June Neary is surprised by Volvo's premium compact hatch, the V40
Will It Suit Me?
I've never really seen myself as a Volvo owner. But then, I've never really seen a compact car from this brand that I'd really want to own. Until now. The latest version of the brand's V40 premium compact hatch aims to do battle with cars like Audi's A3 and BMW's 1 Series. And I thought it sat very snugly in my driveway..
With this Volvo, the idea is that, like IKEA furniture, the cabin should be typically Scandinavian, comfortable, simple, intuitive and visually pleasing. Even my kids thought it was. This facelifted V40 gets a smarter front end, courtesy of the addition of revised LED headlamps that feature the so-called 'Thor's Hammer' style that's already been seen in the brand's larger XC90, S90 and V90 series models. A smarter grille mesh completes the more confident look.
As for practicalities, well yes, the storage space on offer is certainly better by some rivals (the door bins are tiny for example), some of the stalks could feel a bit more substantial and the trademark 'floating' centre console has rather too many small buttons on it, but these details apart, the overall effect is far more successful than anything Volvo has managed to date, the eye drawn to slick (but unfortunately optional) detailing such as the frameless rear view mirror and the translucent gear selector.
One of the nicest touches that's worth shelling out a little extra for is the hi-tech TFT instrument display. With the flick of a switch, you can choose between three different dial layouts - an green back-lit 'eco' setting to help you drive more economically, a red back-lit 'performance' mode to better suit for spirited driving and the more usual amber back-lit 'elegance' setting for more comfort-orientated day-to-day motoring. I'd also want to tick the box for the lovely 'theatre lighting' which can be adjusted through seven mood themes, from red to blue.
You can get carried away with things like this and forget more crucial considerations. The seats for example. It's remarkable how little importance we attach to the things we'll be sitting on in our cars, given that we'll be spending many hundreds or thousands of hours in the things, and down the years Volvo has quietly earned a reputation for making the comfiest chairs in the business. This V40 continues that form line with what have to be the most supportive yet wonderfully pillowy seats in the family hatch sector.
Behind the Wheel
You don't usually buy a Volvo to corner on your door handles. Even so, I was expecting an assured performance at the wheel, given that this car has Ford Focus underpinnings. All the diesel units available are now from the brand's frugal 'Drive-E' family of engines, all 2.0-litre units. The D3 develops 150bhp, while the entry-level D2 manages 120bhp. I opted to try the 190bhp D4.
Drive-E technology also now extends into the petrol range. Manual gearbox T2, T3 and T4 variants use this technology allied with 2.0-litre power with manual models, generating either 122, 152 or 190bhp. Rather curiously, if you opt for either the T3 or T4 derivatives with an automatic gearbox, you get a completely different 1.5-litre engine, though it's still just as powerful and efficient. At the top of the range, the T5 variant gets the 2.0-litre Drive-E engine with 245bhp and an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Go for the 'Cross Country' model and there's the option of AWD traction for this variant too.
Value For Money
Most V40 models are sold in the £21,000 to £25,000 bracket, though it is possible to pay over £30,000 for one if you choose the top petrol T5. There's also the option of an SUV-like 'Cross Country' bodystyle for a premium of around £1,000. That's the same sort of bracket you'd be looking at for a rival BMW 1 Series or Audi A3. Were I an owner, I'd also want to take advantage of a very clever free mobile app developed for this car. This will help you locate your V40 in a crowded car park, remotely lock or unlock the doors, tell you if the alarm's been activated, update you on fuel level and range and even give you detailed data on every trip undertaken in the last forty days. This all comes courtesy of the advanced telematics that drive the Volvo 'On Call' system, operable where satellite navigate has been specified. Via this, you can call for help in a breakdown or accident situation: in fact, the system will contact the emergency services automatically if the airbags are triggered. It'll even help the police locate your car if it's stolen.
It's all part of a proactive approach to safety that really sets this car apart from its rivals, appropriate from a company that has, since its creation in 1927, prioritised safety, pioneering everything from the three-point seatbelt to side impact airbags. Today, the Gothenburg goal is that by the year 2020, no one anywhere should die or suffer serious injuries in a new Volvo car. Quite a target when you consider that at present, in China alone, around 600 people die on the roads every day.
Achievable? You start to believe in it when you begin to examine the rosta of safety kit developed for V40 customers. This includes the world's first pedestrian airbag, installed beneath the bonnet to spring out and protect an unfortunate victim's head. More common safety stuff includes dual-stage front airbags on both sides, side airbags, a knee 'bag for the driver, inflatable curtains, ISOFIX childseat fastenings, a Roll-Over Protection system, the WHIPS anti-whiplash system and, to hopefully make sure you'll never need all that, the DSTC Dynamic Stability and Traction Control system, the usual ABS braking assistance, Corner Traction Control, Engine Drag Control to stop the wheels from locking during engine braking on a slippery surface and even a Trailer Stability Assist system if you've fitted a towbar. The list then, goes on and on. Also fitted to all models is a 'City Safety' system, there to avoid low speed urban accidents, courtesy of a radar system that scans the road ahead, warns you if a collision is imminent and can even brake for you at speeds of up to 31mph.
Could I Live With One?
There's little doubt that the V40 is Volvo's most class-competitive model for years. My family were surprised by just how appealing it was - safe, fast, comfortable and good to drive. Like the compact German premium hatches it competes against, it's not cheap, but quality rarely is. If you've never considered a small Volvo before, then this might be the time to do it.