When considering nominees, we look for vehicles that raise the bar in their class, and the 2019 Volvo XC40 has done just that, standing apart both from other glorified hatchbacks and other Volvos with distinctive style. Volvo doubled down with clever details and packaging, and even something rare among premium SUVs: value. 

The look hits you first — youthful, techy, even cute. The clean lines, distinctive pillars and an upright, chunky look really works for a small SUV. By comparison, many rivals look a little dated, stuffy or both. Not that the XC40, or our nomination, rides on looks; the XC40 has a competent chassis and offers competitive performance with the base 187-horsepower, front-wheel-drive powertrain or more driving fun with a 248-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter and all-wheel drive. It also offers the upscale multimedia system and advanced Volvo Pilot Assist safety and semi-autonomous driving technology of other Volvos. 

While no small luxury SUV is cheap, XC40 adds value by including features often optional in rivals, such as front collision safety tech and standard leather trim in place of vinyl. It also combines larger Volvos’ quality materials with original ideas such as eco-friendly feltlike door panels made from recycled water bottles. 

But for all its spunky style, the XC40 doesn’t forsake its core mission of practicality. The cabin has Container Store creativity to help organize the clutter of your life. Most striking: Big door bins reclaim space from speakers relocated behind the dashboard. There’s also a trash receptacle, built-in credit card/parking pass holders, a glove box hook for hanging a bag and more storage under both front seats. The nearly 21 cubic feet of space behind the backseat has a cargo floor option that stands as a divider to restrain smaller items. 

Just when we thought yet another small SUV would be a yawn, here’s the XC40.