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Review

First Drive: Volvo V40 car review

07/06/12

THERE’S a new word being said a lot at Volvo and it’s, er, ‘new’. The last few years have seen the Swedish car maker leave the protective shelter of a less than proactive Ford and engage with a more progressive organisation on the other side of the world.

For some time now China has been a popular destination for Western car makers; to sell, set up shop and create joint ventures. It’s also a two-way street, with wealthy Chinese businesses eager to acquire Western firms and their valuable technology and knowledge in a bid to fast track their progress around the world.

It was the latter situation that found Volvo in the care of Geely, with all the paperwork completed back in 2010. And with access to more funds to fuel future development and a new domestic market to exploit, Volvo’s fortunes appear to be on the up after a few troublesome years under Ford’s wing.

A new owner and greater security is all well and good but the age-old key to survival is a steady stream of new product, and the first signs of progress come in the shape of Volvo’s V40. Yes it’s based on a Ford platform and is powered by some of the Blue Oval’s engines, but the suits at Volvo are keen to stress that the overall package is all their own work – from the funky styling to the car’s impressively low emissions numbers and cabin refinement to rival anything from Germany.

That’s right, Volvo is aiming its sights at the traditional European makers with its V40, which it would like you to think was a worthy alternative to the likes of BMW’s 1 Series and Audi’s A3. The Swedish firm is chasing the ‘compact premium’ carrot, and the V40’s refined cabin complete with high quality materials is the first sign of exactly how serious the Swedish firm is.

For all the car’s edgy exterior appearance, the V40’s interior will look familiar to fans of the brand. Volvo’s trademark ‘floating’ centre console has been retained along with switchgear and display ergonomics that would shame the competition. There’s even a customisable display on selected models, which can be user configured to show economy or performance-related information to help you get the most out of the car.

On the subject of performance, the V40 is being offered with a range of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, plus a choice of manual, conventional auto and direct shift DSG-style gearboxes. And it’s here that there’s evidence of a big shift in Volvo’s priorities. Yes, the car does come with a rather clever pedestrian airbag that pops out from the base of windscreen, but low CO2 and fuel consumption have become big talking points back at the mothership in Sweden.

The reality for consumers is that you can have a V40 with a sub-100g/km CO2 figure, making this compact premium hatchback a serious contender in the fiercely competitive company car market – low Benefit in Kind tax and overall running costs are key considerations. The bottom line here is that such a performance from the 114bhp D2 diesel variant should lead to more sales and the ability for Volvo to make steady inroads into the lucrative small luxury market.

And while that’s great for Volvo’s bean counters, it should also benefit car buyers. It’s plain to see from the V40’s cabin that you’re going to be on the receiving end of an upmarket experience – ride comfort, space for front seat occupants, equipment levels. That in D2 trim it boasts a decent turn of speed – 0-62mph in 11.7 seconds, 118mph max speed – ensures that you don’t feel compromised by the 94g/km CO2 and 78.5mpg eco-ratings.

In total there are three petrol and two diesel units, with the former offering increasing levels of performance while remaining composed and refined and the latter adding more thrust without the usual diesel rattle and shake. Interestingly, where fitted the regular auto gearbox delivers a smother performance than the sporty DSG ‘box, with the short-shifting manual a pleasant surprise.

Three trim levels complete the V40 package, with the base ES offering more than most rivals and the others serving to shine a bright light on the Scrooge-like behaviour of the opposition. And that’s, obviously, before you include the V40’s various safety systems, including an automated braking function that can help when driving distracted at city speeds, plus the numerous airbags and electronic stability control features.

With Volvo now free of its Ford shackles and safely in the arms of a more understanding parent company, the Swedish firm’s new V40 is an impressive start to the next chapter in the car maker’s history.

With the V40’s exterior mirroring the trend set by the S60 and V60, there’s a more cohesive look and feel to this new family of Volvos. Granted, the good work started with the larger 60-series cars before the change of ownership, but this new V40 is as much a symbol of future success as it is a tangible demonstration of Volvo’s true potential. And that’s got to be a good thing.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Volvo V40 D2 SE, from £21,345 on the road. Range from £19,745 to £26,680.

Engine: 1.6-litre diesel unit developing 114bhp.

Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.

Performance: Maximum speed 118mph, 0-62mph 11.7 seconds.

Economy: 78.5mpg.

CO2 Rating: 94g/km.

  • Enginesdiesel
  • Power3 (average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups3 (average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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