WITH the departure of the firm’s stylish but decidedly niche C30 just over a year away, Volvo has placed a great burden of expectation upon the shoulders of the new Volvo V40 D3. In a year or so, it will eventually form the crucial entry point into the Volvo brand and the backbone of a plan to move 800 000 units globally by 2020. From the outset, the V40 constitutes a brave tilt at the cut-throat premium C-segment hatch territory. It’s distinctive and can be loaded with innovative big-car and safety features, but does it have what it takes to lure brand-conscious buyers away from the largely German segment staples?
Even if it were shorn of our unit’s exterior styling-kit addenda (roof spoiler, rear diffuser with double tailpipes and aerodynamic inserts for the optional 18-inch alloy wheels), the Volvo V40 D3 would still be something of a head-turner. While Volvo has made an effort to give it a modern air, it’s also captured some nostalgic cues from the P1800ES such as the hexagonal tailgate graphic that mimics the 1972 Shooting Brake’s glass tail and swage line that sweeps from D-pillar to headlamp. Such features, stretched as they are over the long, low-roofed canvas of the V40, give it a more graceful yet masculine item than the quirky C30.
One of the areas that conspired against the C30 was a lack of practicality. To a large degree, the V40 has addressed this issue with a five-door layout incorporating good rear legroom and a boot that, while neither standard-setting nor miserly, serves up enough space to be deemed palpably more practical.
The cabin shares the exterior’s sense of occasion thanks to a crisp, configurable digital display in the binnacle, adjustable ambient lighting and an illuminated gearknob. The rest of the facia will receive a nod of familiarity from Volvo users, featuring as it does the signature cascade centre console and plentiful soft-touch surfaces that contribute to an impression of good perceived quality. Minor criticisms are slightly pinched rear headroom for taller passengers and a cluttered ancillary-control array.
A five-cylinder, 2,0-litre turbodiesel develops a reasonable 110 kW and, despite a tiny bit of turbo lag when initially prodding the throttle, provides good drive thanks to its 350 N.m of twist coming in at 1 500 r/min. The six-speed automatic to which it’s mated is smooth in its operation and doesn’t get flummoxed by sudden changes in driving demeanour. Refinement is commendable, with the cabin and controls well isolated from diesel throb, while gunning the throttle brings with it a satisfying, offbeat five-cylinder snarl.
Although Volvo has touted the V40 as a dynamic drive, it’s better suited to a smoother, more measured approach. Here it excels at effortlessly sweeping you past slower traffic or negotiating town driving in a fuss-free fashion. That’s not to say it’s a dullard when pressing on; its low-slung stance and wide track resist excessive pitching under spirited cornering and the steering, although not overly communicative, has sufficient weight and precision to help the car not feel completely out of its depth dynamically.
The lumpen ride that has afflicted many Volvos in the past appears to have been resolved in the V40. The MacPherson strut front/multilink rear setup is well damped and suits the car’s smooth demeanour, but it occasionally jars on larger road imperfections.
Price-wise, this Elite model sits squarely in the premium-hatch bracket accommodated by such favourites as the BMW 1 Series and the soon-to-be-replaced pairing of the Audi A3 Sportback and upper-echelon VW Golfs, and is generously equipped (see features on previous page). Volvo’s selection of styling add-ons and spec packages also makes it easy to individualise the car, but like its German rivals it’s easy to bump up the cost if you’re not careful.
Most of the advanced safety features, bar City Safety, are optional and can be overridden if necessary (see Playing Safe). Some of the CAR team were a little surprised that a world-first safety feature like the pedestrian airbag should be optional. We understand the costs involved, but can’t help but feel that it should be standard, especially given its potential as a unique selling point and a serious lifesaver.
While it’s easy to understand the Volvo V40 D3’s aesthetic appeal, it also possesses a draw that’s difficult to define. There’s something about its effortless nature, refinement and ease of use that makes the driver feel at home while still feeling special. The C30, although flawed, drew the first breath of fresh air into Volvo’s offerings. With its added practicality, innovative safety features and more fluent poise, it appears that, in the Volvo V40 D3, they have last created a viable alternative to the established players in the premium C-segment hatch domain.
Click here to see our video special report of the Volvo V40.