Volvo V40 review
Volvo's most popular car is a classy alternative to the Volkswagen Golf family hatch if space isn't a priority
The most compact Volvo, the V40 five-door hatchback, is the most popular car from the Swedish firm in Britain. Offered in regular and crossover SUV-style Cross Country guise, the able V40 is a true Volvo with a broad range of reassuring, owner-pleasing traits.
Latest versions have a strong range of engines that perform well and deliver excellent fuel economy, while handling is secure and refinement good. Although it’s fiddly to use, on-board technology is good and features such as Volvo’s excellent stereo and seat comfort draw high praise from owners.
The V40 isn’t the most practical of five-door hatchbacks though. Rear space isn’t great and the boot is also on the small side. This is worth bearing in mind if you’re considering it as an alternative to a Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf. It’s also a little expensive to insure, although popular R-Design models have low depreciation and running costs are kept in check too.
Overall, the V40 is highly rated by owners and Auto Express testers alike. Just note there’s a facelifted version on the way this summer: it won’t fundamentally differ from this model, but it will carry the new and appealing Volvo family look, which may be worth waiting for…
The Volvo V40 five-door family hatchback is the best-selling Volvo in the UK. It doesn’t yet benefit from the design revolution seen in models such as the XC90 and S90/V90, but it is still a crucially important model for the range – which is why, in summer 2016, a facelift will give it a more modern look to tie it in with the Swedish firm’s newer models.
For now, the broad V40 range focuses on offering core family hatchback attributes but with a little extra premium appeal to lift it above the core Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Peugeot 308 models that dominate this sector. Volvo considers it a classy rival to the Volkswagen Golf, and we would agree.
First launched in 2012, the V40 five-door hatchback revived a name used by a compact Volvo estate between 1995-2004. Slightly confusingly, there is no estate V40, Volvo deciding the fact this is its only hatchback model on sale justifies the ‘V for versatile’ branding otherwise used on its estates.
Because of Volvo’s previous Ford ownership, the V40 is actually derived from the current-model Focus platform, but it shares no visible parts with the Ford and, today, offers an ever-broader range of engines that are unique to Volvo.
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The engine options are badged as the T2, T3 and T5 petrols plus the D2, D3 and D4 diesels. The core engines are a 1.5-litre turbo and 2.0-litre turbo petrol plus a 2.0-litre turbodiesel; Volvo varies the tuning and turbocharger technology to vary power between the different T and D designations.
Trim levels are a bit more straightforward: it’s ES, SE and SE Lux, R-Design and R-Design Lux. Volvo also offers the crossover-style Cross Country V40, which is offered in SE and Lux trim. A more recent addition to the range, the Cross Country is a popular model in the range, despite only the top-line T5 actually offering all-wheel drive.
Engines, performance and drive
The Volvo V40 really benefits from being based on Ford’s acclaimed Global C Ford Focus platform. This is similar to that used in the current Ford Focus, although there is a lot of bespoke Volvo engineering within it to ensure the V40 still feels like a Volvo, not a Ford.
The V40 inherits the solid base of the Ford, that means it’s agile and accurate through the corners, with plenty of in-depth ability from its well-specced chassis. Volvo’s steering is a bit on the mushy side though, with a stodgy feel and lack of feedback, and body control isn’t sports-hatch tight.
The choice of suspension set-up does deliver a decent ride with standard models offering good absorbency in town and a supple ride at speed. And if you want a firmer setup, choose the R-Design models, which have sporty suspension and bigger wheels. They don’t ride as well – something perhaps reflected in a mixed score for the V40’s ride quality in the Driver Power owner satisfaction survey – but do offer more control.
What the V40 does very well is give the confidence and security you’d expect of a Volvo. It’s stable at all speeds, little seems to faze the chassis and it deals with most situations without fuss or drama. Many will happily trade the last word in driver feedback for this grown-up, big car feel.
Prepare to be confused. Volvo has been switching its engine range from Ford-sourced motors to its own in-house designs, but has combined this with a policy of not referring to engine size in how it brands them (and the numbers no longer refer to the number of cylinders either). The result is confusion that you need patience to decipher.
Diesel engines are the most straightforward: the D2, D3 and D4 motors are all the same Volvo-designed 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor. The D2 produces 118bhp, the D3 produces 148bhp and the D4 produces 187bhp.
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Petrol engines are more confusing. There is a 120bhp T2, 150bhp T3 and a 241bhp T5. Bizarrely, T2 and T3 versions use a different engine depending on gearbox choice: manuals are a 2.0-litre turbo unit, with automatics using an alternative downsized 1.5-litre motor. And the T5 is no longer a five-cylinder engine, but a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder.
The pick of the range are the diesels. Volvo’s latest engine is superb, with ultra-smooth manners, low noise levels and an outstanding ability to rev willingly. The spread of pulling power in all three is impressive: the 148bhp D3 is the pick of the range as it has the most well-rounded toque delivery (320Nm from 1,750-3,000rpm), with the 187bhp D4 offering more performance at the top end of the rev range.
