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Engine options, top speed, acceleration and refinement

Given that Volvo’s Drive-E 2.0-litre diesel engine has shown something of a vulnerability on mechanical refinement when we’ve tested it in the current-generation XC60, XC90 and Volvo S90, there’s a pleasant surprise when you start it up in the XC40. 

A slightly grumbly oil-burner, squeezed into an even tighter space, leads to a low expectation of engine isolation here. 

There's an awful lot of difference between good semi-autonomous lane-keeping systems and bad ones at the moment – Volvo's seem to work wherever and whatever. Top marks

And yet the XC40 is, somehow and most of the time, as hushed and smooth a diesel-powered compact SUV as you’re likely to find. Its engine is a little bit noisier than some when starting from cold and when working hard, granted, but it settles down at a cruise very demurely and, in our test car, allowed the XC40’s cabin to be fully 2dB quieter than that of an X1 at both 30mph and 50mph. Traditional Volvo customers will like that about the car, you’d imagine, just as comfort-motivated premium SUV buyers ought to respond to it.

However, Volvo has also plainly come to understand that ploughing its own furrow with the driving experience of its cars doesn’t excuse it from the need to also make them just as responsive and strong as their rivals in outright terms. The XC40’s slightly laid-back accelerative step-off is one of the dynamic hallmarks of a car that offers no apology for its pragmatism.

Like so many Volvos, it wants to ease you into motion smartly but is in absolutely no hurry to do it. And so you have to build some torque up against the car’s brakes to make it get away with real urgency. And when you do, the torque and acceleration come in plentiful supply; the automatic gearbox ushers the higher intermediate gears into train quickly and seamlessly; and the timing gear confirms that the XC40 would be a match for most of its rivals in bald performance terms. It’s no slouch by any stretch.

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There’s clearly a rounded and refined car here, ready to meet any number of needs and to mould itself around your mood on the road perhaps better than any other current Volvo.

And yet the XC40 still retains a particular character that Volvo regulars will recognise and that Volvo has become practised and expert at creating: that of the relaxing, pragmatic, comfortable and straightforward modern family car, tuned to be absolutely at its best at everyday speeds, on everyday roads and driven in a very undemanding, matter-of-fact way.