Volvo’s smallest offering comes under Thor’s hammer and emerges all the better for it…
When we tested the V40 D3 Geartronic Elite back in our December 2012 issue, it gave a strong impression that Volvo had turned a particularly big corner and was on the verge of something special. Fast-forward four years or so, and the once-frumpy Swedish carmaker has shrugged off a mantle of conservatism and completely re-invented itself.
Cars such as the XC90 and S90 are snapping up design awards and backing up their newfound style with a good degree of substance, staring down the established players in a premium segment that was previously off limits to Volvo’s solid but otherwise uninspired product line-up.
Now it’s the V40’s turn to catch up with the considerable strides taken by its halo-placed peers, and while the changes aren’t sweeping, they’ve effectively honed its already admirable traits. The V40’s design cuts a dashing figure and has aged well, so it comes as little surprise to see that Volvo’s exterior updates have been minimal (but impactful). Our test unit’s headlamps, featuring the striking new Thor’s Hammer eyewear, frame a revised grille and is set against a new Amazon Green background hue that divided opinion between it being striking and almost base coat-like.
However, if that particular colour scheme is deemed challenging, the cabin’s optional tweed-like City Weave cloth contrasted with beige material is one of the most engaging combinations we’ve seen in some time. It’s typical of Volvo’s approach to its cabins that sees you perched on wonderfully moulded front seats in a simple, elegant cockpit hewn from quality materials, and then sewing in the odd surprise-and-delight feature (think frameless rear-view mirror and crisp digital instrument array) to create an environment that lifts itself from those of its comparatively humdrum rivals.
There are some black marks against the V40’s innards, though. While the facia hangdown still takes a novel cascade form, this sliver of dash is marred by a hotchpotch of small, hard-to-decipher ancillary controls. There’s also the impression that the V40 could’ve been more cleverly packaged, as both rear legroom and boot/utility space is some way off that of the A3 Sportback.
With its steering-rack gearing and body control camped in the leisurely end of the dynamics spectrum, the V40 may not have the widest breadth of dynamic talents, but it’s still a satisfyingly effortless car to pilot. Although Volvo hasn’t fiddled with the V40’s Ford Global C platform-based underpinnings, the ride feels a touch more composed than before, only wriggling slightly on swiftly negotiated corrugations that the likes of the A3 and Golf take with more resolve.
Under the bonnet, it’s a case of business as usual, but now under new management. A few years ago, the earlier model’s aged five-cylinder turbodiesel made way for a new four-cylinder Drive-E unit that’s identical in terms of power, but 30 N.m down on torque. Even so, our acceleration figures were almost identical to those of the previously tested five-pot.
It’s a great engine; there’s an ever-so-slight bit of lag that soon paves the way for smooth linear progress while synchronising seamlessly with the six-speed auto transmission. Mechanical refinement is vastly improved, with the four-cylinder bereft of the five’s drub. Fuel consumption is a similarly marked change, with the new unit’s 5,2 L/100 km on our fuel run besting the previous car’s 6,3.
This car’s Momentum designation is the second of four specification tiers and it brims with such niceties as cruise control, leather upholstery, electric windows and mirrors, auto lights and wipers, a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, powered driver’s seat, rear park assist and 16-inch alloy wheels. The V40 bristles with standard safety tech, including autonomous braking, a full battery of airbags and an EBA-equipped braking system that averaged an excellent 2,81-second 0-100 km/h deceleration time in our tests.
Advanced safety features, such as the wonderfully progressive adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor and lane-departure warning, form part of a R32 500 package, though. While specification and customisation options are diverse and nowhere near as costly as the Germans’, it’s still worth doing the sums in relation to the three option packages on offer. They look pricey, but their content is well balanced and works out better value overall.