The D4 offers an optional eight-speed automatic gearbox; there is a fuel economy penalty, but performance is slightly better and the gearbox itself is excellent, shifting imperceptibly and always seeming to be in the right gear. D2 and D3 motors offer an older six-speed auto, alongside the core six-speed manual that’s standard across the V40 range. The manual is a decent enough box, but not outstanding.
Volvo’s 2.0-litre T2 and T3 engines are impressive too. They have an outstanding ability to pull well from almost tickover: the T2 offers peak torque of 220Nm from just 1,100rpm, pull that’s retained until 3,500rpm. They are sweeter, quieter and easily preferable to the automatic alternatives. The T5 is a quasi hot hatch, paired as standard with that superb eight-speed automatic for added appeal (the T2 and T3 use the older, less able six-speed auto).
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The new range of Volvo engines really delivers on fuel economy, with some exceptional performances across the range. The standouts are the D2, D3 and D4 diesels. The D2 manual averages a superb 78.5mpg on the combined cycle, emitting just 94g/km CO2: the D3 pushes consumption up only slightly, to 74.3mpg. Impressively, the D4 also matches this 74.3mpg economy, despite its 187bhp power output, meaning both D3 and D4 offer the same 99g/km of CO2.
Choosing an automatic diesel pushes consumption up a little, but it’s still impressive. Respectively, the D2, D3 and D4 average 74.3mpg, 70.6mpg and 67.3mpg with an automatic gearbox – that’s six-speed on the first two and newer eight-speed on the D4. It means all manual diesels come in at VED tax band A, and all diesels are in band B.
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Petrol engines are also very fuel efficient, given their torquey turbocharged punch. Both T2 and T3 average 51.4mpg on the combined cycle, emitting 127g/km CO2. Interestingly, automatic versions match this fuel economy and push CO2 up only slightly, to 129g/km (so still below the tax-friendly 130g/km mark). Remember, automatic T2 and T3 use a 1.5-litre engine, and manuals use a 2.0-litre.
The high-performance T5 is also fuel efficient, despite its impressive sprinting ability. The 241bhp machine averages 47.9mpg on the combined cycle, although CO2 does go up to 137g/km: this means a VED tax band E and a £130 first-year road tax charge, rather than the band A tax of all other V40s.
As for running costs, long service intervals and Volvo’s generally strong reliability should mean the V40 costs less to own than some of Volvo’s larger estates and SUVs. Driver Power owners’ experience is certainly encouraging: motorists vote the V40 the 15th best car for overall running costs, meaning there should be no nasty surprises in action.
Perhaps reflecting its semi-premium status, insurance groups for the V40 are a little higher than the mainstream norm. A base T2 ES comes in at group 17, whereas a similar-power Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost starts at group 10. There is also quite a step up between engine variants, reflecting their extra power: moving from a T2 SE to a T3 SE sees insurance groups leap from 18 to 23. The high-performance T5 starts at group 28.
It’s a similar story for the diesels: the D2 ES is group 17 and a D2 SE starts at group 22; a D3 SE is in group 27. Interestingly, the Cross Country models are an insurance group or so lower than regular V40s, perhaps reflecting the easier repair of their scuff-resistant panels and raised body height.
Retained values for the Volvo V40 are decent but varied. This means it’s important to thus pick your model carefully. The strongest performers are the diesel models, which generally retain more than 40% of their original list price. The D2 comes in at around 41-42% after three years and the D3 is slightly better, starting from around 43%.
There is, however, a pronounced uplift for the more appealing R-Design models: spec for spec, it’s around 4%, meaning it’s probably well worth choosing these models when buying new as used car depreciation will be less. After three years, the extra value of the car will be helpful, particularly if you’re buying on a PCP.
Petrol models retain rather less than their diesel equivalents. They generally hover around the 35-38% retained value range, again with an uplift for R-Design models that pushes these variants into the 40-41% retained value range. You should thus choose carefully: the initial list price saving on petrol over diesel may disappear after three years.
The diesel-dominated Cross Country range generally retains around 39-41%, meaning they’re a safe and secure performer in the used market.
Interior, design and technology
The V40 has a characteristically Volvo interior, with rich materials and classy metal trims on all models: upper-range variants have some stylish options for the neat ‘floating’ centre console and the steering wheel is large, chunky and nice to hold on all versions.
There are a lot of buttons though: the centre console is packed with them, and it’s a slight case of form over function as some buttons are tricky to find at a glance. There are yet more buttons on the steering wheel and even using the electric door mirror control involves pressing buttons.
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Volvo’s ignition keyfob is also compromised. It is mounted high up on the dash, out of harm’s way (so knees can’t hit it in a crash), but if you have house keys on your keyring, they rattle and jangle irritatingly on the dashboard. You also have to press a button after inserting the keyfob to start the car. Keyless Drive, a £550 option on all models, is an option we’d highly recommend.
