Volvo V40

Does the impressive Volvo V40 sacrifice too much practicality in the name of style?

We're still big fans of the Volvo V40. Its stylish lines stand out from the crowd, while the interior is very comfortable and has the design-led looks for which Volvo’s become famous. The 1.6-litre turbo T3 petrol engine is also a decent performer. Yet although the cabin looks good, the quality isn’t quite on par with the Audi’s, while the small boot is the price you pay for the car’s swooping lines.

When the V40 was launched last year, it proved an immediate contender for class honours. And one of its chief attractions is the way it looks – to our eyes it has the edge over the A3 Sportback for styling.

The shapely nose and steeply raked rear screen give it a coupe-like profile, while the distinctive kick up in the bodywork below the rear windows is a nod to the P1800 model from the sixties.

Inside, the design-led layout is also quite attractive. Volvo has used its distinctive floating centre console in a number of models, and it still looks smart. The four large dials located there for the stereo and climate controls take some getting used to, but the chunky number pad and heater buttons are neat.

The car in our pictures is an SE Nav – our SE test model gets a five-inch colour display, rather than the seven-inch screen here. Overall build quality isn’t quite up to Audi’s standards, but it’s still impressive.

Cabin space is good, and the front seats are very comfortable – leather is a £900 upgrade – although rear seat passengers may feel a bit hemmed in, due to the narrow back windows and dark interior trim. Things get even worse in the boot. With 335 litres on offer, the V40 trails the Sportback by 45 litres, while our car’s optional false floor further cuts into space.

Fire up the 1.6-litre turbo petrol T3 engine, and it hums away quietly. And when you’re on the move, it doesn’t get much louder, while a slick-shifting six-speed gearbox makes the most of the 148bhp on offer. Both cars posted similar performance figures, but the Volvo felt slightly less responsive than the Audi, thanks to longer gearing.

The V40 is based on a revised Ford Focus platform. As a result, it’s surprisingly agile, and while the body rolls more in corners than the Audi’s, there’s plenty of grip. The car in our pictures had larger 17-inch alloy wheels, but these don’t have much of an impact on the V40’s ride compared to the smaller 16-inch rims, as the A3 Sportback is more relaxed and stable over bumps.

Still, when you’re on the move, the Volvo’s interior is quieter and more relaxing. Thanks to its more powerful engine and heavier kerbweight, the V40 lagged behind the A3 Sportback for fuel economy, although a larger 62-litre fuel tank means drivers will be able to go further between fill-ups.

Annual road tax bills for the two cars are identical, at £100, and only the difference in price separates them for company car tax costs. That list price of £22,230 is £1,180 more than the Audi’s, but the V40 will be worth less in three years than its rival.

And while there are plenty of options to choose from, they do cost slightly more than the Audi’s, although Volvo does offer a number of packs that you can go for instead. But whether this weaker financial case counts against the V40 remains to be seen.

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