THE compact SUV/crossover sector is one of the few brightest sector in the market for many manufacturers, when set against all vehicle sales – which dropped by their biggest rate since the global financial crisis a decade ago.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said this week that new car sales during the year were down by 6.8% from the year before at 2.37m units, however sales in what it calls the 'dual purpose' sector remained positive.

Between 2007 and 2017, sales in that area of the market have gone from 176,000 to 460,000 units. And, for last year, the UK sales charts showed that Ford's Kuga, Nissan's Qashqai and Kia's Sportage all featured in the top 10 of all car sales, amassing between them 120,000 sales.

So, this week we'll be taking a look at some of the premium contenders in this part of the market, the Jaguar E-Pace, Audi's Q2, BMW's X2 and Volvo's XC40.

Jaguar E-Pace

Jaguar's first foray into SUV territory with the F-Pace was a huge success, so it was little surprise that a compact version would be coming out post haste – but did it live up to the promise of its big brother? I'd have to say a big fat 'yes' to that and go further by saying that it felt a more balanced package in some respects, especially the 4 x 4 version (a two-wheel-drive model is available too).

It also backs up the reasons why Jaguar brought such a serious contender into this category as it has literally doubled Jaguar's sales since launch, plus it was judged to be the best premium SUV at the Scottish Car of the Year awards, last November.

Diesel engines for this wee stunner range from the base-level 148bhp up to 178bhp and 236bhp versions, with all the oil burners based on Jag's innovative Ingenium design and easily sussed in power output from their official engine names, the D150, D180 and D240. But on test was the AWD, two-litre 246bhp petrol version which was matched with a truly excellent nine-speed automatic gearbox.

Confusingly, these days most people think that anything with an 'E' designation relates to electric or hybrid power. But not so in this case as Jag also has the all-electric I-Pace ... confused much?. The test car came in 'First Edition' spec', which basically has all bells and whistles and so is a big leap up in price from the bog-standard two-wheel-drive diesel starter, which costs less than £30,000, as the one on test was a tad more than £50k. In between, there's quite a confusing choice of various designations.

But for this one, there wasn't much needed to be asked for on the option list. For instance, there's just about every driving aid imaginable, like emergency brake assist, lane assist, hill launch assist, front and rear parking aids and a really good rear view camera.

For me, though, it's in the cabin that this Jag (as all of them do) really excels. Jag's quintessential wood veneer is replaced by satin-finished steel and to good effect. However, full leather upholstery from Bridge of Weir Leather remains very much part of the set up and in this case was an eye-catching black with red needle stitching – with the obligatory heated and cooled seats.

Its designer, Dumfries-born Ian Callum, has also made this a very comforting cabin, with a wraparound feel inspired by his winning design in the F-Pace. All controls come easily to hand and the visual display set-up for the driver is one of the best around and many controls are easily adjusted using the 10-inch touch-screen display.

Then there's the cute little squiggle on the left hand corner of the windscreen which, on closer inspection turned out to be a Jaguar being followed by a cub – and obvious reference to being the F-Pace's 'baby' and then, when it was dark the same popped up on the courtesy foot lights when leaving the E-Pace. Nice touches.

From the outside, there's a definite whiff of styling cues from the F-Pace, especially with the family front grill, but the E-Pace does looks a bit sportier and a bit more agile. In many respects, that translates into the handling too, and its more compact dimensions seemed a better fit for the engine than in some of the F-Pace choices. While the suspension is a little on the stiff side ­– though you can fiddle with the settings – the chunky 20-inch, six-spoke wheels on this model handled this country's pothole-strewn roads very well, if a little jarring at times.

Performance wise, it will do the timed 0-62 spring in 6.6 seconds and will give a combined mpg in the mid 30s, though you can expect the diesel versions to be quite a bit better than that.

Volvo XC 40

The XC40 is the smallest of a trio of SUVs in Volvo's line up – arguably, it's also the best looking, though I was ribbed somewhat for it's baby blue colour format.

With this wee Swedish belter, there’s a fairly wide choice of power and spec' options. There are three petrol and two diesel engines plus a hybrid on its way, with optional two or four-wheel drive versions. Prices start around £28,000 and stretch to just shy of £40,000 for top spec' models.

