Stars align for

Volvo's smallest SUV

Volvo XC40, side action
Volvo XC40, rear action
Volvo XC40, front action
Volvo XC40, front action 2
Volvo XC40, front action 3
Volvo XC40, dashboard
Volvo XC40, dash detail
Volvo XC40, boot 2
Volvo XC40, boot 3
Volvo XC40, rear seats
Volvo XC40, front seats
Volvo XC40, boot 1

IT'S the stuff of dreams, all the stars in the motoring heavens precisely aligned just as your new model hits the showroom.

It doesn't happen often. Range Rover managed celestial perfection over its patch of outer Liverpool with the Evoque in 2011 and ever since has been selling its upmarket, smallish SUV as fast as the factory can build them.

Now, perhaps with the northern lights in its field of nightime vision, comes the Volvo XC40, a Swedish interpretation of a small(ish) SUV with enough restrained Nordic class to take on the big selling Evoque.

It couldn't have got off to a better start, decisively winning the 2018 European Car of the Year title. There have been some clunkers holding that trophy over the years (Chrysler Horizon in 1979 anyone?) but it takes only a couple of metres in the Volvo to know the judges got it right this time.

Here is a car so compellingly excellen you wonder why anyone with a decently sized budget and the need for a handsome family holdall isn't already queuing outside their nearest Volvo dealership.

With the big XC90 and mid-size XC60, Volvo has already shown there's another way to make an SUV stylish other than building on the bad boy image of German rivals.

Call it restraint, but the new and smallest SUV in the Volvo catalogue is chunky and modern without looking as though it wants to punch your lights out.

Same inside, where Volvo is almost proudest of the practicality built in to every nook and cranny. Moving the big bass speakers from front doors to dashboard frees enough room for a laptop, tablet and water bottle. How very sensible and so Swedish.

It has also built in enough room for a couple of six-footers to sit comfortably behind a pair of similarly sized mates. The decently proportioned boot continues the cleverness with a parcel self that stores beneath the floor.

Specify your XC40 with an automatic gearbox and there's even space beneath the central armrest for a box of tissues...

You might have thought from your national newspaper last year that Volvo was soon going to abandon diesel and petrol engines for a purely electric future. Blushingly, the popular press got the message wrong.

Yes, every new Volvo model will have a version with the capacity to use battery power as a helper to its conventional engine and some may indeed be electric only. But not yet awhile.

Which means the XC40 arrives with a choice of 2.0 litre four cylinder petrol or diesel engines and power outputs between 147bhp and 243bhp, connected to a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox and with front or all-wheel drive. A 1.5 litre three cylinder petrol unit arrives in the summer.

Prices range from £27,905 for a petrol T3 with front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox all the way to the limited edition (1,200 then they're gone) £40,055 First Edition petrol with all-wheel drive and auto gears.

Volvo thinks most buyers will take a rather less expensive 148bhp with front wheel drive and manual gears. Prices for this set up start at £28,965 for a Momentum grade car - and many won't want an upgrade after scanning a standard equipment list that includes satellite navigation, climate control, 18ins alloy wheels, cruise control, rear parking sensors and safety systems that parcel in fully automatic emergency braking.

Still fancy a bit more? Then you can move up through R-Design (sporty looks) to Inscription (luxury emphasis) and add Pro versions of each (bigger wheels, heated seats and more) until you reach the First Edition, with Harmon Kardon sound, heated steering wheel, glass sliding sunroof and surround view parking camera as highlights.

Trying a £39,905 187bhp diesel auto in poshest First Edition trim (130mph, 7.9 seconds to 62mph, 55.4mpg officially and 135g/km of CO2) its optional 20ins alloy wheels and standard fit stiffer suspension did a good job of calming some typically dodgy British road surfaces, but smaller wheels and softer springs would inevitably be better.

A noticeable absence of wind noise and only a distant purr from the diesel engine meant sharp eyes were needed on an infestation of 50mph limited main roads; this is a car to take you a long way in a day in fine style. A fuel consumption readout nudging 40mpg (39.4mpg) was a bonus.

Then came a 243bhp petrol XC40 (140mph, 6.5 seconds) costing £40,055 in top First Edition form.

Clearly faster and a bit quieter from beneath the bonnet it also managed a thirstier 30.2mpg and made a strong case for staying with Volvo's diesel offerings, which is precisely what the company knows is going to happen anyway.

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