Both its rivals have put in a strong showing, but don’t count the new Volvo V40 out just yet. It came very close to beating the BMW on its debut and, for buyers weary of choosing between the same premium brands, it offers a real breath of fresh air.
The curved rear lights and raised silver lettering across the glass tailgate make it look especially smart. Options like the £1,250 xenon headlights with slim LEDs in the front bumper, and classy £550 17-inch multi-spoke ‘Mannan’ alloys, add to the visual appeal.
The V40 manages to incorporate the latest Volvo design cues without taking the same Russian doll approach as the Audi and BMW – and looks all the better for it.
There’s plenty of substance to back up that style, too. Even in SE spec, the Volvo comes with an enviable equipment list that includes climate and cruise control, keyless entry, a five-inch infotainment screen and electric folding door mirrors. Modern details like the optional digital instrument dials and backlit gearlever (£350) offer something different from the norm, while the wide front seats are supremely comfortable.
However, despite being nicely finished in high-quality materials, the dash is button-heavy and makes navigating the various menus tricky – a problem that’s exacerbated by the small text used on the screen.
Finding the right driving position is made difficult by a high clutch pedal, while the V40 offers less interior space than both its rivals. The wheelarches encroach on the rear doors, so access to the back is tight, and once you’re inside, headroom is in surprisingly short supply compared to the smaller A3. The high loading lip and narrow boot also mean it’s tough to put large items into the back.
Despite these niggles, the V40 is just as desirable as its premium counterparts – but can it match their performance on the road?
First impressions are good: the 1.6-litre engine is more refined than the BMW’s, while shorter gearing and a 20Nm torque advantage make it feel more urgent than the 1 Series, too.
The brakes are very strong and the V40 stopped in the shortest distance from 70mph (45.9 metres). Yet the heavy steering feels artificial and the vague gearbox is frustrating.
This lack of polish won’t bother all potential buyers – many will prefer the V40’s refinement and stable handling. Ultimately, it falls just short of the firmer A3.
Weaker residuals and higher servicing costs also make the Volvo hard to recommend as a long-term investment – even though it used less fuel on test than the 116d ED.