The test car was the T5 AWD version fitted with the 247 bhp version of Volvo’s four-cylinder two-litre diesel engine, which is a big step up from the sub-200bhp base version. An eight-speed automatic gearbox is the standard fare with most of the XC40s and there's no doubting that this is a great match. Other engine choices include a three-cylinder 1.5 litre petrol of 156bhp, or four-cylinder diesel units of 190 and 247hp, while entry level cars get a choice of six-speed manual gearboxes or you can pay for an upgrade to the auto.

The tested model had a choice of driving modes, with 'Eco' used for dotting about and 'Dynamic' for stiffening up the suspension and tweaking the engine characteristics for a much better response.

Looks wise, it's a bit blockier looking than the Jaguar E-Pace and this translates into the provision of more interior room. The interior is certainly a trendier place than the more usual Volvo driver is used to – and that's deliberate, as this is aimed fairly and squarely at appealing to a younger set of drivers, hence the funky colour schemes that are available.

Certainly on trend is the connectivity aspect of this and all Volvos these days. This model had what is known as ‘Pilot Assist’, which is a semi-autonomous driving technology – and is a function which gets the newer Volvos being pretty close to being 'driverless'.

It works by keeping a constant eye on traffic ahead and lane discipline, using adaptive cruise control to maintain the desired cruising speed while adjusting to and working with the traffic flow around it. For instance, it can accelerate and brake to match traffic flow and it's quite an eerie feeling when you try it.

On-the-road prices start at £27,610 for the T3 Momentum model, though the model on test was a top of the range T5 Inscription Pro automatic which, with a few added extras comes to a flight to London more than £40k.

The standard equipment on the standard Momentum models seems to reflect Volvo's progressive connectivity, entertainment and safety innovations, with features such as the Sensus nine-inch touchscreen control for multiple on-board functions and easy smartphone connectivity, satellite navigation, automatic LED headlights with Active High Beam, 18-inch alloy wheels and a dual-zone climate control system that monitors and maintains cabin air quality. There's also Volvo On Call remote control and emergency assistance service is also provided as standard, together with keyless start, rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic windscreen wipers and integrated roof rails.

The Inscription specification gets luxury items, including 'Driftwood' cabin inlays, leather-faced upholstery, a power-adjustable driver's seat, ambient door and instrument panel lighting, and a powered tailgate. There's also front parking sensors, matt silver skid plates and chrome grille inserts as part of the package. The 'Pro' versions include heated front seats, larger-diameter wheels, active bending headlights, LED front foglights with cornering function, and a heated windscreen.

Given all that, it's quite complicated choosing just which one is for you as there are about 40 different combinations of engines, equipment grades and transmissions.

With the same output at the Jaguar E-Pace tested, the XC 40 was also pretty similar on performance. Its 0-62mph turnround is 6.5 seconds and, being a diesel has a slightly better mpg at 41. For those who will take this off-road (only occasionally mind you), the approach and departure angles aren’t bad and there’s 21cm of ground clearance. You can also hit the switch to an off-road calibration for the powertrain and ESP.

Audi Q2 S-line

Audi's take on the dinkie SUV market is the Q2 which comes from a fairly substantial family – and it sits, as the nomenclature suggests, below the Q3, Q5 and Q7.

Based on the successful platform from across the VW/Audi group, the Q2 is – as you would expect from a brand with the quattro pedigree – pretty good to drive, is roomy and offers a bewildering range of spec' sheets and options. Engines range from 114bhp to 188bhp and of course most of the drive trains offer the option of quattro drive.

The model under review is expected to be one of the top sellers in the range. This was the two-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel of 148bhp which does the 0-62 spectrum in 8.1 seconds – other engine options include a tiny one-litre, three-cylinder petrol which kicks off the range and there is also a 1.4-litre petrol and 1.6 and 2.0-litre TDi diesels, with varying outputs.

The spec' for the test vehicle was the S-Line version, which puts it pretty much at the top of the tree in a range which starts at roughly £22k, though the model under scrutiny had a bottom line of £30,745, with that spec' and some extras, including the seven-speed S-tronic gearbox.

Audi gets a name for stark, no nonsense interiors and that continues in the Q2, which has the usual Audi quality fixtures and fittings. You certainly couldn't call the exterior in any way stark, though, as this came in the rather virulent Vegas Yellow, with silver highlights – perhaps a nod to a younger potential buying audience – but not really the best choice for a fat 50-something? However, it was roomy enough for four adults to travel in comfort, plus it had a 355 litre luggage space, with the ability to fold the rear seats almost tripling that space.

