In 2018, around one in three registrations in the UK and Europe will be SUVs. It's a segment that has been growing steadily for years but has only now started to pick up real pace, prompting manufacturers to build entire ranges of high-riders.
These are just below average on the size chart but are the most popular, with the segment home to several brands' best-selling SUVs. Customers expect Tardis-like space on the inside and a commanding driving position, combined with the compactness of an average family hatchback to keep palms unsweaty in town and on narrow lanes.
Volvo’s first attempt at a compact SUV sibling for its established XC60 and XC90 models is a real success, and in the XC40 the Swedish marque has given us a car with the sort of instant kerbside appeal you’d expect of a class-leading act.
With a design sufficiently charismatic and alluring to bring younger family buyers into Volvo showrooms, the XC40 backs up its funky exterior with a cabin of laudable richness and quality. While this isn’t the most practical car in the compact SUV class, it certainly has plenty of luxury-car ambience, not to mention all the in-car technology you’d hope for.
The XC40’s ride and handling represents Volvo at its best and the small family 4x4 at its most relaxing. Rather than chasing other premium brands for driver appeal, the Volvo is happy to play the comfortable, refined, convenient and easy-to-use option – and it’s an effective one. If an SUV’s mission is to lift its driver above the hustle and bustle and filter out the pain from the daily grind, none does it better.
This is arguably the best-looking SUV on the market and objectively much more refined than its predecessor, with respectable fuel economy and an unusual level of handling verve for this class.