Johannesburg - Given how elegantly and successfully Volvo has tackled the upper end of the SUV market with its XC90 and XC60 models, it’s surprising that it has taken this long for the Swedish company to insert itself at the compact end of the kerb-hopping world.

Nonetheless, Volvo has finally created an XC40 and it was launched in South Africa this week.

Though immediately recognisable as a Volvo SUV, with its characteristic rectangular grille and L-shaped taillights, there is plenty of added spunk in elements like the upkicked rear door windows, contrasting roof colours on upper models and clamshell bonnet. The baby Volvo - which is built on Volvo’s new CMA modular vehicle architecture for smaller vehicles - also has a more blocky, chiselled sense of style that suits the vehicle’s size. It’s spacious on the inside too, and has a decent 460 litre boot.

Commendable performance is also on offer, with a vast line-up of engines that will be introduced in stages. The most affordable of them all is powered by Volvo’s new three-cylinder turbopetrol engine and it’s set to cost less than R500 000 when it goes on sale later this year. This 1.5-litre T3 derivative, which produces 115kW and 265Nm, will only be available with a six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels. T4 petrol and D3 diesel versions will also be added to the range, although no prices have been announced as yet.

What we did get to experience at the local launch in Joburg was the 2-litre four-cylinder T5 petrol and D4 diesel engines, which are available from launch. Standard with Volvo’s permanent all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed automatic transmissions, the D4 is good for 140kW and 400Nm, while the T5 is credited with 185kW and 350Nm.

The diesel (priced from R600 300) proved to be quite a gem, with its ample torque and smooth power delivery making for strong, effortless performance. For this one, Volvo claims a 7.9 second 0-100 time.

The T5 petrol engine (from R610 900) is where things get really feisty, and here Volvo claims a hot-hatch-like zero to 100 time of 6.4 seconds.

The XC40 rides comfortably over rougher surfaces, but easily the most impressive aspect is the interior quality.

Volvo has really done a stellar job here, the end result looking very much like a scaled-down XC90 cockpit. Sure, the plastics lower down are still hard to the touch, and the carpeting is perhaps on the cheap-looking side of things, but the upper dash and door trimmings just ooze style and quality. Volvo’s tablet-like Sensus touch-screen infotainment system is also part of the deal here, and most of Volvo’s latest active safety gadgets are available - albeit many requiring a tick of the options list.

The City Safety warning and auto-braking system, with pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection, is standard on every XC40, along with road sign information, Oncoming Lane Mitigation and Lane Keeping Aid.

But for a closer look at what’s standard and what’s optional, let’s take a walk through the three different trim grades that Volvo is offering with the XC40, namely Momentum, Inscription and R-Design.

Momentum models come standard with 18-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels, LED headlights, a 31.2cm digital instrument cluster, 22.8cm touchscreen infotainment with Navigation Pro, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, rear park assist and Hill Descent Control.

Inscription adds ‘Comfort’ seats with leather upholstery (powered upfront) as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and a special smartphone centre tunnel with inductive charging. Inscription models can be told apart on the outside by 18-inch, six-spoke black diamond cut alloy wheels, a bespoke ‘Inscription’ grille and matt silver skid plates on the front and rear bumpers.

The R-Design, as you’d expect, gets its own, somewhat racier design pack that includes 19” five-spoke matt black diamond cut alloys, a black grille, glossy black window and wing mirror trim, solid black contrast roof colour and integrated dual exhaust pipes. The party inside includes R-Design-specific leather / Nubuck seat trim, steering wheel, gear knob and pedals.

Though all models are rather well stocked, as with all premium brands there is an extensive options list that you can easily get carried away with. The two derivatives that we drove were both fitted with options tallying more than R100 000.

You need an extra R19 200 for the Intellisafe semi-autonomous driving package with active cruise control and Pilot Assist, while a 360 degree camera will set you back a further R12 000, Park Assist semi-autonomous parking is a further R7850 and a powered tailgate is R5800 - to name just a few examples. These options are not badly priced by any means, but they can add up.

Which brings us to the as-standard prices for the XC40 range. These include a five-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.

VOLVO XC40 PRICES

T3 Momentum manual R489 500
T3 Inscription manual R521 300
T3 R-Design manual R528 400
D4 Momentum AWD auto R600 300
D4 Inscription AWD auto R632 100
D4 R-Design AWD auto R639 200
T5 Momentum AWD auto R610 900
T5 Inscription AWD auto R642 600
T5 R-Design AWD auto R649 700

IOL Motoring