Volvo's sleek V40 makes most sense with the D3 diesel engine plumbed beneath its bonnet, especially now that the unit is the brand's own. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Volvo V40 D3 is one of those cars where you struggle to find an Achilles heel. It's good-looking, well built, has a 150bhp 'Drive-E' diesel engine with enough torque to give it some zip and returns around 75mpg on the combined fuel consumption test. 99g/km emissions and five-star safety also count in its favour.
What does Volvo mean to you? Quick, come up with some attributes. Off the top of your head, you've probably come up with 'safe', 'environmentally responsible' and 'dull' maybe? Score two out of three for the latest Volvo V40 D3. You only need to clap eyes on it to realise that this might be the sassiest-looking five-door family hatch on sale at the moment. Sit one next to an Alfa Romeo Giulietta and it's hard to escape the conclusion that Sweden has done a number on Italy in quite convincing fashion. So while the V40 might not subscribe to old school setsquare Volvo design values, it proudly maintains a tradition of safety and has some enviable green credentials. The D3 engine is the middleweight of a trio of efficient 'Drive-E' diesel powerplants available, and we think it might just be the sweet spot in the range.
Need a cast-iron guarantee of how well this car drives? We've got that covered. The underpinnings of the Volvo V40 are shared with those of the Ford Focus, for as long as most can remember the best drivers' car in the family hatch sector. While it's true that Volvo aren't owned by Ford any more, having come under the aegis of Zhejiang Geely since 2010, the V40 D3 nevertheless benefits from that Ford chassis expertise in offering good steering, excellent body control and a decent ride quality. The 150bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is now Volvo's own 'Drive-E' unit and sits between the 120bhp D2 and the 190bhp D4 and offers excellent refinement at typical motorway speeds. It's a little chattery on cold start ups, but there are very few diesels that aren't. With 320Nm of torque from a mere 1,500rpm, it feels very responsive and a quick prod of the throttle pedal gives a charismatic five-cylinder off-neat thrum. The standard six-speed gearbox feels a little long in the throw but it's hard to wrong slot a gear and the brakes are enormously reassuring. There's also an automatic Geartronic version available should you find the idea of a clutch pedal a bit overwhelming. Performance? The sprint to 62mph comes and goes in 8.4 seconds on the way to a 130mph maximum.
Design and Build
Aim directly at Audi's A3 and BMW's 1 Series and you've got to come equipped with quite some hardware. The Volvo V40 has the showroom appeal to meet and beat both of these vehicles. We recently had the opportunity to compare the interiors of these three cars back to back. The latest A3 shades the 1 Series in terms of interior look and feel but the V40 aces them both - and by quite some margin. Some serious styling has gone into the V40's interior. The floating centre console houses a button-dense centre stack, and the eye is drawn to slick detailing such as the frameless rear view mirror and the optional translucent gear selector. It's not perfect. Some of the stalks feel a little cheap and headroom is a little pinched in the rear with narrow rear door apertures, but features such as the rubberised microswitch tailgate release, the optional full TFT graphic instrument panel and the deft piano black framed door mirrors keep the design balance well into credit. The boot is a decent size at 335-litres and features a hidden underfloor section to keep documents and valuables out of sight. The exterior is also a clever piece of design, with a rear end reminiscent of the XC60, featuring a complex, curved tailgate section which melds into a subtler interpretation of Volvo's signature 'shoulders' that run forward towards the headlamps. The aggressive wedge shape of this car has been created courtesy of a low bonnet, lower in fact than any of its rivals have managed due to pedestrian impact legislation. So how have Volvo got away with it? It's done by fitting a pyrotechnic airbag under the bonnet that fires when a pedestrian impact is detected, keeping any unfortunate's head well away from the V40's potentially injurious cylinder head.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £24,000, which represents a £1,000 premium over the 120bhp D2 variant. As with any car in this class, Volvo has striven to offer as many high-tech options as possible, integrating the sort of features that not so long ago were the preserve of some seriously high-end vehicles. We've got used to features such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot assistance and lane keeping assistance and the V40 offers all of these things. Reducing personal injury claims, especially around town, is a growing concern for both manufacturers and insurers alike and Volvo's City Safety function now functions at up to 31mph rather than the original version's 19mph limit. City Safety keeps an eye on traffic in front using a laser sensor integrated into the top of the windscreen at the height of the rear-view mirror. The V40 automatically brakes if the driver fails to react in time when the vehicle in front slows down or stops - or if the car is approaching a stationary vehicle too fast. There's also Driver Alert system and a revised knee airbag design. 'Pedestrian Detection with full auto brake' is a technology that sees its debut in this class of vehicle. It can detect if a pedestrian steps out into the road in front of the car. If the driver does not respond in time, the car can warn and automatically activate the brakes. 'Pedestrian Detection with full auto brake' consists of a radar unit integrated into the car's grille, a camera fitted in front of the interior rear-view mirror and a central control unit. The radar's task is to detect a pedestrian or vehicle in front of the car and to determine the distance to it while the camera determines what type of object it is. It works at speeds of up to 21mph.
Cost of Ownership
A combined fuel economy figure of 65.7mpg seems scarcely credible for a car with this amount of verve when you floor the loud pedal. Obviously, that number takes a tumble if this Volvo is driven in a spirited fashion, but even then, it requires some quite determined hoonage to drop it below 40mpg. The Swedish brand quotes an extra urban figure of 74.3mpg and an urban showing of 53.3mpg, which is all extremely encouraging reading for those with an aversion to filling stations. Emissions are 99g/km for the manual car, with the combined cycle fuel figure rated at 74.3nmpg. That's a big improvement over the previous 1.6-litre Ford engine that was used in this derivative. An engine stop/start system is of course standard. The public has taken to the V40 and the D3 is one of the most popular versions. As such, it commands excellent residual values, with the entry level car still being worth 50 per cent of its original price after three years and 30,000 miles. That's better than all of the mainstream marques and nearly on a par with BMW's 118d five-door.
Most cars are good. Or they're original. Rarely both. Here's an exception. The Volvo V40's excellence is, to a certain degree, down to the spadework done by Ford's chassis engineers, but credit must go to Volvo in creating a body and interior that lift the V40 way beyond the mainstream. It looks a genuinely class act. It also looks at its most attractive with the D3 engine. Yes, you could fork out another £1,200 and get the more powerful D4 powerplant, but if you're honest with yourself, do you really need the additional horsepower? Probably not. In this market sector, paying more usually means incurring more in the way of depreciation. For that reason as much as any, the Volvo V40 D3 looks to be where the smart money goes.