THE SUV, or sports utility vehicle – and its ‘crossover’ counterpart – have become must-haves for today’s motorists.

With qualities of interior space, higher seating, practicality and often imposing looks, this is an area of the car market that is going from strength to strength, with Volvo continuing to stand out in the sector.

The XC40 is the manufacturer’s smallest SUV - a sibling to the XC90 and XC60 - and is now available, alongside petrol-powered versions, in pure electric and plug-in hybrid formats. Asian Image spent a week road-testing the version with the latter powerplant, a Recharge Plug-In Hybrid.

Our car, a T5 FWD R-Design Pro, had a 180bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine alongside an 82bhp electric motor, with a 10.7kWh lithium-ion battery that enables exhaust emissions-free electric-only driving of up to 27.3 miles and at speeds up to 78mph (manufacturer’s figures).

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Completely recharging the battery takes three hours via the optional fast-charging cable, while charging via the standard three-pin plug cable takes from four hours.

The car has five easily-selectable drive modes – with hybrid as the default mode, seeing the petrol engine and electric motor operate individually or together to provide the optimum balance between performance and efficiency. Other modes include Pure, which prioritises electric-only operation and Off Road, which operates below 25mph and aims to maximise performance on slippery surfaces.

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The XC 40 – the company’s best-selling model in the UK – is a winner in the design stakes with its sculpted, dynamic lines, looking poised and stylish on 20in diamond-cut alloy wheels. There’s a clever, functional element too – the ‘under-wrap’ doors which overlap the sills, thus keeping them clean so clothing won’t get dirty as you get into or out of the car.

The inside story is no less stylish, in an elegant, clean and modern way, with top quality tactile surfaces and a high level of attention to detail. The leather-upholstered seats are comfortable and supportive and the overall feeling is one of high quality.

A wealth of features included a nine-inch touchscreen, voice-activated control system, automatic LED headlights with active high beam, posh satnav, dual zone climate control, rear parking sensors, powered tailgate, heated, height-adjustable front seats, power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory function, heated windscreen and premium sound system.

Optional features on the car included a powered glass tilt-and-slide panoramic sunroof with sun curtain, 360-degree surround view parking camera, park assist pilot with autobrake, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel, and a hands-free version of the powered tailgate.

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On the practicality front, you will find a large, straight-sided load area. A flat floor with no luggage lip helps make loading easier and capacities are 452 litres with rear seat-backs in place and 1,328 litres with them folded down.

The cabin has some thoughtful and helpful design touches, including enough storage space in the door compartments for a laptop, a tablet and a water bottle. There are three USB sockets and the glovebox features a fold-out hook that’s ideal for takeaway or small shopping bags.

Volvo’s safety expertise is to the fore, with a host of features including City Safe, which uses an integrated radar and camera unit to scan the area in front of the car and identify any objects it detects.

It will detect vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and even large animals, and warn you if a collision is likely. If you do not react it will automatically apply maximum braking force to avoid the collision or limit its severity. The system works day and night.

The driving experience is pleasurable and rewarding, the combination of petrol engine and electric motor delivering smooth power via the seven-speed automatic (twin-clutch) gearbox.

The ride and handling set-up is well-judged. Performance figures are 0-60mph in seven seconds and a top speed of 112mph with combined fuel economy of 117.7-134.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 47-55g/km (manufacturer’s figures).

The XC40 is a premium motor with the feelgood factor that driving a high-quality car brings, combining handsome looks, a wealth of equipment and plug-in hybrid drive.

Price: £48,255 (inc options).