Volvo V40 review
by David Finlay (11 July 2012)
By introducing the all-new V40, Volvo has contrived to reduce the number of models in its line-up by one. "Arithmetically impossible!" you may cry, but in fact the V40 is the replacement for the existing S40 and V50. It's also Volvo's challenger to premium small family cars such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series, though Volvo sturdily presents the case (which you are welcome to check for yourself by comparing prices and equipment levels) that it might also attract customers from more mainstream models.
The V40 is, among other things, a festival of largely though not exclusively safety-related special features. The most interesting and important of these is the pedestrian airbag mounted under the bonnet, which is itself made of relatively soft metal and rises from the back in the gloomy event of a pedestrian landing on it when the car is travelling at between 12 and 31mph.
The airbag opens out into the space created when the bonnet comes up, and also covers the lower part of the windscreen and its pillars. It's part of Volvo's attempt to ensure that, in 2020, nobody will be killed or seriously injured in or by one of its cars, and it can only be applauded.
The City Safety system, which applies the brakes if a crash seems inevitable and the driver isn't doing anything to avoid it, is also standard. So too is a digital dashboard which can be set to any one of three modes - a sporty one (pictured), which is red and to me a bit shouty, an elegant one, which I don't think has much going for it, and an eco one, which I rather like and would choose over the others every time. The movements of the virtual needles on the virtual dials is impressively smooth, and I reckon in this respect Volvo has exceeded Jaguar, which fits a similar system to the XJ.
Other things common to all V40s are familiarly Volvo-ish styling, a fuel-saving start/stop system, generally decent ride quality (thanks to UK suspension development which successfully covered most bases but occasionally allows a little front-end choppiness on some road surfaces) and superb engine noise suppression.
Those are the good bits. Less welcome are too much road noise regardless of what tyres are fitted, a handbrake lever heavily biased towards left-hand drive, a narrow tailgate and high load sill which make access to the boot that little bit more difficult than it ought to be, very limited rear passenger space and quite dreadful visibility, especially at the back.
From launch, there are five engines in the range (a sixth, the very powerful T5 turbo petrol, will be along later), and of these the 115bhp 1.6-litre D2 diesel is expected to dominate, being fitted to an estimated 63% of all V40s sold in the UK.
On paper it's the obvious choice. At its best, in a car running on 205 section tyres, it has official combined fuel economy of no less than 78.5mpg, and CO2 emissions are a mere 94g/km, which means no Vehicle Excise Duty and no London congestion charge payments. D2 versions are also the cheaper than V40s fitted with any other engines, assuming identical levels of equipment.
In a straight line a V40 D2 isn't especially quick, but it has enough power to cover most eventualities with the exception of urgent overtaking. In fact, while sitting beside a colleague driving a D2 with some vim over a hill road in north Wales, it occurred to me that he probably wouldn't have gone much quicker if he'd had more power available to him.
In similar conditions I had a rather pleasant surprise. Volvo has been banging on for years about how almost every new model it creates is a wonder of sportiness, and in every case it has been complete balderdash. Ot at least it has been up until now. The V40's major controls are on the fluffy side, as is the way with Volvos, but its handling definitely isn't. I actually lived to see the day that Volvo built a car that was fun to drive.
Much the same applies to V40s with other engines. These include two more diesels - the 150bhp D3 and the 177bhp D4 - and the petrol-fuelled T3 and T4 which are really the same thing with software variations to make the former produce 150bhp and the latter 180bhp. They are also basically the same as the Ford EcoBoost unit, Ford having owned Volvo while the V40 was being developed though the car wasn't signed off for production until the company had been sold to the Chinese Geely concern.
There are three trim levels (with a complication we'll come to shortly) and in familiar Volvo style they're called ES, SE and SE Lux. ES models have nothing particularly special to them that hasn't already been mentioned, though the D2 version is worth noting because, at £19,745, it's the only V40 with a sub-£20,000 price tag. Unlike the other trim levels, this one doesn't have the full range of engines, missing out on the D4 diesel and T4 petrol.
SEs have fancier upholstery, graphite inlays, cruise control, keyless start, remote audio controls on the steering wheel, extra chrome trim on the bodywork and folding door mirrors with ground lighting, and they cost £1600 more than an equivalent ES.
SE Luxes cost £2000 more again, and for that you get leather upholstery, 17" alloy wheels rather than the 16s of the other models, LED daytime running lights and active cornering xenon lights.
That makes twelve models, priced from the £19,745 already mentioned for the D2 SE to £25,595 for the D4 SE Lux. But in fact the total figure is 24, since each engine/combination is also available in Nav form. These have an integrated satellite navigation system with voice control, a 7" colour display screen, a DVD player and full European mapping with two free annual map updates. Nav models cost £1200 more than non-Navs, and I make so bold as to suggest that that's not a bad price for what you get.