Audi has sold over three million examples of its A3 in the 17 years since it debuted. That’s a lot in anyone’s books, particularly considering its premium positioning and associated high price tag.
You might think it strange we open our Volvo V40 review with some Audi statistics, but that number shows the enormity of the task faced by manufacturers like Volvo.
Breaking into a market where most people automatically think “A3″ isn’t easy, however good your product. And after a week with a V40 D2 R-Design, we can confirm it’s a very, very good product.
There was a time when Volvos were less curvaceous than the houses they were parked outside, but no longer. The Swedish make has had plenty of hits over the past few decades, but few are as successful as the V40 – it’s attention-grabbing, sleek, classy and stylish.
That’s not all down to the striking R-Design body kit, nor the paintwork, called Rebel Blue but known universally as Polestar Blue for its use on Volvo’s hottest models. The swooping lines, chrome strips around the side windows and curvaceous glass tailgate might play a part though, while the V40’s signature LED daytime running lights cut a distinctive dash in the lower bumper.
It actually looks like a larger car than it is – more like the V60 estate – but in the metal it seems usefully compact and satisfyingly imposing.
If you’ve grown tired of the BMW 1-Series‘ uncomfortable styling, the Mercedes A Class‘s gargantuan grille and the Audi A3 Sportback‘s me-too identikit look, the Volvo V40 may just be the car that appeals instead.
Things are no worse in the cabin. It’s beautifully-styled, offers cutting-edge technology and is an absolute paragon of comfort and ergonomics.
Sorry to harp on about the A3, but you’ll often hear it described as the class champion when it comes to fit and finish and interior materials. Having driven both, we’re not so sure. Yes, the A3’s layout is striking for its minimalism and all switches and knobs operate like they’ll last for generations, but so do the Volvo’s.
What you don’t get in the Audi are the Volvo’s surprise and delight features – the subtle glow from the floating numbers in the gearknob, the “floating” centre console, or the LCD instrument display that does away with mechanical dials. The latter in particular looks fantastic and is never less than perfectly clear.
Comfort is exemplary and space for rear passengers matches that of most rivals. Visibility is good too, thanks to a driver’s seat set slightly higher than you might find elsewhere, meaning the downward-sloping roofline and tapering rear windows aren’t as much of a problem as you’d think.
The boot is also a decent size (335 litres) with storage cubbies underneath, and there are enough small cubbies dotted throughout the cabin to store the average person’s junk out of sight.
The interior isn’t without negatives, though they’re more minor niggles than deal-breakers. First, don’t attach large keyrings to the Volvo’s key – when placed in its slot in the dashboard, the large metal disc on ours rattled against the centre console (and as the only rattle in the well-built cabin, it was noticeable!). Also, the centre console itself is a little over-festooned with distracting buttons, and the handbrake is still positioned for left-hand drive. But that really is it.
No complaints here – the V40 does pretty much everything you’d ask of it. There’s even a little fun to be had pitching it into bends, with accurate steering and great body control.
Some of that is down to this car’s R-Design suspension, which does raise our main issue with this particular V40 – it wasn’t quite as adept as smothering bumps as we’d like. In fact, it verged on the jiggly on some surfaces, if not quite approaching the vertebrae-powdering ride of the A-Class AMG Sport we recently tested.
That’s a pity, as the V40’s handling repertoire would otherwise be quite broad. It’s a brilliant motorway cruiser with low levels of noise and a stable, solid feeling, but good around town too where the car seems to flow around roundabouts and protect you from the urban chaos.
In fact, it may sound clichd to say so, but the Volvo really does feel as safe as its top-rated EuroNCAP ratings suggest. The more things change, the more they stay the same…
Predictably, we got nowhere near to our V40 D2’s 78.5 mpg combined figure during our test, and sadly not as close as the Honda Civic i-DTEC from a few weeks back, with its similarly-sized 1.6-litre diesel engine. Our end-of-week figure was 54 mpg overall, which in fairness matches that of virtually every other car in its class in mixed driving.
A two-way, fifty-mile motorway run at a cruise-controlled 70 mph also returned a figure of 62 mpg, so the frugality is there if you’re prepared to work for it. The Volvo’s refinement at such speeds can’t be faulted, and that brings us along to the D2 engine’s best qualities – smoothness and silence.
It’s hugely better than the Volkswagen Group’s 1.6-litre diesel in this regard, whether idling, accelerating or at a cruise. It’s even better than the aforementioned Civic, which was among the quieter we’ve tried.
For a 115 bhp unit, with 199 lb-ft of torque between 1,750-2,500 rpm, it also feels quite punchy. You do have to be within that torque band to make the most of it – and it’s a narrow band to work with – but kept here it’ll pull all day in higher gears.
Value for money
Our Volvo V40 D2 R-Design Lux Nav – to give it its full and never-again repeated title – would set you back 29,195. If that sounds a little steep, the car on its own starts at 25,245 before loading it with the usual press car options.
On this car that included Park Assist Pilot (which we didn’t test owing to a proliferation of bay, rather than parallel spaces in our locale – but you can see the Fifth Gear TV show test it here), lane departure warning and driver alert, an electric driver’s seat, blind-spot warning (BLIS in Volvo speak), a winter park, keyless drive, the blue paint, a spare wheel, a flexible load floor… reams and reams of the stuff, whose descriptions you’d be better off reading on Volvo’s website as we have only limited space here…
The bottom line is that the four grand of extra kit isn’t essential to the V40 experience, but some of the safety systems are a nice reassurance and refrain from being too nannying.
Running costs are the real stars – just 94 g/km of CO2 meaning zero VED and just 13% BIK for business users. There’s the aforementioned 78.5 mpg fantasy land / mid-fifties to sixties mpg real-world economy, and a list price that matches similarly-equipped rivals.
The V40 D2 is very close indeed to greatness. Had it ridden a little better, offered a touch more performance and cost maybe a touch less than the Germans, it would get full marks here. The rest of the car really is that good, and it has us wondering why on earth there aren’t more of them on the roads.
And then we realised – it doesn’t have four rings on the bonnet. A shame, then, but those who do pick the V40 can rest easy in the knowledge their car is every bit as good as an A3, but you won’t see a dozen cars identical to yours on the way to work each morning. Particularly if you pick Rebel Blue…
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