According to Volvo president and CEO Stefan Jacoby, the new V40 is “the car to make our competitors sit up and take notice”. The smart family five-door has a host of premium hatches in its sights, such as the VW Golf, Audi A3
and BMW 1 Series
, but it must also fend off premium wannabes from the likes of Ford, Vauxhall, Hyundai and Kia.
So how can it stand out in such a cramped, competitive market? Simple – by combining traditional Volvo strengths such as efficiency and class-leading safety with a dollop of style that gives Volvo the unlikely tag of style leader.
Video: Watch our video of the Volvo V40 at Geneva
In a conservative class, the V40 is one seriously good-looking car. It uses a clever blend of creases and curves that includes some smart sculpturing on the nose, smooth shoulders with a kink towards the rear (a nod to the old P1800) and a hexagonal tailgate similar to that on the C30 coupe.
Most of all, the low, wide bonnet – due to clever safety thinking – gives the car its sporty stance. It’s a fine swansong for Volvo’s British design chief Peter Horbury, who’s off to head up Chinese parent company Geely’s styling teams.
Volvo says the dimensions are pretty much on a par with those of the A3 and 1 Series, but because the car sits low, it looks longer and not unlike a shrunken (yet even more handsome) V60.
Inside, there’s enough space for a six-footer to sit behind a driver of the same height, although cars with the panoramic sunroof lose about 10mm of headroom. The boot is neat and square, yet not exactly huge, and the load lip is quite high. There are plenty of practical features, though – here and throughout the cabin.
The back seats sit higher than the fronts for a good forward view, and there’s decent shoulder room, too. But the pay-off for the sleek shape and sloping windscreen is that tall drivers may think the top of the screen is a bit close.
The high-quality dash features Volvo’s familiar floating centre console, a seven-inch infotainment display and smart new digital dials.
You can choose from three display themes: elegance, eco and performance, which places the rev counter in the middle and includes a Rolls-Royce-type power reserve indicator. These modes don’t change engine behaviour, but there are three electric power-steering settings.
Given Volvo’s propensity to use the word premium with the V40, the standard of dash, seat and door materials is superb, while nice design touches include an illuminated gearlever, eight cabin light colours and a cool frameless rear-view mirror. Premium tech is on offer, too, and the safety kit is set to lead the class.
The entry-level 113bhp diesel will offer road tax-free emissions of only 95g/km with 78mpg. Two further diesels and three petrols are available, all with stop-start and brake energy recuperation.
Yet it’s the chassis that Volvo is most boastful of – it may be based on the same platform as the C30, but Jacoby has been so bold as to claim “class-leading driving dynamics” for the V40. Given the existing line-up, that’s one giant leap for Volvo to take.
We’ll find out if it’s true in May, and you’ll be able to buy a V40 in July. But does all that premium talk include a premium price? Slightly, yes – expect the V40 to start from around £19,500.