Volvo built their envied reputation on two things; safety and boxy, set-square inspired design features. Today, only one of these aspects remains true and a solitary glance at this V40 model will expose just which one it is.
With this mid-sized, 5 door hatch, Volvo are making a play for a highly sought after segment and are going for the jugular of some pretty stiff competition – including the Golf and 1 Series at one end of the spectrum and the Astra and the Focus, to name but a few, at the other.
Priced at £23,870 (£28,095 as tested), this D2 Powershift SE LUX model is undoubtedly aiming its sights at the higher end of the market. The 1 Series BMW and Audi‘s A3 are already major players at this level and Mercedes’ complete rethink of where it’s A Class should sit has brought that into the fray too. Tough crowd.
Styling wise, it’s classy and understated, after-all, shouty just wouldn’t do on a Volvo. There are some natty features such as the rear light clusters and piano black boot panel which attempt to set it out from the crowd but the rest of the car shares many lines with Vauxhall’s Astra. I’m not saying that this is a particularly bad thing, I just like my Volvos to be unmistakably Volvos.
Get inside the V40 though, and the sheer emphasis on creating a class-leading cabin is blindingly obvious. There’s a recurring theme in here, stemming from Volvo’s characteristically rounded font and then translated into a smattering of squircles around the cabin. Themes have a habit of becoming tacky and irritating but the way Volvo have gone about utilising this most pleasing of shapes allows the V40’s living space to be both quirky and elegant, all in the same breath.
The quality of materials inside the V40 is also second to none. From the soft, faultless leather to the grade of plastics used, even the famously commendable Audi could learn a thing or two about automotive interiors. The story’s the same at way-below eye level – usually where attention to detail is found lacking. Not so in the V40 – even one’s knees are lucky enough to be treated to a pleasing view.
That’s not to say there’s no room for improvement inside the V40 – no-one’s perfect. The hand brake, for one, appears to have been designed for left hand drive cars, with the budget for right-hand-drive translation being unfortunately lost down the back of the sofa. It is seriously so close to the left hand seat that a few odd looks can ensue from any unsuspecting passenger as they could easily assume that their leg has become the object of your affections and that you’re brazenly going for a feel.
Safety is still a by-word for Volvos and the levels of standard equipment on the V40 are impressive. Euro 5 NCAP ratings are obviously a prerequisite for any of the brand’s models but Volvo are understandably keen to push the boundaries and leave potential customers in no doubt as to their continuing priorities.
Some safety features work on cars, and some just don’t. I admit that when cornering headlights were resurrected from Citroen’s original DS, I was initially cynical. I was wrong to be. The SE Lux package comes complete with these clever lights and if you take the V40 down a poorly lit B-road, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them as they intuitively illuminate your way. Couple this with the car’s optional active high beam system, which are so superior to previous models I’ve tried due to their ability to alternate between main beam and high beam at appropriate moments, and where once was dark, is light.
One safety element which is worthy of special mention is the collision avoidance system. These units are in their relative infancy and it’s no surprise that Volvo have grabbed the bull by the horns and started to utilise this potentially life-saving technology. It isn’t infallible though. Head into certain bends, in certain conditions and the system triggers, assuming that you’re continuing straight on into a car or tree. The result is all manner of warning lights – some fine tuning required here I feel.
Due to the inherent shape of the V40 and it’s oversized D pillars which are presumably packed full of safety, rearward visibility isn’t great. This is kind-of strange for a company such as Volvo who’s mantra is safety but, either way, it makes the V40’s blind spot sensors invaluable and also makes a good case for the £850 Park Assist Pilot option.
On the move, the V40 feels extremely planted and solid, more similar to a large saloon car than a mid-size hatch. This particular model was obviously made more for long-distance cruising than country-road attacks as this relatively small 1.6 Diesel tackles high-speed motorways with aplomb, yet can come unstuck when pushed around bends. The steering is highly assisted and, although it WILL find grip at the limits, there is a slight vagueness and lack of feedback through the wheel. That said, it is absolutely effortless when cruising at 60mph + and has an air of sophistication that you’d not really expect in this segment.
One aspect of the V40 which must be specced properly is the gearbox. Our test car came complete with Volvo’s auto ‘box (Powershift) and it’s highly disappointing to say the least. Gear changes are sluggish and often occur at the most inopportune moments, with ‘Sport’ mode doing precisely nothing to alleviate the problem. Thankfully, there’s an easy solution and that’s to opt for changing gear oneself. Not only will it be a more satisfying drive, but the manual is quicker to 62mph, gains 11mpg over the auto and saves you a full £20 per annum due to it pulling the V40 below the magical 100g/km CO2 barrier (88g compared to 102g).
Volvo’s V40 is a highly competent hatch and if it’s safety and interior luxury that float your boat, it’s hard to beat. Just be careful when speccing your V40 though and tick the right boxes, as there’s a whole world of difference between making some wise choices and making some not-so-wise.
By Ben Harrington
Specifications; Volvo V40 D2 SE Lux Powershift, Transmission – 6 spd automatic, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 115bhp, Torque – 270Nm, Emissions – 102g/km CO2, Economy – 72.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 118mph, Acceleration – 12.1s 0-62mph, Price – £23,870 OTR, £28,095 as tested.
- Is Volvo’s V40 Coming to America? (culvercityvolvodealer.wordpress.com)
- The impressive V40 R-Design proves Volvo are far from boring (dailyrecord.co.uk)
- Volvo V40 R-design (redundantmagazine.wordpress.com)