WHEN did Volvo become such a fun marque that appealed to the youth of today?
It doesn't seem that many years ago that a Volvo was a safe and practical car that lacked real flair, but not anymore and the striking all-new XC40 compact SUV is proof of that.
It's the baby of the Swedish company's XC line-up sitting just beneath the mid-sized XC60 and the fully blown seven-seater XC90 models, but it's very grown up when it comes to style, technology and performance.
Powered exclusively by Volvo's range of Drive-E engines there are two diesels and three petrol powertrains available and customers can choose from three richly-equipped trim levels called Momentum, R-Design and Inscription.
A limited run of 1,200 First Edition models have also been released although this grade, which is based on the R-Design with lots of added kit, has almost sold out. There's also a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes, along with front-wheel or all-wheel-drive.
Like its larger siblings, the XC40 has a real presence on the road thanks to a number of stand-out design cues, such as a clamshell bonnet, concave grille and heavily sculpted doors.
The T-shaped Thor lights have been modified slightly and there are skid plates, distinctive taillights, a hands-free power operated tailgate and a contrast-colour roof that is standard on Momentum models.
The interior is bright, upmarket and clutter-free with a wealth of techno treats to explore, including the tablet-styled nine-inch Sensus touchscreen system which is used to access the many on-board features including the sat nav.
It uses the same swipe, pinch and zoom functionality as most smartphones. And on that subject, it's quick and easy to connect a smartphone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Another feature worthy of a mention is the pitch perfect Harman Kardan sound system. The speakers are no longer located in the doors and Volvo has developed the world's first air ventilated dashboard-mounted subwoofer. It may sound a little trivial, but it has freed up extra space in the door pockets for a laptop, tablet and a water bottle.
Volvo has ensured the inside of the car oozes premium styling at every turn with soft-touch surfaces, hand-finished drift-wood inlays, beautifully designed leather upholstery and snazzy air vents with airflow dials that appear to float in the middle of the vents.
With practicality in mind, the XC40 can accommodate five adults with ease and the boot is generously sized with a limit ranging from 460 litres to 1,336 litres with the rear seats dropped flat.
The boot has a flexible floor that allows you to separate luggage and there are handy hooks to keep shopping bags secure. There is additional storage available under the driver's seat and even the glovebox features a fold-out hook to avoid take-away spills.
The powered tailgate can be opened and closed automatically by kicking your foot just under the first ‘O' in the VOLVO name badge and it works really well. There have been many a time when I have tried this technology out on rival manufacturers' cars to no avail and have received numerous strange looks from passers-by! That won't happen with the XC40.
The vehicle comes with various Drive Mode settings that alter the responses of the engine, gearbox, steering, brakes, all-wheel-drive and climate control accordingly. These are called Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, Off Road and Individual.
And it wouldn't be a Volvo if the XC40 wasn't brimming over with state-of-the-art safety features such as the company's clever Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive technology which detects the lanes and vehicles in front of your car, then assists with the steering and braking up to 80mph.
Other safety systems include City Safety with pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection, front collision warning with fully automatic emergency braking, oncoming lane mitigation and lots more besides.
We sampled a couple of the limited-run First Edition XC40s powered by a diesel and petrol engine mated to eight-speed automatic gearboxes on a route that incorporated plenty of stop/start congested town centres, open country lanes and motorways - we weren't disappointed.
The T5 247ps petrol model with AWD was priced at £40,055 and could reach from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, maxed out at 140mph and, according to official figures, could deliver combined fuel economy of 39.2mpg with carbon emissions of 168g/km.
The First Edition version of the XC40 is fully loaded with everything Volvo could throw at it, including a tilt and slide panoramic sunroof, heated seats front and rear, a heated steering wheel, wireless mobile phone charging, park assist and plenty more besides.
And when it comes to performance, the XC40 is balanced, composed, refined and great fun to drive. The all-round visibility is excellent and there is ample power on tap from the punchy petrol engine. The acceleration is smooth and swift through the automatic gearbox and there are paddle shifts if you fancy taking over.
The road-holding is assured and there is minimal body sway into bends. The highly effective suspension cushions the occupants against any unexpected bumps and dips, while the vehicle is well insulated against road surface, engine or wind noise.
Next up was the D4 190ps diesel version, again with AWD. This car was priced at £39,905 and could complete the 0-62mph sprint in 7.9 seconds, maxed out at 130mph and delivers combined fuel efficiency of 55.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 135g/km.
Once again, the XC40 was up to the challenge with beautifully composed handling. If you want to liven things up a little then switch across to dynamic driving mode and the XC40 gets much edgier with sharper responses. The diesel-powered car was nicely refined with very little noise entering the cabin even when pushed hard.
Volvo has announced that a plug-in hybrid version of the XC40 will be going on sale in Europe later this year and that a fully electric model will be introduced next year to complete the line-up.
The company has also announced a new subscription-styled scheme called Care by Volvo which takes PCP leasing a step further and includes expenses such as tax, insurance, roadside assistance and maintenance. It will cost £779 per month.
The XC40 has already been heaped with accolades and awards, but if there was a trophy for dramatic naming policies then Volvo would top the bill with its colour schemes thanks to shades such as Luminous Sand, Fusion Red, Osmium Grey and my particular favourite Bursting Blue - whoever said the Swedes lacked imagination!