Premium C-segment cars are in demand; in 2011 more than 320,000 Focus/Golf/Astra-sized cars were sold in the UK and over 10 percent of them were Audi A3s and BMW 1 Series, the cars the Volvo V40 has it sights set firmly on.
The obstacle that Volvo faces isnt branding or reputation, both of which it has in spades. No, the problem is that the new V40 shares a platform with the Ford Focus, which might offer class-leading dynamics but doesnt offer anything like the premium feel of its German competitors.
If Volvo is to steal affluent customers the key question is whether it has added enough Scandinavian flair to attract the 12,500 buyers they hope will drive V40s next year; this is, it admits, its most important launch in 20 years.
The V40 is a handsome car with a roofline that echoes that of a coupe and disguises the humble but practical – hatchback body. The headlights are confident and bold, as is a back end that contains more than a hint of Volvo coupes of yesteryear.
Volvo calls it a V model, a designation previously reserved for its estate cars, because it is versatile, a claim that is backed up by the huge boot that contains a hidden false floor giving an element of secure storage and boosting its capacity. Folding rear seats complete the V40s ability to mimic a small estate.
The whole interior reeks of style and is completely classless (in demographic appeal, rather than lacking quality), which is exactly where Volvo was presumably pitching it. A job well done then.
The interior is a very pleasant surprise. The vertical dash face contains bold, clear switches and instruments and a huge, perfectly formed leather-clad steering wheel. A smattering of Volvo-influences help too, and the overall effect is a fuss-free ambience that is very attractive.
The seats are, of course, very supportive and comfortable and offer a wide range of adjustment; although drivers of the ES trim level cars will have to move them about manually.
Three trim levels are offered: ES, SE and the top-of-the-range SE Lux. The base model gets climate control, Bluetooth, leather-trimmed steering wheel, gear lever, and handbrake, and 16-inch alloys.
Step up to the SE and the car gains better upholstery, a height-adjustable passenger seat, different trims and inlays, cruise control, rain sensors, power mirrors, puddle lights, and keyless start.
Buyers splashing out on the SE Lux will enjoy 17-inch alloy wheels, leather, bending lights, and reading lights in the back along with a light in the boot so their Labrador can do the same.
The V40 is, of course, stuffed to the gunnels with passive and active safety equipment including automatic braking, pedestrian detection, parking assist, active cruise control and, for the first time in this segment, a pedestrian airbag under the bonnet; cars of thus size simply don’t come any safer.
Youd expect the Volvo to drive well wouldnt you, given its Focus-based chassis? Well, youd be right, but what you might not anticipate is that it actually handles better thanks to sublime damping, the like of which I havent experienced since an intoxicating blast in a Citroen DS3 Racing last year. It rides remarkably well, dismissing bumps – big and little with complete disdain while providing a gloriously sporting chassis when you want to press on.
The rest of the V40 is up to the same high standard offering sensitive, light steering, and powerful, progressive brakes. The only fly in the ointment is a manual gearbox in which the change from fifth to fourth gear can be a bit obstructive and vague at times but otherwise the driving experience is very good. Volvo was brave enough to supply a number of BMW 1 Series cars to drive to enable back-to-back comparisons and the V40 was by no means overshadowed.
Three diesel engines are on offer: the smallest is the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder D2 developing 115bhp and between 94 and 99g/km of CO2 emissions depending on tyre size. Its a lively engine but does seem rather breathless at times, especially if you’re in a hurry. Volvo predicts that 63 percent of owners will buy this model and business users will appreciate its 13 percent Benefit in Kind rating.
The D3 and D4 engines are five-cylinder, 2.0-litre engines developing 150 and 177bhp respectively. Both emit 124g/km in manual form and 139g/km in auto guise and feel much more powerful than the D2. I recommend either one for drivers who prize performance and are willing to sacrifice some fuel economy to get it.
Three petrol engines are offered too: the T3 and T4 are four-cylinder, 1.6-litre engines that develop 150 and 180bhp respectively, while the largest and most powerful engine will be the T5, a 2.5-litre, five-pot with 254bhp. CO2 emissions will depend on power and gearbox and range from 139g/km in the T3 manual through to 196g/km in the auto T5.
Having driven the range I recommend the D3, which combines meaty torque delivery with very good fuel consumption. The petrol engines are excellent but dont suit the nature of the car as well as the oil-burners. (We couldnt drive the T5, as its not available in the UK until later in the years.)
Value for Money
The range starts at just under 20,000, which is astonishing value for money and is a price that undercuts most of its competition (not just the premium brands) when you adjust for specification.
All the major trade guides predict that residual values will be up there with the best of them too.
Many cars claim to change the game, but few actually do. The Volvo V40 is an honourable exception and provides a great deal of car for not a lot of money. It looks good, feels every inch a premium car, holds its value well, and offers a sublime driving experience.
Competitors include the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 but for now the V40 is the car Id buy if I were in the market. Seriously, its that good.
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