Volvo V40 review
The Volvo V40 brings low emissions, stylish looks and plenty of class-leading safety kit to the German dominated premium hatchback market
Volvo’s V40 hatchback is the Swedish company’s most recent attempt at making a premium compact car to rival the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes A Class, Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf – and thanks to its superb fuel economy, great looks and an incredible safety record, it does a great job of taking the fight to the German foursome.
Putting out good power levels and mixing that with impressive fuel economy, the economical V40 1.6-litre D2 diesel is the smallest engine in the range, but returns combined fuel economy of 83.1mpg on paper with just 88g/km CO2, meaning the D2 model is road tax free.
If you’re looking for more performance, however, there are hotter V40s in the line-up. The most potent range-topping engine is the T5 petrol turbo in R-Design trim, which tops out at 155mph.
In between there are a wide range of trim levels and engines to chose from, with the entry level V40 SE opening things, rising to the sportiest R-Design version that, with its more aggressive look and sharper handling, can be compared to the equivalent BMW M Sport and Audi S Line models.
There’s also a jacked-up version of the Volvo V40 on offer, adding even more capability for driving in bad conditions. The V40 Cross Country features an elevated ride height and plastic body protection to underline its soft-roader credentials.
Where the V40 really comes into its own is safety. The Swedish five-door hatch is the safest car Euro NCAP has ever tested so, unsurprisingly, it's packed full of cutting-edge kit. Volvo fits every V40 with a low-speed collision avoidance system as standard, while optional safety features include adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist and pedestrian detection.
On paper, the V40 doesn't seem that cheap compared to some small hatchbacks, but when you match it against some of its other premium rivals – factoring in its strong fuel economy and safety features – it starts to look like pretty good value.
Our choice: V40 D2 SE
Engines, performance and drive
The three diesels are the pick of the V40 line-up, and the base 113bhp, 1.6-litre D2 engine has plenty of power for every day use. This unit is the most efficient, too, offering a combined cycle of 83.1mpg and 88g/km of CO2, while the slightly more powerful 147bhp 2.0-litre D3 offers a bit more pulling power thanks to the extra horses and a massaged torque output.
The four-cylinder 187bhp D4 diesel is particularly impressive when it comes to power. It offers the grunt of a diesel hot hatch like the VW Golf GTD, yet emits a tiny 99g/km (meaning free road tax) and returns 74.3mpg according to Volvo. This is the newest diesel engine in the range and will feature in a wide range of new Volvo models in the near future, including the long-awaited XC90 SUV.
For petrol buyers, Volvo offers the T2 and T3 units on all trim levels apart from the V40 Cross Country, while the T5 is only available on R-Design and Cross Country cars (coming with four-wheel drive as standard on the latter version). In R-Design guise the 250bhp T5 can sprint from 0-62mph in 6.3s – fast enough to worry the top hot hatchbacks, even if it’s not quite the thrill-a-minute like some of its rivals.
The Volvo V40 shares many of its mechanical parts with the excellent Ford Focus, so it's good to drive, and feels agile and composed through the corners. The steering is a little stodgy and lacking in feel, but given the whole car majors on comfort rather than the overt sportiness of say, a Mercedes A-Class or BMW 1 Series, it's a worthwhile compromise.
Unfortunately the gearboxes on offer let it down: the six-speed manual is a bit clunky, and the Geartronic automatic is not as smooth, efficient or as fast to change gear as the latest dual-clutch automatic transmissions from Audi and Volkswagen.
The ride is too firm as well, although long-distance credentials are improved by wind and road noise being kept to a minimum in the well-insulated cabin.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The 1.6-litre V40 D2 diesel’s efficiency puts in on a par with the BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus. The D3 Volvo V40 diesel returns a combined economy of 65.7 mpg and 114g/km CO2 of emissions.
The powerful petrol T4 Volvo V40 is also pretty economical, with CO2 levels of 129g/km, and a combined economy of 51.4mpg. However, the most powerful petrol engine, the T5, returns a relatively poor 34.9mpg with CO2 emissions of 189g/km – partly due to it only being available with an automatic gearbox.
When compared with its rivals from BMW and Mercedes, the Volvo V40 is good value – there's plenty of standard equipment (especially when it comes to safety) to justify the asking price. However, servicing and depreciation will both be higher than for the equivalent BMW 1 Series.
Private Volvo V40 buyers will be concerned by 43.8 per cent residual values. While in isolation they are competitive, this still sees the Volvo V40 trail less premium rivals such as the SEAT Leon. Over three years a Volvo V40 SE D2 is likely to lose £11,687 in depreciation.
Compared to the SEAT, the Volvo V40 is also expensive to service, with the first three dealer visits adding up to £815, compared to £507 for the Leon.
Interior, design and technology
The V40’s distinctive but reserved looks make it one of the most handsome cars in the premium hatchback class. Its designers have obviously drawn on the rest of the Volvo range, and have given the V40 a V60-style bonnet, smooth front end, projector-style headlights, plus a cool part-glass hatchback that echoes the old P1800 ES.
Thanks to its wide stance, the V40 has a low and sporty appearance, but sadly, while the interior feels nice and airy, it can't quite match the Audi A3 for practicality or space. Furthermore, the V40's in-car computer system is a bit of a mess, with endless menus and sub-menus controlled by an array of buttons on the cluttered centre console making it difficult to work.
Volvo decks out every V40 with alloy wheels, a TFT display, keyless go, cruise control, heated door mirrors, Bluetooth and a leather-covered steering wheel as standard.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The V40 keeps in line with the Volvo’s traditional strong focus on safety, but it rather strangely puts the emphasis on style over practicality.
It may be bigger than its rivals on the outside, but the Volvo V40 is deceptively small on the inside – especially in the back. Headroom in the rear is not good enough for tall occupants, and the 335-litre boot is a tad too tall and narrow to be as practical as some of its rivals.
While the boot size is 45 litres smaller than that in the Volkswagen Golf, Volvo gives the V40 a neat false floor, meaning extra items can be stored out of sight. There's also plenty of storage and cubbies doted about the interior.
Reliability and Safety
Volvo has always had a reputation for making safe cars, so unsurprisingly, the V40 is no different. In fact, it's second to none.
The V40 was awarded a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests, and with a 98 per cent rating for adult occupant protection and 100 per cent safety assist, the smallest Volvo is the safest car ever tested by the organisation.
Volvo gives every V40 a City Safety system as standard, which detects whether a low-speed collision is imminent, putting the car’s brakes on if needed to avoid a crash. There is also an innovative, world-first pedestrian airbag that pops out of the bonnet when it senses an impact to soften the blow.
In our 2014 Driver Power survey, Volvo finished 11th among all the manufacturers for customer satisfaction. The V40 in particular was ranked as our 19th best car to own last year, showing the premium Swedish hatch should be very reliable. As it shares engines with other Volvo and Ford models, those found in the V40 should also prove to be dependable.