's nifty Pilot Assist. This is an advanced form of adaptive cruise control, which can assist (but not entirely take over) driving on roads with clear markings. So, motorway driving gets a bit more relaxing while the car keeps itself in the centre of its lane. Additionally, this pack features Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Collision Mitigation, Blind Spot monitoring and auto-dimming mirrors.
Even with these smaller scale SUVs, there is a fair amount of choice within the premium reaches of the segment. The Volkswagen T-Roc with the right spec isn't bad, or you can bypass the soon-to-be-replaced Audi Q3 and splash out on the Q2 - another car that is receptive to the right (usually more expensive) specification. The Volvo does have more outright style and focus on design than these competitors, helped by a great interior that features a native infotainment system. But while it may be one of the best in the segment, it's the price that can soon become eye-watering to the point that you might consider moving up to the larger XC60.