Sen­si­ble SUV

Be­cause build­ing a fam­ily car isn’t as easy as as­sem­bling flat­pack


Think Volvo XC40, think Scandi de­sign. Then ob­vi­ously a DIY home­ware shop with un­fath­omable in­struc­tion book­lets

ÔSen­si­ble SUV of the Year’ sounds like damn­ing with faint praise re­ally, doesn’t it? Mainly be­cause ‘sen­si­ble’ isn’t a word peo­ple as­so­ciate with be­ing par­tic­u­larly cool. Sturdy shoes are ‘sen­si­ble’. An anorak is ‘sen­si­ble’. Hav­ing a pen­sion, chew­ing thor­oughly and avoid­ing fatty foods is sen­si­ble. But dough­nuts are de­li­cious, es­pe­cially when eaten mess­ily in two mas­sive bites. If peo­ple’s first re­ac­tion to my new car was

“That looks sen­si­ble,” I’d think they were hav­ing a pop. And yet, this is re­ally down to how you de­fine the word. Is the XC40 sen­si­ble be­cause it’s ar­guably the best-look­ing of the small SUV crop (Jag E-Pace, Merc GLA, BMW X2 et al), with its stylish an­gles and funky glass? Is it sen­si­ble be­cause there’s lib­eral use of two-tone paintjobs in the con­fig­u­ra­tor that make it look even more in­ter­est­ing? I’d say not.

Is it sen­si­ble be­cause it’s an all-new plat­form rather than just a fra­ter­nal chop-down of a larger car in the range, and there­fore feels be­spoke, rather than sim­ply shrunken? That it recog­nises daily com­fort over un­nec­es­sary sporti­ness – though it has to be said you can drive an XC40 with per­fectly ap­pro­pri­ate vim if you so wish?

Does sen­si­ble feel less use­ful when you’re in­side a cabin that fea­tures all the big-car toys (TFT and full-size cen­tre touch­screen) as well as mun­dane but pleas­ingly thought­ful touches like door pock­ets that can swal­low a lap­top, gorge-like arm­rest bins (one of which you can re­move to act as an ac­tual bin), con­fig­urable boot­floor and curry hook? Is sen­si­ble some­how less wor­thy when you get de­cent lev­els of kit, 18-inch al­loys and LED head­lights as stan­dard? Nope.

It cer­tainly feels sen­si­ble when you re­alise some­one at Volvo fig­ured out a place to store the par­cel shelf un­der the boot­floor when you’ve got the seats folded flat for car­ry­ing du­ties, but it’s the quiet sat­is­fac­tion that en­dures. De­tails mat­ter. De­tails are sen­si­ble.

There are other things that mark the XC40 out as be­ing sen­si­ble, too. This is pur­port­edly the safest ve­hi­cle of its type, hit­ting bullseyes in Euro NCAP safety rat­ings across the board, and com­ing equipped with too many safety sys­tems to rea­son­ably men­tion. Which means you won’t ap­pre­ci­ate how sen­si­ble you’ve been un­til you re­ally need it. Sen­si­ble cer­tainly feels like the right choice when you re­alise you’ve bought some­thing dis­tinc­tive, ca­pa­ble and roomy, in de­cent ma­te­ri­als for a com­pet­i­tive price.

What the XC40 is, in fact, is a small SUV that feels like the prod­uct of a con­fi­dent com­pany, not an ar­ro­gant one. A con­sid­ered, thought­ful, ef­fec­tive ma­chine, not a niche-fill­ing band­wagon jump. It doesn’t pre­tend to be some­thing that it’s not, or trade on a brand iden­tity forged in an­other sec­tor al­to­gether. This is not just a fash­ion­able idea, but a good one.

Which means that the only con­clu­sion that makes any kind of sense is that the XC40 isn’t sen­si­ble be­cause it’s prac­ti­cal – although it is – or just one of those cars you ap­pre­ci­ate in vague terms for be­ing bor­ing-but-use­ful. It’s sen­si­ble be­cause it is ex­cel­lent. The sen­si­ble choice is the best ve­hi­cle in the class. And if you want a small SUV, the XC40 is what you need.

“It’s the quiet sat­is­fac­tion that en­dures”

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