By Wayne Gorrett
Variant driven : SE 1.6, 88g/km, 115ps, 6-speed manual, stop/start
The Volvo V40 is a stylish alternative to premium hatchbacks from The German Three, offering high levels of quality and safety.
PROS – Stylish and elegant design, safest car in class, rides and handles well, low emissions, willing diesel engines.
CONS – Rear passenger space, firm ride, small boot, high entry pricing.
☀ ☀ ☀
We sneaked a first drive of the V40 last October, shortly after its UK launch. Being suitably impressed, we joined the disorderly queue to discover more about Volvo’s newest kid on the block.
It’s been all of twenty years since Volvo had a five-door hatchback in its range. In ‘marketing speak’, the 2013 model year Volvo V40 is called an estate, but think along the lines of a five-door hatchback and you’ll be closer to initial impressions. As the premium hatchback market leaders – currently the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 – continue to dominate, Volvo’s new V40 arrives at an opportune time for the Swede.
In one go, the V40 effectively replaces both the Volvo S40 and V50, so despite the coupe-like appearance, it is required to be practical and spacious too. While it mostly succeeds, there are elements of shortfall in the overall package. But, more on that later.
The V40 was designed by American Chris Benjamin. It sits on the modified Ford C1 platform which also supported the now-discontinued Volvo C30 and underwent minor modifications to the electric power steering and revised spring and damper settings.
As has been Volvo’s way for several decades, the V40 has a transversely mounted engine, permitting greater front passenger space and better crash deformation than a conventionally positioned longitudinal one. Four- and five-cylinder turbo petrol and diesel units, sourced from the current Volvo line-up – are offered, almost all with lightweight aluminium construction and all driving the front wheels only.
Our D2 test car enjoyed what we believe to be the pick of the engine line-up – an uber-frugal 5-cylinder, 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine, which produces 115bhp (270Nm torque), emitting a tree-hugging 88g of CO2 per kilometre, while officially travelling 83.1 miles per gallon. It offers quite decent in-gear pulling power but is not the quickest of engines. Once up to speed, it will happily keep up with traffic and that torque means overtaking is pretty straightforward.
Ride and Handling
Suspension across the V40 range is by front MacPherson struts and rear multi-links, set to ‘standard’ or ‘sports’ configuration. In standard, the ride feels safe and composed and body roll during enthusiastic cornering is well controlled. It’s further helped by a clever torque vectoring system that brakes the inner wheel in corners to aid handling. The drive is tidy and competent rather than class-leading. The new electromechanical steering feels quite artificial and light but, overall, steering and brakes are well up to the job of smooth progress.
The D2’s 1.6-litre diesel gurgles away in the background, never broadcasting its chatty nature past a gentle thrum, and while sensing a reaching for the inhaler at over 3,800rpm, there’s enough torque lower down to keep up with everyday traffic. So, while it’s not overly quick, it tootles along like a pro with the slightly notchy manual gearbox handling progress in competent fashion.
The D2 diesel is characteristically chatty at fire-up but settles down smoothly on the move. However, the V40 develops excessive wind and road noise at speed. All other driver controls felt good.
Behind the Wheel
As can be expected, there’s a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment to help the Volvo V40 driver get comfortable. For a small price, you can buy a system that enables you to choose between three different ‘themes’ for the dials – a neat touch. The infotainment system isn’t as well thought out; its fussy onscreen menus detract attention from the road at times, plus there are too many small buttons that initially are hard to tell apart at a glance.
Space and Practicality
General cabin space is good and front and rear legroom are on a par with class rivals such as the BMW 1 Series and VW Golf. The V40’s boot is a bit narrow, but it’s available with a clever folding floor that lets you divide up the space or raise the load level. With this in its highest setting, the rear seats fold down to create a totally flat extended load area.
The Volvo V40 is well-kitted out overall and ‘poverty-spec’ ES grade come with Bluetooth, front and rear electric windows, alloy wheels and climate control. However, I’d recommend upgrading to the mid-range SE trim as tested, which adds cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, keyless start and plusher interior trim. R-Design models get bigger alloys, body kit and sporty touches inside, while top-spec SE Lux adds leather and LED running lights. Cross Country models get little more than a raised ride height and chunkier bumpers.
Here, of course, is where Volvo has led the pack for decades. As well as the usual array of airbags and electronic driver aids such as blind lane information system (BLIS), the V40 has an updated version of Volvo’s City Safety system, which automatically applies the brakes if you get too close to a car in front. Volvo has also fitted an airbag that pops out from under the bonnet to cover the windscreen and front pillars if sensors detect a collision with a pedestrian. All this helped the car achieve a five-star crash rating from Euro NCAP.
Reliability & Quality
The V40’s cabin looks very similar to the Volvo S60 executive car’s and is built from similar classy materials, so it’s one of the smartest of the small family hatch batch. Volvo also has a decent record in the annual JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
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Recommended retail price of model tested:£21,870
Volvo V40 price range: From £18,995 to £27,220
Power and Torque: 113bhp @ 3,600rpm / 270Nm @ 1,750 – 2,500rpm
Towing capacity unbraked/braked: 650kg / 1,300kg
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 11.9 seconds
Top speed: 118mph
Load capacity Seats up / down: 335 litres / 1,032 litres
Fuel tank: 52 litres (11.4 gallons)
Average fuel economy (combined): Official 83.1mpg / Tested: 58.1mpg over 493 miles (69.9%)
Full tank range: Official consumption 947 miles, tested consumption 660 miles
CO2 Emissions: Class Euro V: 88g/km
Road tax: Band ‘A’ – £ 0 per annum
BIK (benefit-in-kind) company car tax rate: 13% current
Euro NCAP rating: 5-Stars, tested 2012
Insurance group model tested: 17
Warranty: 3 years, 60,000 miles
Mercedes-Benz A-Class, VW Golf, Audi A3, Lexus CT and BMW 1 Series.
The star of the Volvo V40 range is the D2 diesel as tested and not just because of its tax-friendly sub-100g/km CO2 emissions. It’s smooth, refined and gives performance that’s perfectly adequate in everyday life. We liked the safety, comfort and driving dynamics which combine to put it right up there with the best in the fiercely-competitive family hatchback segment. While it may have its faults, the V40 is unquestionably easy to recommend.