THE days when the Teutonic trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes had a stranglehold on the premium hatchback market in Britain are gone - with a range of increasingly credible challengers emerging.
Lexus and Infiniti are looking to gain stronger footholds while established players like Peugeot, Vauxhall, Mazda and DS all see themselves as upwardly mobile.
But the manufacturer who is arguably setting the pace in the race to topple the Germans is Volvo with its V40.
It has only been on the road for four years but is already the Swedish car maker's best selling model in the United Kingdom and has been refreshed with some subtle upgrades for the current model year.
A reworked front end now echoes that of the flagship XC90 SUV - featuring signature ‘Thor's Hammer' LED headlights and a bolder Volvo badge.
The model designations have also been brought in line with the XC90 so that the entry level to the range is the Momentum, with the comfort-focused Inscription version I drove and the sporty R-Design sitting above, while the more rugged V40 Cross Country remains an option.
The changes all serve to enhance the V40's appeal but its key strength remains a broad choice of versatile engines.
Three petrol options range in power from 122 to a fiery 245ps and are undoubtedly smooth and refined but the impressive 2.0-litre turbo-diesels will be the popular choice for business and high mileage users.
The entry level D2 offers truly miserly fuel consumption with the D3 sitting in the mid-ground - but the top end D4 in the car I drove is well worth considering because of the extra pace and punch it offers for little sacrifice in efficiency.
In this car it was paired with the optional £1,550 eight-speed automatic gearbox and the combination made for smooth and satisfyingly quick progress, with a 0-62mph sprint time of 7.2 seconds and top speed of 143mph heading into hot-hatch territory.
A well-balanced chassis, good body control and plenty of grip allow you to push on with confidence on winding country roads, making for an engaging and enjoyable drive.
Carbon emissions of 109g/km are low for that kind of performance - road tax will cost just £20 a year - but if you can forego the super smooth automatic transmission they drop to just 99g/km and into the zero road tax bracket, while average fuel economy also improves from 67 miles per gallon on average to 74 with the standard six-speed manual.
The V40 falls down a little on practicality, with rear headroom and boot space no better than average for the class, but it is comfortable and refined most of the time and suitably well appointed for a car with premium aspirations - especially in this plush Inscription trim.
Standard kit includes 17-inch alloys, leather upholstery, satnav, dual-zone climate control, seven-inch colour display screen with DVD playback, digital radio, Bluetooth - even an illuminated gear knob.
The trademark Volvo floating console remains, which is a shame because it is beginning to look somewhat dated and the array of buttons has always been a little confusing and difficult to negotiate on the move.
It would have been much better if they had followed the XC90's lead here too and used a touchscreen interface with far fewer buttons.
A vast range of options, something Volvo has learned from its German rivals, are available adding niceties such as powered front seats, heated seats, park assist, blind spot information and a panoramic sunroof.
Be aware, though, that ticking the boxes for these extras can bump up the price significantly - by more than £9,000 in this case.
You'll get plenty of peace of mind for your money, however, with Volvo's renowned focus on safety making the V40 one of the best in that respect.