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Racial profiling is very un-PC these days and for good reason, but whether we care to admit it or not, we all tend to carry certain stereotypes around.
There are passionate Italians, brash Americans, thrifty Scots, and whinging Poms, just to name a few.
When it comes to Swedes, my internal filing system tends to pigeon-hole them as tall, blue-eyed and blonde haired, wearing sensible shoes and an earnest demeanour.
It follows, then, that if the Swedes were to build a car, it would be a sensible sort of car: sturdy and reliable, and with a bloody good heater. Precisely the kind of cars that Volvo has been building continuously since the launch of the original ÖV4 model in 1927, in other words.
Beyond the 'Sensible Utility Vehicle'
Perhaps no Volvo better exemplifies this than the brand’s original SUV (that’s Sensible Utility Vehicle), the XC90.
Now in its second generation, the XC90 has been a stalwart of Volvo’s global sales success for nigh on 17 years, during which time the XC (or SUV) line has expanded to incorporate the mid-sized XC60 in 2008, and the compact XC40 in 2018.
While the dimensions are different, the prevailing ideology underpinning all three XC models is the same: be functional, useful, comfortable and reliable. In the case of the XC40, Volvo added another element: Fun.
Styling-wise, the XC40 (starting price, $50,990 plus on-road costs) is pitched at a more youthful market than its SUV siblings, with a truncated rear end and a daring kick in the rear doors which instantly brands it as something a bit different.
Cheeky, yet practical
It rocks a cheeky, yet practical boxy look, embellished by sophisticated design touches including hockey-stick taillights that extend up into the rear pillars, handsome LED headlights, and a flush-fit clamshell bonnet.
The cabin is cleverly packaged and stylish, the minimalist design dominated by a portrait-oriented nine-inch touch-screen incorporating most of the major controls.
Volvo’s Sensus operating system is elegantly arranged and easy to navigate, with swipe control to access the various entertainment, climate control, vehicle settings and phone menus. You’ll appreciate the supplied microfibre cloth in the glovebox, as the high-use screen gets smudged pretty quickly.
Clever cabin design
There’s lots of practical design touches throughout the interior, including a lidded centre console with a removable rubbish bin, a nifty storage drawer beneath the driver’s seat, and a glove compartment hook to hold a handbag.
Cutaways in the door skins create a sense of extra width, while also providing stowage for a laptop or larger bottles.
The second row defies the XC40’s fairly compact exterior dimensions with impressively roomy accommodation for three. There’s excellent leg, foot and head room, and the outside edges of the seats feature phone storage pockets.
The 460-litre boot is accessed via an electric tailgate and features extra below-floor storage accessed by lifting up a cover, which folds back to become a divider to create sections for shopping bags or luggage. Practical and thoughtful touches abound, including quick-release seat switches that allow you to create an Ikea flat-pack-sized luggage bay at the press of a switch.
On the negative side, the two-piece design of the rear windows prevents the glass going all the way down and leaves only a fairly small aperture, while the extended rear door design means you need to be careful when opening it not to chin yourself.
The thickness of the wide C-Pillars – behind the rear seat – also creates a major blind spot, so you’ll appreciate the standard blind spot monitoring system, amongst swag of hi-tech safety features that contribute to the XC40’s five-star ANCAP safety rating.
On the road
Out on the road, the little Volvo’s ride quality is supple, even on standard 19-inch wheels. Its all-wheel drive traction provides confidence on slippery surfaces, even if the overly light steering isn’t all that communicative.
The transverse-mounted 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder does a respectable job of motivating its 1705kg kerb weight. With 140kW and 300Nm, the engine’s outputs are competitive with key rivals, but it nonetheless takes a fairly leisurely 8.5 seconds to sprint to 100km/h.
A simplified gearbox display for the eight-speed automatic gearbox subverts the traditional linear P-R-N-D shift action, with a separate Park button situated to the left of R-N-D. The stylish gear lever is topped with a cool Orrefors crystal knob, which you get to grip frequently as gear selection requires a mildly annoying double-tap to go forward or back.
Despite its youthful positioning, there’s a depth of quality and design honesty to the XC40 that makes it an easy car to live with. It’s fun, functional, and comfortable, with a level of practicality that speaks to its country of origin, where the idea of simple, minimalist design with purpose has been perfected.