One would think that building a hatchback on the carcass of Ford’s perennially well honed Focus should practically guarantee a degree of dynamic finesse. But the last time Volvo’s engineers were left to tinker with a Ford hatchback platform (one they helped to develop), it turned into the decidedly lumpy C30.

This time around, it’s clear within half a mile that Gothenburg’s chassis tuners have fettled a far finer product. 

Nic Cackett

Nic Cackett

Road tester
Figuring out how to switch off the V40's ESP takes time

The V40’s electric power steering (shared with Ford, but retuned) moves through a slippery, wrinkle-free arc with persuasive ease. Opt for the variable system and there are three settings from which to choose, although none makes the car’s rack particularly communicative. 

Nevertheless, the weight and speed are precisely where you’d expect them to be, and that’s generally enough for a five-door family hatch. Through a familiar, synthesised haze, it also has just enough directness to provide a modicum of agility when covering ground quickly.

The V40 has been set up too sympathetically to make this seem wilfully sporty, but there’s sufficient enthusiasm on turn-in and adequate grip through medium-fast bends to make the Volvo feel obliging where previous models would merely have tolerated attempts to push on.

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If that all sounds faintly reminiscent of Ford’s default state of tune, then that’s high praise for a firm that usually favours a stately and pragmatic attitude to handling. The ride comfort, graced with Volvo’s own spring and damper settings, is on the same page, too, but our test car suffered from the addition of the sports pack, which includes 17-inch wheels and a 10mm lower ride height.

Consequently, there’s a ponderousness in the way the D3 ebbs and flows. Although quietness, refinement and a competitive sense of comfort are all readily apparent, the hatchback’s wheels have a tendency to react to undulations with a heavy-handed studiousness, as if continuous contact with the ground were of greater consequence than the pliable harmony that defines the best in class.

Hopefully, this problem can be rectified by 16-inch rims, as standard on Momentum models. Our first impression of a lower-powered, smaller-wheeled D2 on non-UK roads was that it drove fractionally better than the equivalent Focus.

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