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Volvo V40 hatchback (2012 – ) expert review

By Andy Goodwin, 29th May 2012

The verdict

The Volvo V40 is a stylish and well-equipped model which is relaxing to drive and proves a real contender to the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series.

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Expert rating:



  • Stylish, unpretentious design
  • Comfortable and relaxing drive
  • Latest safety and infotainment technology


  • The boot isn’t huge
  • Fiddly console buttons
  • It’s one of the heaviest cars in its class

Full Review

1. Exterior

The Volvo V40 has sweeping lines and the lowest nose in its class. Most new models’ bonnet height and shape have been dictated by pedestrian safety law in recent years, but Volvo is the world’s first car maker to fit a pedestrian airbag to get around the issue. The flanks of the V40 feature a rising shoulder line, which sweeps up and takes its design cue from the classic Volvo P1800. When viewed from behind it could only be a Volvo, thanks to a characteristic black hexagonal tailgate – most reminiscent of the C30. If the basic shape is too bland for you, R-Design trim gives the car a sporty makeover, while Cross Country models sit a little higher on raised suspension and have a slightly more rugged look.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

Volvo prides itself on excellent in ergonomics, placing all controls carefully around the driver to aid safety. Traditionally this also makes Volvos particularly relaxing places to sit, but there are far more small buttons here than in the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, which both feature a central control wheel to cycle through options. The V40’s new infotainment screen is well presented and the biggest departure is an optional instrument binnacle, which uses TFT screens in place of traditional gauges. This means the display can be customised, with three options – Eco, Elegance or Sport – presenting information and graphics best suited to these driving styles. This is a car aimed at the top end of the hatchback market, and its quality is just as good as the company’s larger and more expensive S60 and V60 models. The dashboard and doors are trimmed in soft-touch materials, and the seats deserve a mention for being the most comfortable in the business. An illuminated gear knob with a transparent cover is an interesting and useful feature.

Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

The rear seats are comfortably sculpted for two adult passengers, but there’s not as much headroom as in rivals like the Volkswagen Golf, while the middle seat is best left for shorter journeys. There’s a well thought out boot, with an optional folding false bottom which can be positioned in a variety of positions to hold your shopping more securely in place. The luggage area measures 351 litres, which is less than that in the Audi A3 (365 litres) and BMW 1 Series (355 litres).

Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

Volvo claims the V40 has the best combination of ride and handling found in any of its models, and has spent many a mile tuning the car in the UK specifically to our roads. It’s a worthy rival to the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. There are two suspension options called Dynamic and Sport, the latter featuring a 10mm drop in ride height and around a ten per cent increase in stiffness. We found Dynamic to be the better option, providing impressive levels of ride comfort in keeping with the V40’s soothing driving experience, but with plenty of body control and grip when pushed a little harder. The Sport car might remain flatter in corners, but the trade-off is a harder ride. It’s a similar story with R-Design models, which have larger alloy wheels, while the higher-riding Cross Country models roll a little more in corners, but are still well controlled.

Our rating: 3

5. Performance

There are three diesel engines, with 115, 150 and 177bhp badged D2, D3 and D4, with the 1.6-litre D2 taking almost two-thirds of sales. It’s a smooth and quiet engine, which can feel a little lethargic at low revs, but keeps up with traffic. There are also T3 and T4 1.6-litre turbo petrols with 150 and 180bhp. These are smooth and punchy, feeling larger than their diminuitive size. Topping the range is the cooking T5 2-litre petrol (shared with the Focus ST and coming with four-wheel drive in Cross Country models). It’s good for more than 150mph, but its high running costs mean few people will be tempted to buy it. D3, D4, T4 and T5 models are available with the choice of an automatic gearbox, while a six-speed ‘box is standard across the range

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

Volvo has built a highly efficient car, with low drag and economical engines. The D2 emits just 94 or 99g/km of CO2 (hugely appealing for company drivers) and averages 78.5 or 74.3mpg depending on which wheels and trim it’s equipped with. The 150bhp D3 emits 114g/km and manages 65.7mpg, while the equivalent petrol emits 125g/km and averages 52.3mpg. Our only criticism is that the V40 is one of the heaviest cars in its class, weighing between 1,350 and 1,500kg depending on specification, so it could have been even more economical if lighter materials were used in its construction. Early indications are good for a high retained value when the time comes to sell.

Our rating: 5

7. Reliability

Volvo has a good reputation for reliability and the V40 feels very well built. Only time will tell – as this is a brand new model – but the fact it also shares engines and some other parts with the Ford Focus means this is built using well tried and tested technology.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

According to Euro NCAP, who awarded the V40 the full five stars in its crash tests, the V40 is the highest-scoring car in its class. City Safety is a standard feature, able to recognise traffic in front of the car and perform an emergency stop if an imminent collision is detected. It has also been enhanced to work at speeds up to 31mph (previously 19mph). Should the car collide with a pedestrian at 19mph or above the pedestrian airbag inflates. The interior is also fitted with a full complement of airbags, including a newly designed driver’s side knee airbag. Optional equipment includes Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Information System, Lane Keeping Aid, Park Assist Pilot, Road Sign information, Active High Beam and a Cross Traffic Alert system, which allows safer reversing out of perpendicular parking spaces.

Our rating: 5

9. Equipment

Because the V40 is positioned at a premium level, it’s very well equipped even as standard, with the base ES trim including Bluetooth, High Performance Audio, five-inch colour screen, climate control, front and rear electric windows, leather steering wheel and gear lever, floor mats, trip computer, cooled glovebox and 16-inch alloy wheels. SE trim adds a new upholstery, cruise control, steering wheel controls, keyless start, folding door mirrors, chrome exterior trim and a rain sensor. SE Lux gains leather upholstery, LED daytime running lights, Active Bending Xenon headlights, ambient lighting a sliding front armrest and 17-inch alloy wheels. Cross Country and R-Design models also have their own specification, with their own equipment packages and unique styling.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

The Volvo V40 is the outsider compared with the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, but we like it for that. It’s stylish, safe and very relaxing to drive, with a reasonable dose of performance when you need it.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 4.0stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling3
  • Performance4
  • Running costs5
  • Reliability4
  • Safety5
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:

V40 D2 ES

Incredibly frugal and well-equipped


V40 D2 SE

Just as green, but a few more useful toys

Blow the budget:

V40 D4 SE Lux Nav

Powerful five-cylinder diesel and leather-clad comfort

Volvo claims the V40 has the best combination of ride and handling found in any of its models