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Volvo tilts at the hatchback elite and aims to woo business drivers, but the Mercedes A-Class and rivals from Audi and BMW are firmly entrenched at the premium end of the segment

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.

Volvo's expected sales target for the V40 is 800,000 units

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. To keep pace with the swift changing premium end of the hatch market, Volvo facelifted the V40 in 2016. 

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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

Volvo V40 design & styling

Volvo has arrived at a five-door format for the V40 by trial and error. It previously thought the S40 four-door saloon was the answer. Later, it looked to the three-door-only Volvo C30. Now it seems to have adopted segment convention for a 4.4m family hatch, but only with the begrudging reluctance you’d expect of a company used to going its own way.

With an underbody made of hot-formed and boron alloy steel, the V40 is slightly larger than the Audi A3 Sportback and BMW 1 Series – although an overall height of less than 1.45m gives it a more sleek, sporting profile than, say, the Volkswagen Golf. The V40 range was expanded to include a more rugged model - the V40 Cross Country - similar to the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, Skoda Octavia Scout or the Infiniti QX30.

Like every other Volvo for decades, the V40 has a transversely mounted engine, providing more passenger space and better crash deformation than a longitudinal one. Four-cylinder turbo petrol and diesel units are offered, almost all with lightweight aluminium construction and all driving the front wheels only, except for the range-topping Cross Country model which comes with Volvo's all-wheel drive system

A model expected to play a sizeable role in the V40’s UK sales mix is the is a mid-range 148bhp D3 turbodiesel. The cleanest engine in the V40 line-up - the 118bhp 2.0-litre D2 oil-burner - as well as a 188bhp D4. Buyers can also choose between a 120bhp, 148bhp and 242bhp 2.0-litre petrols, and while those wanting an automatic T2 and T3 models get a 1.5-litre petrol engines providing the same output as its bigger capacity rangemate.  

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Suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and multi-links at the rear. A sports pack is optional, lowering the ride height by 10mm and increasing the spring and damper rates. Our car was so equipped. 

But it’s the V40’s active safety systems that really set it apart from the class. It’s the first car in the world with an underbonnet pedestrian airbag, and it comes with Volvo’s City Safety low-speed crash avoidance system as standard. Spend £1850 on the Driver Support Pack and you’ll also get a car with a full-speed collision warning and crash avoidance system, as well as pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, blindspot monitoring, road sign information and driver alertness monitoring systems. Seven airbags also feature.

The 2016 facelift, chiefly revolved around numerous optional additions including eight new alloy wheel designs and five colour choices, while the V40 gets a redesigned front grille and Volvo's 'Thor' shaped day-running lights which made its debut on the Volvo Volvo XC90.

Volvo V40 2012-2019 First drives