The Volvo V40’s lineage can be traced back through the 1995 Mitsubishi-related car of the same name, via the DAF-built 440/460 of the late 1980s and the 340/360 cars of the late 1970s, and even as far as the PV51 of 1936 — Volvo’s first attempt at a more affordable but practical car.

Its maker’s world-beating reputation for safety is backed up by a number of innovations, such as the safety cage (1944), the three-point seatbelt (1959) and the side impact airbag (1994). But innovation doesn't automatically lead to a easy time for car makers.

After a concerning time, stability has returned at Volvo. The pain of several years without profit, of sales volumes up to 30 per cent down on the firm’s pre-financial-crisis height, have largely come to an end.

Production is climbing from 2007 levels, and with new owner Zhejiang Geely Holding Group committed to doubling the company’s sales by 2020, there looks to be a brighter future for Sweden’s one remaining global car brand than many dared hope for three years ago.

Having said that, the subject of this road test will need to pull its weight if the 800,000-unit sales target is to be reached. The new V40 isn’t just a replacement for the S40 and V50; it’s also a concerted effort to break into one of the most important segments of the whole European car market. If it succeeds, it will be the most important new Volvo in 20 years.

But that ‘if’ is a very large one. This is Gothenburg’s attempt to do ‘compact premium’ well enough to tempt Europe’s fleet drivers out their Audi A3s, Volkswagen Golfs and BMW 1-series. Mission statements don’t get much tougher.

Top 5 Premium hatches

  • BMW i3
    Two versions of the BMW i3 are on sale: a pure electric model or a range-extender variant

    BMW i3

    1
  • Audi A3 Sportback
    All Audi A3s feature multi-link rear suspension, denied to some other MQB-based VW Group cars

    Audi A3 Sportback

    2
  • The new Volvo V40 is the Swedish firm's sleek and sporty-looking answer to the VW Golf, A3 Sportback and BMW 1-series

    Volvo V40

    3
  • The BMW 1-series has sold more than two million units globally since it was launched in 2004

    BMW 1-series

    4
  • The Giulietta competes in the biggest segment in Europe - rivals include the VW Golf and Ford Focus

    Alfa Romeo Giulietta

    5

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