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Volvo V40 review (2012 onwards)
Summary - Volvo's first compact five-door in years looks good, is full of clever technology and levels with the class best as a driving machine
We like - Sleek, low-slung looks, high-quality cabin, great ride and handling, keen pace, clever displays and apps
We don't like - Modest rear seat space, over-lengthy seatbelt warning - plus snatchy, surge-prone progress in D4 diesel auto
A compact five-door hatchback seems an obvious model to have in a range, but Volvo hasn't had one since the 440 of two decades ago. Instead its cars have often sat uncomfortably between rival manufacturers' size categories, which confused buyers.
Now there's a new V40 model, which replaces the old S40 saloon, the V50 estate and the C30 three-door semi-coupé. 'V' as ever stands for versatile, in this case an attribute achieved with the five-door body which nevertheless looks low, sleek and stylish.
The waistline rises steeply as it heads rearwards, past a 'hook' in the shoulder line said to evoke the shape here of the P1800 coupé of the 1960s - made famous as the chosen car of The Saint, the character played by Roger Moore.
The narrowing side windows lead towards V-shaped tail lights and what looks like a deep rear window, although much of it is masked in gloss black. There is indeed a hint of coupé in the shape of this best-looking Volvo of recent times.
Under the skin lie components mainly derived from those of the current Ford Focus, as you'd expect given that this car's development began before Volvo was bought from Ford by ambitious Chinese carmaker Geely. Higher-end models retain Volvo's own five-cylinder engines, however.
Of these, a 2.0-litre turbodiesel is available from the start, in either 150bhp D3 or 177bhp D4 forms, with a 254bhp, 2.5-litre, T5 petrol turbo coming later in the year. Other engines are a high-economy (94g/km CO2), 1.6-litre D2 turbodiesel and a pair of 1.6-litre turbo petrol engines based on Ford's excellent Ecoboost units. The T3 has 150bhp, the T4 - majored on here - has 180bhp.
Volvo claims a 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds for the manual T4, but our test car came with a six-speed, double-clutch automatic. Curiously this lacked paddle-shifters even though the car had the sports suspension option.
We know from the Focus that this is a smooth, punchy engine able to pull hard across a very wide rev range, and nothing has changed for the V40. Overtaking is a breeze, often with little need for a downshift although manual gearchanging is ultra-quick and smooth with this gearbox.
The automatic mode works very well when in its normal setting, but Sport makes it unnecessarily hyperactive and too keen to hold on to the lower gears given this engine's muscular torque delivery.
We also tried two extremes of the diesel offering. The 1.6 D2 is smooth and adequately lively once past its considerable low-speed turbocharger lag, and its standard six-speed manual transmission has a crisp, easy gearchange.
The D4, although much quicker, is not nearly as pleasant to drive, at least when matched to the optional torque-converter automatic of the test car.
Its five-cylinder engine note is appealing but the accelerator response is far too abrupt, causing elastic surges as the old-fashioned gearbox tries to cope. Flowing smoothly on a twisting road is almost impossible, whether in Sport mode or not.
Ride and handling
Brilliant, actually. Some pundits reckon Ford's latest Focus doesn't have the class-leading handling attributes of the previous one, but the V40 shows what can be achieved with some detail honing.
The Volvo has thicker piston rods for its front struts, designed to make the front suspension behave more precisely, the electric power steering is recalibrated and there are new monotube dampers from Tenneco.
Just four engineers worked on the V40's ride and handling, which suggests a real 'focus' on the job and less chance of a committee-type outcome. The result of all this is a car with one of the best electric power steering systems we have tried, precise and transparent in its feel, properly proportional and predictable in its action.
Quiet and supple and controlled over dips
It feels natural and inspires great confidence, even though you can alter the steering's weight in three stages. Add to this plenty of grip and a balance which lets the V40 tighten its line just the right amount when you decelerate, and you have a very enjoyable drive.
A torque-vectoring system brakes the inside front wheel as necessary to prevent wheelspin when powering through a tight bend, and the stability system intevenes very subtly. Braking is firm and progressive.
All this is served up with an excellent ride, quiet and supple and very well controlled over dips and humps. The Sport suspension has slightly stiffer springs and dampers and a 10mm drop in ride height, but even on the larger wheels - diamond-turned 18-inchers are the largest offered - the ride stays comfortable.
You'll enjoy the four-cylinder V40s more on a twisty road, though, because you can feel the extra weight when the five-cylinder diesel engine is up front.
It's obviously a Volvo in here, with a 'floating' centre console containing the usual four bold knobs, but the tactile quality is virtually to Audi standards. There's much satin-aluminium-look trim detailing, the gear lever is transparent and indirectly lit by an LED, the glovebox is huge and rubber-lined, and the interior mirror has the frameless look of an iPhone.
The seats are very comfortable, although rear-seat space is not the greatest and only the backrests fold down. The boot has a two-level floor and an optional system of rails to keep cargo in place.
Background lighting in higher-spec V40s can alter hue from blue to red as the cabin temperature rises, or can be set to other colour combinations.
Tells you if your V40 is about to be stolen
The central display handles the usual sat-nav and multimedia functions, and can host an app which lets your phone communicate with the V40.
You can find your parked car on a map or by following an arrow pointing to it, you can lock or unlock it remotely, check the fuel level, mileage and more. And it will tell you if your V40 is about to be stolen. Clever stuff.
Above the base ES trim you get a TFT instrument display which has three 'themes': Elegance (that is, normal), Eco (with various economy-aiding displays) and Performance (in which the virtual speedometer becomes a red-shaded rev-counter with a digital speed display in the middle, and a power-use meter appears on the right).
It works well, but the fasten-seatbelt display stays on for too long after driving off and prevents you from reading the mileage displays.
The optional panoramic glass roof can have its shade set so that rear passengers can see the sky while front ones are shaded.
Economy and safety
The mpg and CO2 figures look impressive but we doubt that many owners will manage to replicate them on real roads, especially given the driving verve that the T4, in particular, encourages.
World's first pedestrian airbag as standard
As for safety, the V40 has the world's first pedestrian airbag as standard, rising from the base of the windscreen but allowing the driver still to see ahead through a cut-out.
City Safety is also standard, a system which automatically brakes the V40 if its sees an obstruction and thinks the driver has not. It works at up to 31mph, up from the 19mph of Volvo's earlier version.
Higher-speed Collision Warning and Pedestrian Detection are optional, along with automatic headlamp dipping, blind-spot monitoring and a lane-keeping assistant should you think these necessary.
The MSN Cars verdict
The V40 looks good, feels great to drive in most versions, is very pleasant to be in and offers lots of useful technology. In many ways it's the most capable and complete car Volvo has yet made, and its price positioning level with premium-branded rivals is justified.
It's tempting to suggest that as a driving machine it sits right at the top of the class, perhaps even shading Audi's surprisingly capable new A3. For a Volvo, that's praise indeed.
Need to know
Engine, petrol - 1.6-litre 4cyl turbocharged
Power - 180hp
Torque - 177lb ft
0-62mph - 7.7 secs
Top speed - 140mph
Mpg combined - 51.4mpg
CO2 - 129g/km
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