Volvo V40 Hatchback (2012 - ) review
The Volvo V40 is a premium hatchback that provides competition for cars like the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Mercedes A-Class and Volkswagen Golf
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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 the Volvo has 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 –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.
Volvo prides itself on excellent ergonomics, placing all controls carefully around the driver to aid safety. But, while everything is within easy reach, the ergonomics are anything but excellent. The centre console has way too many buttons, which all look the same and are too small to hit at a glance. The way the infotainment system works will also have you scratching your head, because the menus, and the controls you use to scroll through them, are really confusing. A small back window means your rear visibility could be better, too, but you’ll have no complaints about the driving position or the amount of adjustment provided to let you fine-tune it. And, the seats deserve a special mention for being some of the most comfortable and supportive in the business. Interior quality is really strong, with plush materials and solid assembly, which does no harm to this car’s aspirations of competing with the likes of Audi and BMW.
The rear seats are comfortably sculpted for two adult passengers, but there’s not as much headroom as in rivals like the Volkswagen Golf. What’s more, you won’t want to spend much time sitting in the middle-rear seat, because it’s narrow, rather hard, and you have to sit with your legs splayed either side of a wide transmission tunnel. The boot, too, is fractionally smaller than those of the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, but there are some really handy features on offer. We particularly like the optional folding false bottom, which can be positioned in a variety of positions to hold your shopping more securely in place.
Ride and handling
There are various suspension options with the V40. Most versions get the Dynamic setup, which gives you crisp body control in bends, but the numb, vague steering will limit the amount of fun you have. It is, however, light enough to make short work of low-speed manoeuvres. Unfortunately, it’s at low speeds where the V40 struggles to keep you comfortable, because the ride feels rather unsettled over broken up urban surfaces. Things do improve as you go faster, though, making the V40 a relaxed motorway car. The Sport suspension is optional on most versions and comes as standard on a couple of the R-Design variants, and it’s lower and stiffer than the standard setup. We’d avoid it. It makes the V40 even less comfortable in town, less relaxed at high speed, and the handling doesn’t benefit much as a result. By contrast, the Cross Country versions, which are a little more jacked-up than the rest, are the smoothest-riding V40s on offer.
There are three diesel engines, with 113, 148 and 187bhp, badged D2, D3 and D4, respectively. The 1.6-litre D2 is by far the best-seller thanks to its affordable price and super-impressive efficiency figures, and it’s a cracking choice. Sure, it can feel a little lethargic at low revs, but it’s gutsy enough when you get it into its sweet spot to keep life easy and relaxed. It’s also impressively smooth and quiet, which isn’t something you can say about the other diesels on offer, both of which are 2.0-litre units. Petrol buyers choose from three turbocharged 1.6s - the T2 has 118bhp, the T3 148bhp and the T4 177bhp – or a 2.0-litre turbo with 241bhp in the range-topping T5. We haven’t driven the T5, but the rest are smooth enough and fast enough, provided you give them plenty of revs.
The V40 is priced pretty aggressively when compared with its rivals from Audi and BMW, and it’s also an extremely efficient car. The D2, for instance, is capable of returning more than 83mpg, and CO2 emissions of just 88g/km make it super-affordable as a company car. The same is true of the D4, as it ducks just below the 100g/km mark. Beware of adding an automatic gearbox to your diesel (it’s available on all of them for an extra fee), though, because it puts a big dent in your economy. Obviously, the petrols aren’t as frugal as the diesels, but all-but-one of them achieve upwards of 50mpg.
The Warranty Direct Reliability Index doesn’t carry much data on this particular version of the V40, but it shares a lot of parts with the Ford Focus, which achieved a reasonably high score. Volvo doesn’t feature particularly highly in the manufacturer rankings of the same study, but at least the brand has achieved mid-table respectability.
The Volvo brand is synonymous with safety, but even by Volvo’s high standards, the V40 is something very special indeed. The City Safety system is a standard feature, and it’s able to recognise traffic in front of the car and perform an emergency stop if an imminent collision is detected. It also has that pedestrian airbag we talked about earlier, along with another seven to protect those inside the car if the worst happens. The options list contains even more safety-enhancing gadgetry, including a Blind Spot Information System, Lane Keeping Aid, Park Assist, Road Sign information, Active High Beam and a Cross Traffic Alert system. This last item allows safer reversing out of perpendicular parking spaces. It’s no surprise, then, that the V40 has earned the full five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, but it’s also one of the safest cars that the organisation has ever tested.
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 with DAB, climate control, front and rear electric windows, leather steering wheel and gear lever, trip computer, cooled glovebox and 16-inch alloy wheels. SE trim adds a new upholstery, cruise control, 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 and 17-inch alloy wheels. Cross Country and R-Design models also have their own specification, with their own equipment packages and unique styling, while each trim is also available in Nav form. No prizes for guessing what that adds.
The Volvo V40 is the outsider when compared with the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, but some people will like it all the more for that very reason. It’s stylish, relaxing to drive and very, very safe, and if you go for the D2 engine (which you should), it’ll be very cheap to run.