Drivers in the UK do like a supermini. Cars like the Ford Fiesta - a car that has been the best-selling car in the UK for the past six years – might dominate the market by sales volume but it is the medium-sized cars like the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf that dominate people’s perceptions of a marque.
So the V40, Volvo’s entry into the segment, is going to have to be very good indeed to even dent the sales volumes of the three stalwarts of the group and it will have to be very, very good indeed to cause even the slightest ripple among the BMW 1-series and Audi A3s that lead the charge at the premium end of the class, the very customers Volvo wants to snare with the V40.
Generic outside, lovely inside
The outside of the V40 is neat enough, in a modern, rather generic way. The profile is more coupe than hatchback (the ‘V’ in V40 stands for ‘versatile’) but otherwise there is nothing to scare buyers away but little to steer them towards the Swedish car either. The V40 is instantly identifiable as a Volvo, which is a rare and positive thing these days, but is otherwise disappointingly bland or completely classless, depending on your perspective. (You say ‘tomato’, I say, etc. …).
However, things take a turn for the better inside where Scandinavian minimalism dominates. This means that even the cheaper surfaces and textures are lost in an overall sea of loveliness. The quality is so high, and the thoughtfulness so evident, that no one will have any justifiable right to complain about the interior. Unless, that is, they’ve just stepped out of an Audi. If they have they’ll feel like they’ve exchanged Heinz beans for Branston’s; still good, but noticeably different.
A perfectly honed, ergonomic interface
The interface between driver and car is perfectly honed and every bit as ergonomic as you’d expect from a company with such a well-deserved reputation for safety. The seats are among the best in the business and if, like me, you suffer from the odd twinge of backache then a modern Volvo should be at the very top of your list; I spent six hours at the wheel with only a brief rest and was as fresh as the proverbial at the end.
In this class, it is the Ford Focus that is the benchmark for handling, so you’d expect the Volvo V40 to handle just as well, given that it shares its chassis architecture. It does and might even balance the ride/handling balance just a little bit better than the British car. The steering is light and accurate and it is rock-steady at motorway speeds, even in a gale. This, along with a very quiet cabin, makes the V40 a relaxing cruiser as well as a great companion for a quick cross-country run.
Pay attention to the engine
Keen drivers will want to pay close attention to which engine they choose. The D2 engine that I drove is the least powerful diesel in the range, developing just enough power that I didn’t ever feel that I was missing out, but too little for me to ever think that I had enough. Nor might it be as economical as you’d expect. I struggled to reach 50mpg, and Honest John reports that the Volvo V40 D2 engine range returns just 71-78% of the claimed consumption on average.
If it were my money I’d choose the D3 or D4 and take the small hit on consumption and road tax; if you pinned me down I’d have to confess that while I love the power of the 190bhp D4, I’d be very happy to settle for the 150bhp of the D3.
Highly desirable optional extras
The V40 is available with a huge array of passive and active safety equipment, although much of it is an optional extra on the Momentum Nav Plus that I drove. Intellisafe Pro, for example, gathers together automatic braking (including pedestrian and cyclist detection) alongside queue assist, lane keeping aid, automatic high beam, blind spot information system, and a traffic sign detection system for £1,900.
The winter pack, comprising heated front seats and windscreen plus a headlight cleaning system with rain-sensing wipers, costs £575, while Volvo On Call is £450. Select automatic transmission (£1,485), Driver Information Display (£300), a spare wheel and jack (£150), frameless rear-view mirror (£150), height-adjustable passenger seat (150), metallic paint (£550), flexible load boot floor (£100) and keyless entry (£550) and you can see that Volvo has adroitly implemented the Audi consumer model, deftly hiking a reasonable entry price into one much less reasonable by way of a host of highly desirable optional extras.
If you do tick all those boxes you’ll end up owning a very safe car, but one that will set you back around £30,000. Having said that, websites like carwow can negotiate savings of up to 15% on your behalf, which helps make the cost a little more palatable.
Power – 120bhp
Torque – 206 lb ft
0-62mph – 9.8 seconds
Top speed – 118mph
Kerb weight – 1,439kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 74.3mpg
CO2 emissions – 101g/km
VED class – Band B
Towing capacity (braked) – 1,500kgs
Towing capacity (unbraked) – 700kgs
Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles
Price – £22,855
Price as tested - £29,215
The SEAT Leon might lack the cachet of the Volvo, but it is the car of choice for the keen driver and is remarkably cheap too.
The best of the rest
The Volvo has a lot going for it, offering fun and security in a great looking package. It can get very expensive if you’re not careful, though.
The Vauxhall Astra might have a bit of a dull reputation but it’s utterly brilliant and is stuffed to the gunnels with high technology. It’s well worth taking a night test drive just to experience the headlights.