What is it?
The Volvo V40 is a really compelling car. It’s got that classy but understated, distinctly Scandinavian feel to it that sets it apart from arguably more bland rivals like the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series. The problem is that it sometimes felt like the V40 put character ahead of the basic objective abilities that are critical in the ever-competitive family hatchback class. A criticism that the jacked-up but still front-wheel-drive Cross Country model, like our test car, was even more guilty of.
This update has got a limited chance of changing that, unfortunately. The key change for this facelift is the addition of new XC90-style LED headlights that are – impressively – standard across the whole V40 range. However, this is also the first time we’ve driven the super-efficient D2 engine; a detuned 118bhp version of the 2.0-litre diesel that is the backbone of Volvo’s entire stable, and which joined the V40 range last year but has seen emissions reduced with this update.
Company car drivers will rejoice in emissions of 89g/km in the standard V40, while the Cross Country manages 96g/km. The chassis, suspension and steering remain the same as before, as does the interior apart for some extra trim finishes.
What's it like?
The engine is a big improvement. Previously, the 1.6 diesel was prone to pretty old-school turbo lag, but gone is the great lethargy followed by a brief stampede of torque; the 2.0-litre delivers far from rapid performance but it arrives in a much more linear fashion. Sure, you have to let it stray into quite unseemly-sounding revs to get decent acceleration. But the 10.6sec 0-62mph time is still perfectly respectable up against similarly efficiency-led rivals, and if you’re happy to live at a middling pace then the V40 D2 is easy to punt about in the accessible mid-range without having to work the six-speed gearbox too often.
Less ideal is the ride and handling. Raised by 40mm over the standard car, that extra spring travel inevitably results in plenty of body roll - not always progressively executed - and you don’t get a particularly great ride comfort, either. The damping rarely lets things feel really sharp-edged, but the body bobs and dips about all the time, and bigger bumps send an ungainly shudder through the car if cornering forces are involved. Tyre noise – particularly a very intrusive slap over expansion joints – is the worst aspect of the adequate-at-best refinement in the V40 Cross Country.
Still, the steering is slick and weighty enough, and while the Cross Country understeers with gusto without much provocation, you always know how much grip you've got left to work with.
As we’ve said, it’s all much the same apart from that. The interior still looks lovely, benefits from excellent seats and feels easily good enough quality to give the best premium rivals something to worry about. It’s a shame that there’s no sign of a version of Volvo's Sensus touchscreen that graces the XC90, since the button-heavy infotainment system is a bit of a faff to use. You’ll also enjoy a more useful boot and roomier back seats in an Audi A3 or VW Golf, so for the tedious practicalities of family hatchback life, the V40 is far from the best on offer.
Should I buy one?
If you really like Volvo’s understated Scando-swagger, then the new engine and generous levels of equipment (better than you’ll find on an A3, for instance) mean that it’s more recommendable than ever. Company car drivers in particular might be tempted by the tax-busting CO2 figure, and it’s in this capacity that the V40 D2 makes most sense.
Whether you’re buying privately or as a business user, go for the workaday V40 D2 if you can, since this will drive better and be usefully cheaper than the pseudo off-road Cross Country variant. After all, other than superior clearance, you get no gains in off-road or towing ability, and the driving position is hardly SUV-like.
We’d still save a wedge of cash and just go for an equivalent VW Golf, given that the V40 doesn’t offer the most polished dynamic repertoire, nor the most practical cabin. Despite all that, it’s easy to see why you would.
Volvo V40 Cross Country D2
Location: Surrey; On sale: Now; Price £23,805; Engine 4 cyls, 1969cc, turbodiesel; Power 118bhp at 3750rpm; Torque 207lb ft at 1500-2250rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1434kg; Top speed 118mph; 0 62mph 10.6sec; Economy 76.4mpg; CO2 rating & BIK tax band 96g/km / 19%