When Volvo reinvented itself with the current-generation XC90, it shot the large premium SUV into the stratosphere and showed the public what the Swedish brand was capable of. Naturally, they had always produced superb cars - vehicles of high quality, luxury and safety. But while they were able to achieve all of that, their cars weren't desirable to those wanting a bit of flair and panache.
That all started changing in the early 2000s, but the cars still had a whiff of that dowdy image. Now, their latest range is exceptionally desirable. Creating a range of vehicles that could live up to the XC90 was tough, but they've managed it.
The XC60 is superb, the S90 a handsome E-Class alternative and the S60 (which we don't get here, sadly) is an absolute corker. However, it's always the baby of the brand that has the toughest time. It has to provide a genuine entry-level step into the brand, but not be so downmarket that it makes the others look bad.
In this regard, Volvo has absolutely nailed it. The XC40 has a premium, boutique - almost designer label - feel to it. Aside from the vast array of colours, alloy wheel choices and interior trims available, it's the sheer class and style of it all that appeals to us - and many South Africans who've bought one.
The styling is just gorgeous. While compact, it doesn't look like a shrunken Volvo and easily out-styles the German competition. Even in a fairly drab white, our test unit T4 managed to grab the attention of all those who saw it.
Inside, it's a similar story. While perhaps not as commodious as its bigger sisters, it has an equally high level of quality and equipment. Another trick Volvo has managed to pull off is the relatively impressive pricing when you take the standard equipment into consideration.
Even with the R-Design package, the equivalent M Sport X1 20i (R736 152) and GLA 200 AMG Line (R778 040) are priced above it. The Volvo, at R728 700, is not only cheaper than both, but offers more power than the 120 kW Mercedes and 1 kW less than the 141 kW BMW. It is the torquiest, with 300 Nm on tap.
What's more, the equipment levels are competitive. Lane-keep assist is an option on the GLA and X1, but standard on the Volvo. So too is leather/suede upholstery and electrically adjustable front seats with a memory function. Where the Volvo cannot compete is on fuel economy. Yes, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder is peppy and offers decent performance, but it isn't the last word in frugality.
While Volvo claims an average fuel use figure of just 7.5 L/100 km, we average closer to 9 L/100 km over our time with the car. This means that driving in town, the XC40 struggles to be as frugal as the smaller engined Mercedes and very efficient BMW.
It is at least good to drive. Despite the larger alloys, it rides exceptionally well. The Volvo glides over surfaces that would cause the BMW to shudder and jolt. We're yet to drive the Mercedes, so we will hold off judgement until then. Aside from the fine ride, the Volvo is quiet, with lovely steering and a peppy engine. Road manners are superb and it's a great companion in town and on the long road.
Practicality wise, space in the rear is a touch cramped if you have longer legs, although headroom shouldn't be an issue for most people. The boot (460-1336 litres) is middling, being bested by the BMW (505-1550 litres).
The XC40 remains a stellar product. As a stepping point into the Volvo brand and the premium segment in general, it's superb. It's classy, well-built and offers everything anyone could reasonably want, as standard. What's more, it's great fun to drive. However, we'd have to recommend the slightly cheaper T3 petrol or the more expensive (but more frugal) turbodiesel D4.