There’s a lot of technology packed into the V40 – not least the active safety tech. City Safety autonomously helps you avoid accidents at city speeds and a speed limiter stops speeds creeping up. Choose ‘Nav’ models and you get Volvo Sensus Connect, which includes voice control, a larger 7-inch screen and connected web apps and internet browser.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The V40 uses Volvo’s previous-generation sat nav system, rather than the latest Tesla-style touchscreen setup on the new XC90. As such, it’s very fiddly and awkward to use, requiring multiple twists of a dial and presses of a conform button to set destinations. It’s old technology, and it shows.
The system itself works well, and mapping is clear from the high-res screen, although the display itself isn’t the largest: space is restricted because it’s integrated into the dashboard rather than standing proud from it. Even the larger 7-inch display on higher-spec Nav models with the Sensus Connect infotainment system seems a bit small.
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‘Nav’ versions of all trim lines are available, costing £800 more than standard. Choosing a Nav variant with Sensus Connect brings that larger colour display (7-inches is up from 5-inches), hard drive music storage, European mapping, TMC traffic message channel and lifetime annual map updates.
Volvo has a well-deserved reputation for excellent stereo quality and the V40 is no exception. Even the standard High Performance Sound system has excellent depth, definition and clarity, with yet greater quality coming as part of the optional Harman Kardon 130W ‘sound stage’ system.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The V40 does a good job of feeling like a larger, more expensive Volvo inside. Front seats are some of the best in this sector, their broad, supportive and plush design continuing Volvo’s reputation for excellent driver comfort. The Driver Power survey reflects this, with the V40 scoring an outstanding fourth place overall for seat comfort. Pity another Volvo tradition, heated seats, are reserved for the options list (as part of the Winter Pack, costing between £350-£500 dependent on trim).
Interior stowage is a mixed bag. There are lots of stowage cubbies, including the hidden one behind Volvo’s ‘floating’ centre console, but some are on the small side: door bins, for example, won’t easily hold a bottle of water. Luckily, the sliding box between the front seats contains a holster for two cups.
Although it is quite a large car on the outside, the Volvo V40 isn’t one of the roomiest models within. Clearly all the Volvo-specific safety engineering to reinforce the Ford-derived platform has eaten up a little of the room normally reserved for passengers (but, as we’ll see, there are benefits here…).
Front seats are mounted high, perhaps a little too high in models with electric seats, which can impact a little on headroom. The pedals feel a touch tight too, and the V40 isn’t as open plan as models such as the Volkswagen Golf.
With bulky door panels and sporty, raked A-pillars, the V40 doesn’t feel overly spacious but it does feel extremely safe and reassuring as a result.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The V40 is a little on the cramped side in the rear. Getting in and out can be a bit awkward, due to the size of the front seats which can get in the way of your feet. Once in, passengers will find comfortable seats but not an abundance of space.
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Headroom is particularly tight for taller occupants, and if those in the front are tall, they may have to slide their seats forward a bit to free up kneeroom in the back – not something you normally expect to do in a family five-door.
It is very nicely trimmed in the rear though, and children will find the well-padded, plush rear bench seat a very nice place to while away the hours. There’s an added bonus too – optional heated rear seats are available, a £200 option that will transform winter comfort for those in the back.
The boot of the Volvo V40 is a bit disappointing compared to other five-door family hatchbacks. Seats up, the diesel model offers just 335 litres, compared to the 380 litres of a Volkswagen Golf (curiously, the petrol is slightly smaller still, on 324 litres).
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Seats folded, the diesel expands to 1,032 litres, or 1,021 litres for the petrol. That’s with luggage loaded to the roof, too: in comparison, a Volkswagen Golf offers 1,270 litres of space with the seats down – a full 238 litres’ more space than the V40.
The stylish rear end means the boot opening is a bit on the narrow side, and the sill is a little high. The boot is very nicely trimmed though, with lashing points in the sides to help secure luggage, and the rear seats do fold fully flat for loading bulky objects. Just be careful when you close the tailgate – the rear screen is rather steeply raked.
Reliability and Safety
The Volvo V40 is an extremely safe car – indeed, in 2012, Euro NCAP awarded it the title of safest car out of all the models it had ever tested, with a staggering 98% rating for adult occupant protection and a clean-sheet 100% score for safety assist. Volvo’s reputation is built on safety and the V40 is one of the safest Volvos ever built.
Clever innovations include a bonnet airbag, a feature that’s standard across the range. It’s this that’s key to the V40’s superb 88% pedestrian protection score. The only relatively so-so score is the car’s 75% score for child occupant protection.
Reliability is proving to be impressive. Auto Express Driver Power respondents rate it highly, with the V40 scoring 16th overall – that’s despite build quality being rated a little lower, coming in 30th.
The V40 comes as standard with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, combined with a three-year unlimited mileage paintwork warranty. It also has an eight-year warranty against rust.
Part of the Volvo new car warranty is three years’ Volvo Assistance roadside breakdown cover – for both the UK and Europe. If you have your V40 serviced at a Volvo dealer, it is automatically extended after three years: if you don’t, 12 months’ cover costs £99.
Service intervals for the latest range of Volvo engines is annually or every 18,000 miles – this is a boost from the Ford engines which had shorter mileage service intervals. Volvo dealers are generally competitive on pricing, and sample quotes can be calculated via a tool on the firm’s website.