What are you driving?
To give this test car its full name, it's the 2020 Volvo XC40 T5 Twin Engine Inscription Pro, but the important part today is 'Twin Engine' as that indicates that this is the first hybrid version of the XC40, Volvo's smallest SUV. It's a plug-in hybrid, which explains the extra 'fuel flap' behind the passenger-side front wheel. Charge up the lithium-ion battery from an external source and, officially, this car will do 46 kilometres without using a drop of fuel, pushed along by its 60kW electric motor (equivalent to about 82hp).
When you need to go further, or indeed faster, there's a turbocharged three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine to call upon. Combined, the maximum power output is 252hp. That's sent through a dual-clutch automatic gearbox to the front wheels only. There is no all-wheel-drive hybrid XC40.
In terms of pricing, the XC40 T5 starts at €53,995, in R-Design specification. That, thankfully, is before you take into account the SEAI grant and VRT rebate, which brings the price for a private buyer down to €48,885. For reference, the XC40 R-Design D3 Automatic is €45,817. The hybrid powertrain is also available in R-Design Pro, Inscription and Inscription Pro specifications.
Name its best bits
Have you looked at the pictures? The XC40 is one of the best-looking SUVs on the market at any price, mixing a distinctively Volvo design aesthetic with a little more assertiveness and fun than in most of the range. It has lots of presence, too, even if you don't go for the sporty looking R-Design variant. And, in case the name and position of the XC40 in the Volvo range makes you think otherwise, it's not a small car. In fact, it's very similar in size to the likes of the Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Qashqai, with a little extra width.
That all translates into a spacious interior front and rear, with an acceptably sized boot, too. Speaking of the cabin, the XC40's is just as special as any other in the Volvo range. Obviously, it's at its best in Inscription Pro spec with luscious leather upholstery and tactile 'Driftwood Décor' inlays. There's a quick-responding portrait-oriented touchscreen in the middle of the dash and effective digitally rendered instrumentation in front of the driver. There's nothing massively showy about it all (ok, maybe the crystal shifter is a little OTT), but it exudes quiet cool and is difficult not to like.
The driving experience is in keeping with all that for the most part, as the XC40 is wonderfully hushed and refined when in electric mode and not much louder when the engine is running (unless you're asking for full power, but even then the three-cylinder engine sounds interesting and distant rather than intrusive). Despite the presence of 19-inch rims, the ride comfort is pretty good and while the XC40 isn't a sporty and dynamic car to drive quickly, it's generally very satisfying.
Anything that bugs you?
The only aspect of the XC40 T5 driving experience that isn't up to scratch is the sensation through the brake pedal. It feels completely detached from the brakes themselves, making it very difficult to smoothly modulate deceleration, especially at slower speeds. It's likely to be a knock-on effect of the brake energy regeneration system, where the electric motor operates as a generator and slows the car, charging the battery at the same time. Juggling this and the regular brakes, in terms of consistent brake pedal feel, is a challenge for all the car makers as we move to electrification, but Volvo hasn't done it well here.
Other than the high purchase price, the only other negative is the reduced capacity of the fuel tank. All other XC40s get a 54-litre tank, while the T5 makes do with a 48-litre item, presumably to fit the battery pack in. That trims the effective range of the car, though I guess Volvo reckoned that retaining boot volume was more important to more people.
And why have you given it this rating?
Admittedly, the XC40 T5 Twin Engine is not cheap to buy, even with incentives, but it justifies its high price to a certain extent with a lovely cabin and specification, plus more performance than any other variant in the range. And of course, its plug-in hybrid technology future-proofs it, so it's likely to retain its value well. I suspect that there will be plenty of people for which the good looks are enough of a reason to go for this car, too.