Volvo V40 review
The Volvo V40 offers stylish looks, tiny emissions and tonnes of safety kit. But is it good enough to topple the mighty BMW 1 Series?
The Volvo V40 has been designed to stand out from premium hatchback rivals like the Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class and BMW 1 Series. It offers stylish looks, good fuel economy and a long list of safety kit that includes the world's first pedestrian airbag. Super-low CO2 emissions start from just 94g/km, which makes the V40 a great choice for company car buyers. Those parting with their own cash would be hard pushed to choose the Volvo over something more German, but if you want a safe, clean and entertaining hatch, then the V40 is a good option. A sporty R-Design model joined the line-up at the end of 2012 and is the brand’s answer to the BMW M Sport and Audi S line models. It comes with 17-inch five-spoke alloys, a silk metal finish around the grille and chunkier bumpers, as well as the option of Rebel Blue paint and a 10mm lower Sports chassis with stiffer suspension. A rugged new V40 Cross Country model is also available and gets jacked-up suspension and plastic body cladding.
Our choice: V40 D2 SE
Volvo isn’t renowned for designing the most stylish of cars, but the V40 breaks this tradition. It incorporates all the best styling cues from across the current range, with a sculpted front end, projector-style headlights and a contoured bonnet that echoes the V60 estate, as well as curvy tail-lamps and half-glass bootlid that are inspired by the C30 hatchback. In terms of exterior dimensions, the V40 is one of the longest and widest cars in its class, which helps to enhance the purposeful stance. The cabin feels bright and airy but it can't quite match the Audi for quality, while the infotainment system's endless reams of menus and submenus can be quite confusing. Entry-level ES cars come fitted with luxuries like 16-inch alloy wheels, heated door mirrors, cruise control, keyless start, Bluetooth and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. There are also SE, SE Lux and sporty R-Design models, as well as a rugged Cross Country version that offers the option of four-wheel drive but is expensive.
The engine range is made up of three petrol engines and three diesels. The petrol options are the firm’s 148bhp 1.6-litre T3, 177bhp 2.0-litre T4 and the range-topping five-cylinder 2.5-litre T5, which boasts a muscular 360Nm of torque. But it’s the diesels that make the most sense, as even the 1.6-litre low-emissions D2 model with 113bhp offers plenty of overtaking power. The 147bhp 2.0-litre D3 engine offers a good mix of power and efficiency, while the grunt of the five-cylinder 175bhp D4 is particularly impressive and makes passing slower moving traffic a doddle. With underpinnings based on the Ford Focus, it's bo surprise to find the Volvo feels agile and composed on twisty roads. The steering is accurate and direct, while body control over bumps is good. However, the six-speed manual gearboxis a little clunky, while the Geartronic automatic is not as smooth or efficient as the latest dual-clutch automatic gearboxes from Audi and VW. And while the interior is well insulated from wind and road noise, the V40's ride is a little firm.
Volvo has always been a class leader in safety innovation, and the V40 is no exception. It received a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests, with 98 per cent for adult occupant and 100 per cent for safety assist making it officially the safest car Euro NCAP has ever tested. Every V40 comes fitted with the firm’s City Safety system - which uses a laser to detect an imminent collision and automatically brake the car to prevent a low-speed accident – and a U-shaped pedestrian airbag that triggered by sensors in the bumper and pops out from under the bonnet to soften the impact. Volvo finished a solid 10th in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, proving that buyers still have faith in the ownership experience and reliability of the brand despite a few problems in recent years.
Volvo has sacrificed some its traditional practicality in favour of style. Although the V40 is slightly bigger on the outside than many of its class rivals, headroom in the rear seats is tight for anyone approaching six feet tall and the high, narrow boot holds only 335 litres with the rear seats in place. This is 45 litres down on the Volkswagen Golf. But despite its compact dimensions, the boot does have a false floor that allows items to be stored on two different level, while the cabin features a decent amount of storage for the usual family odds and ends.
The Volvo V40 excels when it comes to running costs. The D2 diesel emits just 94g/km of CO2 and returns an impressive fuel economy figure of 78.5mpg, which puts it on a par with the BMW 116d EfficientDynamics. The D3 engine manages 65.7mpg and emits only 114g/km of CO2, while even the powerful T4 petrol has official figures of 51.4mpg and 129g/km. Although the V40 is expensive to buy, it is priced accordingly with its upmarket rivals from BMW and Mercedes and a generous amount of equipment is included as standard. However, servicing and depreciation will both be higher than for the equivalent BMW 1 Series.