IT wasn’t too long ago I used to scoff at Volvos whilst going about my day-to-day business. I used to believe they were boring, bought by two types of people: sensible Simons in their big saloons on their way to their middle-management office jobs or middle-class, school-run mums who have a few quid but don’t want to appear too flashy amongst the Range Rover Sports and Audi Q7s outside the gates.
Don’t get me wrong, Volvos have always been rather attractive, but the apparent lack of excitement always resonated with me. I grew up adoring T5-engined V70s and, on the rare occasions I do see one prowl by, I resemble a kid who’s seen a childhood hero. However, it wasn’t until February 22, 2018 - the day I become a dad for the first time - that my views on the current line-up changed. Your car-buying habits completely change in the blink of an eye when you arrive home with a little bundle of joy.
Straight away, Volvo become a marque you cannot afford to dismiss. Their XC-badged models - chiefly the smallest and the largest - cater for absolutely everyone and after a week with both the XC40 and XC90, it’s clear why people adore their Volvos.
We’ll start with the XC40, an Audi Q3-sized SUV, but one with bags of character, clever tech and style. It’s the cheapest XC, but don’t let that ever put you off.
I think it’s the best-looking Volvo on sale - definitely up there with the handsome V90 - and it manages to have that priceless, hard-to-achieve trait where it looks a reassuringly big size but feels quite dinky when you’re behind the wheel. From the front, there’s a deep grille that’s become synonymous with Volvo recently, and it’s different - in a good way - from behind. A sure-fire crowd pleaser.
The interior quality shares much of the same plushness as its larger, much more expensive 90 stablemate, and still has the best-ever infotainment system which is easy to use, has crystal-clear cameras and brilliant quality. Everything you touch feels premium: the gear selector, the steering wheel, the touchscreen… all absolutely top drawer.
This XC40’s spec is especially intriguing, as it’s the T5 Twin Engine, which is powered by a 1.5-litre petrol unit and an electric motor. These combine to produce 258bhp, but tellingly there’s an electric-only range of just under 30 handy miles. In range-topping Inscription spec, it costs £41,255.
For quite a bulky car, it’s actually pretty brisk, completing the 60mph dash from rest in a bit over seven seconds, but key to the XC40’s greatness is the fact it’s got just the right ride height for it not to feel wallowy through corners. Bigger SUVs - including the 90 - tend to feel somewhat aloof thanks to their raised proportions, but not so in the 40.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox is also a peach, but peer into the boot and you’ll find a 460-litre space - larger than the Q3’s but a little smaller than the horrifically-styled BMW X1, something no-one in their right mind would surely buy. The only car in the sector that truly trounces its space is Jaguar’s E-Pace, which provides 577 litres.
So, for just over £40,000 the XC40 is - in my opinion - the class leader. It’s its looks, drive, engine choices and sheer quality that all shine. You can pick holes in each of its competitors’ armouries, but the smallest XC-badge Volvo truly is a diamond, a car for everyone.
What about if it’s too small, though? Head to the top of the Volvo tree and there’s the XC90, and it doesn’t take too long to see why it’s £20,000 more expensive. While the smaller car does possess a lot of quality, the 90 is like floating on a luxurious pillow; its ride is silky-smooth and everything’s turned up a notch or two in the comfort stakes.
It’s been around a few years now but, thanks to a mid-life refresh, and so-called ‘mild hybrids’ dominate both petrol and diesel versions. It’s clever stuff, too - plug-ins are too much of a pain, so Volvo’s system recuperates energy lost under braking to assist the engine.
While there’s no arguing the XC90 is a bit of a big lump to guide down a tricky road, as a commuting car it’s sensational: comfiest seats known to man, beautiful fittings and soft-touch leather on just about every surface.
Volvo - known for their safety features - have once again gone to town with masses of kit on the £62,000 B5 and although I’m not a fan of annoying lane-keeping assists and pre-collision warnings, thankfully it’s easy to switch everything off by scrolling through the brilliant touchscreen system.
It’s full of tech and has several stand-out features, including its fantastic 360-degree cameras which enable a bird’s eye view setting to help parking, while its clever headlights are adaptive so change direction through the driver’s steering inputs.
The automatic gearbox is a joy, too, and a great match for the XC90’s laid-back character. There’s undeniable pace but it’s a car you don’t ever feel like grabbing by the scruff of the neck, so selecting ‘D’ and wafting along is what it does best.
I shouldn’t really like the XC90 as it’s not really my bag, but I loved it after the first drive as it’s something that’s very clever and different to ten-a-penny BMW X5s and way classier than a Range Rover Sport.
Perhaps surprisingly it matches its German rivals for quality inside and spec-for-spec is the far superior option, combining rear-world practicality, pace and that ultra-safe feeling you get with every Volvo.
Just like its smaller sibling, Volvo’s created another class-leading car in the XC90. It might cost a few quid but its quality shines never once fails to shine.