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First Drive

First published: 10th August 2016

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First Drive

2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design first drive review

Volvo is on a roll right now, but to ensure its most popular model can keep up, it has been given a mild refresh for 2016. We drive the quick, efficient D4 model in the UK

First published: 10th August 2016
Auto Trader Verdict:
Volvo has been so busy launching new models that there was a real danger the V40 would get left behind. This mid-life refresh does just about enough to keep it on the heels of the class-leaders. It's stylish, efficient and good to drive, but still lags behind the competition in a number of key areas, especially cabin space and that dated infotainment system. Fingers crossed both of those things are at the top of the jobs list for its 2018 replacement.
Need to know:
  • Tweaked V40 gets XC90-inspired LED lights, trims and grille
  • Powerful 187bhp diesel model emits just 99g/km of CO2
  • On sale now, priced from £24,605
What is it?
The most popular model that Volvo currently builds – a humble hatchback that has played a vital role in keeping the brand ticking along until it was ready to launch its new XC90 and S90.

Now that those big guns have finally arrived, Volvo has given the V40 a subtle update, bringing it into line with its classy new siblings, with most of the changes appearing on the outside.

That means a distinctive set of new LED headlights (standard across the board), an upright grille, new colours and alloy wheels to choose from, and – mercifully – a much-simplified range of trim levels.

So, the V40 line-up now starts with Momentum and goes up to Inscription, via the sportier and very popular R-Design version. That’s the model we’re testing here, with the punchiest 2.0-litre D4 diesel engine and a manual gearbox.
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
What's it like?
Scan your eyes over the performance and economy figures for this D4, and it seems like the recipe for a perfect company car. Promising well over 70mpg and CO2 emissions of just 99g/km, no other diesel hatchback with as much power comes close to matching it. So, is Volvo letting you have your cake and eat it?

Well, the trouble is, despite those world-beating figures, this D4 engine is not quite as satisfying or smooth as you want it to be. You’ll hear a lot of rattling when you start it up, and feel vibrations through the pedals when you drive it a little more 'eagerly'.

There’s a huge surge of power once the engine gets spinning above 2,000rpm, but it all arrives in a sudden rush, and then subsides. So, while it’s great for overtaking, there’s not much fun to be had working through the slightly stiff, notchy manual ‘box.

That’s a shame because, in other areas, the V40 is a nice thing to drive. It steers well, rides bumps and crests nicely (although the big wheels do the low-speed ride no favours) and, once you learn to keep the engine in its sweet spot, it makes effortless progress.
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
The visual changes definitely count in the V40’s favour, with those distinctive LED lights lifting the whole face of the car, and instantly making it look as modern as its key rivals from Audi and BMW.

In R-Design trim, with optional 18-inch wheels (£625), bespoke badges and lowered suspension, this is a really desirable thing, but once you’re inside you come back to earth with a large bump.

Classy touches like the frameless rear-view mirror, TFT digital dials (which you can change to suit your mood) and comfy seats are overshadowed by a centre console and infotainment system that feel desperately outdated, and counter-intuitive to use, despite feeling solidly built.

If you only plan on using your V40 to shuttle yourself to and from the work car park, then you’ll have no issues, but space in here is also at a real premium. Head- and legroom are both really tight for adult passengers; and, if you want to use it as family transport, the 335-litre boot, narrow load bay and cramped rear seats demand a lot of compromises.
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
2016 Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
Should I buy one?
The updates to the V40 have given it a new lease of life, but the D4 R-Design is probably not the right one to go for. It might be cleaner and cheaper to run than the similarly priced BMW 120d M Sport and Volkswagen Golf GTD, but both of these rivals have more flexible performance, loads more interior space, and a better balance of ride and handling, not to mention stronger residual values.

If this sounds like we're having a downer on the V40, that's not quite the case. It's still a legitimate and appealing alternative to the usual suspects in this class.

Still, we suspect it would be a better package with the cheaper, but equally efficient, D3 engine and on slightly smaller alloy wheels, which would soften the ride and better suit the relaxed character of the smallest Volvo.
Key facts:
  • Model: Volvo V40 D4 R-Design Nav Plus
  • Price: £27,545
  • Engine: 2.0-litre diesel, six-speed manual
  • Power/Torque: 187bhp, 295lb ft
  • 0-62mph: 7.4secs
  • Top speed: 143mph
  • Economy: 74.3mpg
  • CO2/BIK tax liability: 99g/km/19%
  • Boot space seats up/down: 335/1032 litres
Also consider:
Audi A3
Not as efficient as the V40, and fast diesel comes only with an automatic gearbox

BMW 1 Series
A better balance of ride and handling, as long as you choose the right specification

Infiniti Q30
Practical, and with lots of kit, but not as fun to drive as the V40

Interested in buying a Volvo V40?

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