Meet the most unusual Volvo yet, the city-focused XC40
SWEDISH car maker Volvo has joined the city SUV crowd with a high-riding hatch called the XC40.
About the same length as a Toyota Corolla and almost as tall as a Mazda CX-5, it's luxury-car in a concentrate.
It's a response to the seismic shift away from regular passenger cars and joins the Mercedes GLA released four years ago, the Audi Q2 introduced a year ago and the BMW X2 that has just arrived in showrooms.
Starting from a bit over $50,000 drive-away, it comes with a hefty premium over most prestige peers that start in the low $40,000 bracket - and double the cost of city SUVs from mainstream brands.
The first batch to arrive, the "Launch Editions", will be dearer again because they come with the works - starting from $58,990 drive-away and stretching to an eye-watering $64,990 drive-away.
That sort of money could buy a BMW 3 Series or a Mercedes C-Class. It shows our insatiable appetite for compact luxury SUVs.
Volvo expects more than half of XC40 buyers will be new to the brand. With limited supply from the Belgian factory due to global demand, discounts or cheaper variants are not likely to appear for some time.
Baby Boomers can apparently stretch to this sort of money without putting a strain on their mortgage and the car companies can smell the cash a mile off.
The good news is that it is a decent car. It is the first vehicle of this type for Volvo and it's new from the wheels up, so it packs Volvo's current best technology and know-how.
However, the brand that built its reputation on safety still charges extra for the complete safety package.
Standard fare includes seven airbags, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keeping assistance (up to 15 seconds hands-free) a rear camera and front and rear parking sensors. There is a speed zone recognition system but it relies on map information which can become outdated, rather than a camera which spots roadside signs.
Optional safety equipment includes blind zone alert, rear cross traffic warning, rear AEB, 360-degree view camera and radar cruise control. Volvo has included this technology pack on the Launch Edition models, hence the higher starting prices.
The first batch of cars to arrive also get a tiny Swedish flag made out of rubber that pokes out from under the bonnet near the front doors.
It's a design touch that first appeared as a fabric tag on the seats a few years ago and has now made its way outside the car.
Now that Volvo is owned by Chinese car giant Geely, it is keen to remind us the cars are still designed and engineered in Sweden.
ON THE ROAD
The interior of the XC40 could be mistaken for that of a high-end luxury sedan, from the soft-touch materials on the dash and doors to the metal-covered knobs dotted around the cabin.
The vertical touchscreen is as large as a tablet computer and has "pinch and swipe" functionality just like a smartphone. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio and built-in navigation are standard. The instrument display is a digital widescreen, similar to that used by Volkswagen and Audi.
The centre console is small but the door pockets are huge. An interesting touch, the carpet lining in the pockets also stretches up the door panel and behind the arm rest. Rear seat space is a touch tight and better suited to two occupants than three, while the boot is a decent size, even with the space-saver spare under the two-tier floor.
The launch models come with he convenience of a power tailgate but this will be optional on cheaper models introduced later.
The over-shoulder view when parking or changing lanes isn't ideal because of the thick rear roof pillars. Volvo says the 360-degree view camera fixes this potential blind spot, however the "birds-eye view" cameras are not standard on all grades.
Once on the move, the XC40 is surprisingly zippy. The only examples available to test on the media preview drive were powered by the high output version of Volvo's 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine matched to an eight-speed auto and on-demand all-wheel drive.
It's not quite as quick as a hot hatch but, to be frank, it's not far off. The only downside to all this grunt is a slightly bigger fuel bill.
A 2.0-litre turbo diesel (140kW/400Nm) is also available while a cut-price turbo three-cylinder petrol is due to join the line-up in late 2019 or early 2020.
The radar cruise control works well and, as with other similar systems, the distance between you and the car ahead can be adjusted at the press of a button on the steering wheel. The radar can be deactivated in the central touchscreen menu if you prefer old school cruise control.
The XC40 was surprisingly quiet despite riding on Pirelli performance tyres, even though grippy rubber can be noisy. Engine noise was characterless but well muted. Luxury buyers probably don't want to hear the goings on under the bonnet anyway.
The steering feels a touch too light at first but you quickly get used to it. The turning circle is big for a small car (at 11.4m, almost up there with the Toyota Prado's 11.6m), a consequence of AWD hardware.
In dynamic mode the steering gets a bit heavier and starts to feel normal. Even on the sportier setting, the suspension doesn't jar.
We tested two examples - one on 19-inch wheels, the other on 20s - both with low profile rubber.
Each was surprisingly supple over bumps yet cornered with precision, a combination that not all brands in the class get right.
We are yet to do a back-to-back test but we have recently been reacquainted with the XC40's peers.
First impressions are that this could be the new benchmark for the class in terms of ride, handling and comfort.
VERDICT: 3.5 STARS OUT OF 5
The Volvo XC40 is a class act but it comes with a hefty price. Perhaps wait for the initial hype to subside so you don't pay too much.
AT A GLANCE: VOLVO XC40 T5 LAUNCH EDITION
PRICE From $58,990 drive-away
WARRANTY/SERVICE 3 years/unlimited km, 12 month/15,000km intervals (average), service cost $2165 over 3 years (very expensive)
ENGINE 2.0-litre turbo 4-cyl, 182kW/350Nm (plenty)
SAFETY 7 airbags, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping (average). Optional: blind zone alert, rear cross traffic warning, rear AEB, 360 camera, radar cruise control. Not yet rated by ANCAP.
THIRST 7.1L/100km, 95-98RON (thirsty)
SPARE Space saver (not ideal)
BOOT 460L (good)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling