2013 VOLVO V40 REVIEW
What's Hot: Ultra-solid build quality, huge safety credentials, T5 engine rocks.
What's Not: Smallish boot, no steering feedback.
X-Factor: Plenty of equipment and plenty of performance; it's also just that little bit different.
Vehicle Style: small prestige hatch.
Price: $34,990 - $49,990
Models tested: V40 T4 Luxury, V40 T5 R-Design, V40 D4 Kinetic manual
Power/Torque: 132kW/300Nm (T4), 187kW/360Nm (T5), 130kW/400Nm (D4)
Fuel Economy listed l/100km: 7.6 (T4), 8.1 (T5), 4.9 (D4).
It’s been 17 years since Volvo Australia had a five-door hatchback in its range - now it's plugged the gap.
It had to. With the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and the imminent Mercedes-Benz A-Class all starting to crowd out the luxury small car segment, Volvo desperately needed a fresh new five-door to get a slice of that pie.
And it’s got to have broad appeal if it’s to cover the same ground as those three models. It needs to be sporty, it needs to be practical and it needs to be comfortable.
So then, does the V40 make the cut on all three counts?
Floating centre stack - check. Steering wheel festooned with big blocky buttons - check. Somewhat confusing infotainment interface - check. Yep, it’s a Volvo alright.
But it’s a Volvo like none other, for the V40 is absolutely jam-packed with all kinds of tech.
The most noticeable of all is the LCD instrument panel, which can cycle between three modes - normal, eco and sport - and either display a prominent analogue speedometer or a large centrally-mounted tachometer with an digital speed readout.
The animations are super-smooth, and in sport mode the V40’s digital speedo has a much faster refresh rate than most others. It’s the centrepiece of the V40’s interior, and rightly so - it just looks cool.
There are lots of other cutting-edge features, but not all are readily visible.
Like Volvo’s City Safety collision-avoidance system is standard across the range. It uses both radar and a camera to detect pedestrians, cars and solid objects in the vehicle's path, and can automatically stop the car and avoid a crash at speeds under 50km/h.
There’s also a pedestrian airbag system, which deploys along the bottom of the windscreen and up the A-pillars to cushion the head of anyone unlucky enough to step in front of a V40. Again, this is standard on all V40 models.
All V40 grades get dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, a powered driver’s seat, a USB audio input, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, rear parking sensors and LED daytime running lamps as standard.
Move up the range to the Luxury grade, and you gain bi-xenon headlamps, a powered passenger seat, leather upholstery, sat nav, a reversing camera and a high-end audio system with a seven-inch LCD display in the dash.
The range-topping T5 R-Design effectively has the same equipment as the Luxury, but gets a sportier aesthetic from its unique aero kit, black headliner, metal-faced pedals and leather sports seats.
The V40 has a very Scandinavian approach to its interior styling; the execution is clean, simple and uncluttered.
But it can be hard to fathom the big block of buttons in the centre console - the infotainment systems from Benz, Audi and BMW are far more intuitive.
Comfort is superb for front-seaters, with plenty of adjustability in the driving position and excellent headroom. The standard front seats give great support, while the more heavily-bolstered sports seats in the T5 R-Design are a cut above.
Although Volvo says the V40 can seat five people, it’s probably best to keep the centre rear seat empty.
The rear bench is quite narrow, and while the sculpting of the seat cushions gives the outboard passengers excellent support, the middle passenger comes off second-best.
Rear headroom is also limited by the V40’s low roofline, and it’s even more limited in models equipped with the optional panoramic glass roof.
Boot space just 335 litres, which is a little below par for a small hatchback. On the upside, the boot floor easily articulates into three positions to divide the load area into two, and there’s also a good number of bag hooks.
The rear seats also fold flush with the boot floor, to enable longer items to be carried.
ON THE ROAD
The V40 is available with a choice of four engines - two petrol, two diesel.
At the bottom of the range, which we didn't drive, is the D2 Kinetic, the only four-cylinder offered. It’s a simple unit, with a single camshaft, two valves per cylinder and a power output of 84kW.
Torque is a stout 270Nm though and fuel consumption is listed at just 4.2 l/100km on the combined cycle.
Diesel D4 Kinetic
We did hop behind the wheel of the diesel D4 Kinetic. Powered by a five-cylinder 2.0 litre turbodiesel, the D4 engine has 130kW and a stonking 400Nm at its disposal.
Our test car came with the standard six-speed manual trans, which has a light clutch and precise (but a little rubbery) shift action.
It produces peak torque from just 1750rpm, and is more than happy to be lugged around in high gears. Like most diesels of this size there’s a bit of turbo lag to contend with, but for highway driving the D4 is simply effortless.
The Kinetic trim grade feels a bit austere inside though, thanks to the undersized infotainment screen and cloth upholstery.
It’s a step above a MkVI Golf for execution and build quality, but it's dearer and doesn’t have quite the premium feel we expected.
Petrol T4 Luxury
We spent a little more time in the T4 Luxury, the model that Volvo expects will make up the bulk of V40 sales.
The Luxury has a more opulent feel to the interior than the Kinetic, a fact which was helped by the fitment of the panoramic glass sunroof to our car.
It’s smooth too. The 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol inline-five pulls cleanly from low down, and the standard six-speed auto (there’s no manual for petrol V40 models) has gearing that makes the most of the T4’s generous torque band.
The T4’s peak output of 132kW arrives at 5000rpm, and with 300Nm of torque available between 2700rpm and 4000rpm there’s little point in chasing the 6000rpm redline.
It’s a relaxed mechanical package with a very broad spread of grunt, so it’s bound to just as happy out on the open road as it is on congested city streets.
We’re really got one criticism of the driveline package - the throttle response is a tad too sharp. Put the gearbox in Sport mode and the throttle response is almost unbearably sensitive, and driving smoothly can be a bit of a challenge.
Curiously, this is one of those rare occasions where softer is indeed better.
It’s a similar story with the suspension. On the standard suspension and 17-inch alloys, the ride is firm. Not unbearably so, but slightly too brittle over sharp bumps.
By contrast, the D4 is almost too soft, with body roll that softens turn-in response.
Its cause isn’t helped by the electronic power steering, which - although direct and responsive - is so light and lacking in feedback that you feel oddly disconnected from what’s going on at the front of the car.
Petrol T5 R-Design
The EPS is not such a deal-breaker in the D2, D4 or T4, but in the T5 R-Design the steering is a liability.
Yes, the T5’s suspension achieves the right balance between firmness and compliance. Yes that 187kW/360Nm (400Nm with overboost) 2.5 litre inline five is a cracking motor.
But the lack of feedback through the steering wheel is not a good thing for a car that is in most other respects quite a worthy hot hatch.
The T5’s gearbox also works against it. It functions well enough in automatic mode, but it’s a little slow to respond in manual mode.
The absence of paddle shifters is an oversight too, and we think a dual-clutch trans would be a much better transmission for the V40’s sportiest variant.
One other complaint? The T5 needs to be louder. Its five-cylinder engine has one of the most distinctive exhaust notes around, and we’d like to hear more of it.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The Volvo V40 is a genuinely likeable car, but it’s got a fight on its hands.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class range has a more desirable badge and is priced almost identically to the Volvo - it's bound to dominate the segment.
There’s no shortage of competitors, but we hope the V40 sells well, because it deserves to. It’s good value (particularly the Luxury grades) and, thanks to the amount of safety gear crammed into it, is probably the safest option in its segment.
It’s also extremely well built. Not once did we hear a single creak or squeak during our drive, such is the V40’s solidness.
The T5 could use a better transmission (V40s with twin-clutch transmissions are available overseas, but not for the five-cylinder engines), however it would be very interesting to get one on the same road as a Mercedes-Benz A 250 Sport. We reckon the difference in performance would be mighty close.
Then there’s also Volvo’s offer of free servicing for the first three years or 60,000km. That’s bound to sweeten the deal for a lot of people.
In our opinion, Volvo Australia is on the money with their expectation that the T4 Luxury will be the volume-seller. It’s the most well-rounded product in the line-up, and at $45,990 is a great alternative to a Lexus CT 200h Luxury, Audi A3 1.8 TFSI and BMW 118i.
Whether or not it’s a better buy than the $40,900 Mercedes A 200 petrol remains to be seen - we’ll be testing that car for the first time next week.
Pricing (excluding on-road costs)
- D2 Kinetic $34,990 (manual only)
- D4 Kinetic $39,990 (man)
- D4 Kinetic $41,990 (auto)
- D4 Luxury $45,990 (auto only)
- T4 Kinetic $41,990 (auto only)
- T4 Luxury $45,990 (auto only)
- T5 R-Design $49,990 (auto only)