Like the others on test, it had 'connectivity' at the top of its inventory, with a really big central touch-screen operated from Audi's user friendly central console toggle. While all the 'infotainment' stuff was controlled by that, Audi still retains the good old-fashioned dials for climate control settings. Three driver settings can also be selected, but for me, just putting it into 'auto' was as good as 'comfort' or 'dynamic'.

Along with the optional Audi virtual cockpit and head-up display, the driver assistance systems have filtered down from the larger Audi models – including one with pedestrian recognition, which assesses critical situations with other vehicles as well as pedestrians crossing in front of the vehicle. This can initiate hard braking, to a standstill, at low speeds. Other systems include adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistant Audi, with that annoying thing, traffic sign recognition.

Given the quattro pedigree, you also get some pretty snappy handling and that was what sets this wee Audi out from the chasing pack and another reason for that was that the test car also had adaptive air suspension. It wasn't the fastest, though, with the 0-62mph dash taking 8.1 seconds, but it is amongst the best in class in terms of fuel economy, with the spec' sheet saying it will average close to 60mpg, though I'd expect just under 55mpg for practicality.

Stand-out features on S-line models, include the hallmark front, side and rear styling enhancements, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps with LED rear lights and dynamic sweeping rear indicators, LED interior lighting, inlays finished in brushed aluminium and front sport seats upholstered in cloth/leather upholstery with S embossing on the backrests. A multi-function perforated leather steering wheel is also standard, featuring grey contrasting stitching and S line badging.


The latest addition to bear the famous BMW kidney grille as an 'X' model is the X2 and like its rivals in the sector, it needs a fairly wide running dug to get around all of its variants.

For a start it comes with SE, Sport, M Sport and M Sport X, specification and the launch engine/transmission of the xDrive20d has been joined by the sDrive20i, sDrive18d xDrive18d. But, with prices starting at a rather hefty £33,980 for the X2 xDrive20d SE, this small SUV probably hits new levels of digital connectivity and driveability thanks to its intelligent all-wheel-drive system.

That famously-shaped grille has always been an identifying feature of a BMW, but there's new design cues for it on the X2, as its outline is wider at its base than at its top. It is the first to feature this design cue and it is aimed at giving the new car a broader, more distinctive and sportier appearance. Below the grille, the hexagonal surface treatment in the bumper further reinforces this impression.

On test was the X2 xDrive20d diesel variant which has 190hp available with a torquey 400Nm of drive which enables a 0 to 62 mph time of 7.7 seconds. It did, though, feel slightly sportier than that figure suggests – it even has sporty looking twin tailpipes for goodness sake – but the astonishing thing about this wee gem is its official fuel consumption, which is an impressive 61.4mpg on the combined cycles. Knock a few percent off for being in the hands of a normal driver, and you can still expect mid 50s mpg – which is a lot better than some super minis!

It handles pretty tightly and I'd say it maybe outperforms the Audi Q2 in this area and it also has a few more tecchie bits that appeal too. Things like full-LED headlights are standard on Sport, M Sport and M Sport X models as are wheel sizes of up to 20-inches.

Inside there's contrast stitching of the dashboard and seating, though only the M Sport X gets leather as standard. And it feels tight, just like a BMW should. On the more practical side, it will seat five adults, though its better with four for full-on comfort and there's a boot capacity of 470 litres, which can be boosted by dropped the rear seats down. This functionality manifests itself in the passenger compartment too, thanks to features such as a door design featuring large storage pockets.

All functional controls in the centre console are set in high-gloss black as standard, where drivers can choose between two settings – Comfort or Sport – using the driving experience control switch, which alters the suspension to suit. Meanwhile, the intuitive iDrive Controller, once mastered, gives control of all major features, although its 6.5-inch touch screen is smaller than some rivals.

The 20d diesel model comes equipped with xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive as standard, which has Hill Descent Control built in to enable the BMW X2 to automatically maintain a desired speed on steep descents by taking care of brake control for the driver, who can then devote their attention to the task of steering. This, again, puts it ahead of rivals from Audi, Volvo and Jaguar.

Camera-based assistance systems available for the new BMW X2 also deliver assurance and safety. The optional Driving Assistant (within Drive Pack) includes lane departure warning, speed limit info with no passing info display, anti-dazzle high beam assistant, as well as collision and pedestrian warning. An upgrade, Driving Assistant Plus features the Traffic Jam Assistant which, at speeds up to 37mph, takes over both proximity control and lane-keeping tasks from the driver.

Standard fitment is a rear park distance warning system and there's a rear-view camera on the highers spec' models helps with parking.