From £25,315
The Volvo V40 represents a huge leap forward for the company, and comes close to offering everything that the more established rivals manage

What is it?

The most important model for Volvo in 20 years. So say those running the company, and we wouldn’t disagree. With the upheaval of a change of ownership, and years of models that are not quite good enough behind them, Volvo needs the V40 (which replaces both the V50 and S40 model lines) to compete with the established competition in every objective way rather than relying on Scandinavian chic to get it sales.

On paper things are looking good for the V40. It has the crucial low-emission-model in the fleet-friendly 94g/km D2 variant, and there is an array of more powerful four and five-cylinder diesel and petrol engines to satisfy those with a desire for something a bit more vigorous.

We’re testing the most powerful diesel model, the 175bhp five-pot D4 complete with the standard six-speed ‘box.

What's it like?

Something of a revelation for Volvo. It may be a Ford Focus underneath but you’d not know it from the sleek, stand-out looks and the plush-feeling interior in our SE Nav test car. You immediately feel cocooned and supported by the impressively squidgy, comfortable seats, even if you will just as quickly be perplexed by the fairly complex if beautifully clear digital readouts behind the wheel. You have the option of three ‘themes’ — performance, elegance, and eco — and there are also three different steering settings as standard, each accessed via another branch of the sub-menu, all controlled via the indicator stalk.

In practice, the variable steering doesn’t make a huge amount of difference but regardless of that the dynamics are one of the biggest steps forward with this car. Mind you, the steering is not the stand-out element. It’s a little numb and has an odd rubbery resistance around the dead-ahead that only serves to emphasise the artificial feel. But it responds well and weights up nicely, and most importantly it allows you to make the most of the neutral, grippy dynamics. It’s easy to place the nose precisely and the V40 is impressively resistant to both understeer and torque-steer, making this a gratifyingly smooth and rapid steer even on the most challenging of B-roads.

However, there are some niggles, in particular with the D4. Our test car rode on standard 17-inch wheels and it did fidget over some of the typically British, undulating Tarmac, even if it remained free enough of substantial thumping and jarring. That said, we doubt that anybody will be particularly put-out by the occasional dive and shimmy at higher speeds. 

The motor itself is also a little frustrating if you want to use it to make progress along more challenging roads. It’s perfect for cruising, when the V40 also makes for refined and soothing transport. But this motor suffers from a very boosty power delivery and offers little of the finesse and elasticity of the best diesels found in the class. Peak torque of 325lb ft arrives in a great stampede between 1750 and 2750rpm and then runs out of energy fairly soon. More frustrating is that the ratios too often leave you needing a down-change in order to exit the basement of unresponsiveness at the bottom end of the rev range and get you back into the turbo zone.

Back to top

Taking all this into account, plus the low emissions and very competitive spec that includes Bluetooth and some elements of the company’s new safety tech as standard even in base models, the Volvo V40 is a clearly a comprehensive package. But, sadly, it is not a class-leading one.

The lower-powered D3 goes a long way to solving the uneven power delivery that blights the D4 somewhat, and is our preferred model in the range, but regardless, the powertrains in the V40 don’t match up to those in the Audi A3 and BMW 1-series. Equally, the user interface is not as intuitive, and the boot suffers from a high load lip and is a slightly awkward shape.

Should I buy one?

Having clarified that there are objective shortfalls in the V40’s arsenal, we would still vouch for it wholeheartedly. This new model represents a huge leap forward for the company, and is a very promising one given that it is the first model to be launched under Chinese ownership. It is close to offering everything that the more established rivals manage in terms of dynamics, efficiency figures and purchase and residual values. Crucially, Volvo has managed to intensify further that ethereal and unique character and sense of occasion that has set it apart over the years. It remains one of its strongest assets.

Unfortunately, the Volvo V40 remains a car that you will buy because you want to be different rather than because it is the best of its kind. But with this new model that decision brings with it only marginal compromises that are wholly acceptable in the name of having a car that, subjectively, has such huge appeal.

Volvo V40 D4 SE Nav

Price: £24,795; Top speed: 137mph; 0-60mph: 8.2sec; Economy: 65.7mpg (combined); CO2: 114g/km; Kerb weight: 1484kg; Engine type: 1984cc, 5 cyl in-line, turbodiesel; Power: 175bhp at 3500rpm; Torque: 325lb ft at 1750-2750rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual

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bratchew 23 April 2013

Needs a little more

I had the pleasure of test driving one of these for 4 days, I currently drive an A3 as a company car, when the Volvo turned up I was quite impressed by the style- on driving I found the car to be more powerful than my A3 and more responsive - so does this mean that I would take one as my next company car??? I doubt it, the main reason being I can only get the ES version and this does not give enough spec for the money Volvo should have stuck to two versions SE & SElux. The SE wouild have possibly made me buy one, unfortunately my grade and the discounts Volvo gave do not let us have the SE model. I still think Volvo could have made this car better. The boot is tiny and has loads of wasted space - the ambient lighting is a joke, I expected an array of leds that filled the car with the colour of my choice, however what I got was one led above the centre console that you just about notice if you hold your hand below it. The menu systems are complicated and you have to use different dials either from the centre console or from the steering wheel to navigate the system, the number keypad is pointless. Storage space is limited and to top it all off rather than go for a electromechanical handbrake like most new models they have gone for a manual one, this in itself would not be so bad if it was on the right side of the car (only responsible adults in the passenger seat as naughty kids may accidently pull it up). The dashboard and door panels are plasticky and look like they have come from a ford, not from an entry level high end car. Come on Volvo you can do so much better than this - what is a lovely car to look at is let down by such minor detail.

I am not biased towards any brand and if VOLVO had improved on these then I think I would have found my perfect company car, instead it looks like I will have to have another A3.

Citytiger 17 August 2012

The Problem

I think the problem is that some people (road testers included), see the name Volvo, and think of a tank with the design of a housebrick, much loved by antique dealers and old men in cloth caps, with poor handling and rubbish engines and the repitation of being dull but safe.

The problem is Volvo have fro the most part completly shed this image, they have a range of very well built, reliable, stylish vehicles, the biggest and best range in its history, and for the most part just as good or better than the opposition, however with the down market push of so called premier brands into family and business sales, companies such as Volvo have struggled, not through inferior equipment, but from badge snobbery.

If the 1 series had a Kia badge on it they would never sell a single one, and the fact is the equivalent Kia is probably a better car for the target audience than the 1 series. 

Historically small saloons have failed in the UK, slap a BWM or Audi badge on one and you cant build them quick enough, I predict in the next 2-3 years, the bubble will burst and the residuals will fall through the floor because the market is flooded with ex fleet cars, history repeating itself, just like the demise of Ford and Vauxhall before them.

Go shopping for a used 3 series, if you dont like the one on show, go 100 yards down the road to the next one, and so one, the used market is picky, and if they dont have the correct spec they wont sell, there are too many to choose from its easier to shop around for the one you want.

Volvophile 27 July 2012

So, I'm awaiting Vicky

So, I'm awaiting Vicky Parrott to come forward and admit this review as utter nonsense.  I think many of us have identified her criticisms as total waffle so far and completely unjustified.

So come on, Vicky, prove to us that you're not fed by the German Audi/BMW/Merc PR machine and show you're actually an original, forward thinking car reviewer.  Nearly every other magazine have found this car hard to fault (including certain journalists from this publication) so there is no getting away from this one.  You cannot use the whole 'lacks dynamic finesse' cliche, as this Volvo actually outhandles the competition this time.  You only have to see the great lengths they have gone to such as adding costly Tenneco dampers to the already decent Focus platform.