Volvo's V40 looks a game-changer

20:09, Aug 14 2012
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All of a sudden, the premium hatchback market appears to have grown like Topsy. We've been expecting the all-new A-class, and the third generation Audi A3, and BMW's year-old series II 1-series is doing well for itself. But now, out of left field, is a new, surprisingly competent newcomer.


Drivetrain: Transverse front- mounted FWD four and five cylinder turbo diesel and turbo petrol engines, with six-speed manual or automatic transmission.

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Performance (as driven): D2 - 4cyl 1560cc manual, 84kW at 3500rpm, 270Nm at 1750-2500rpm, max 185kmh, 0-100kmh 12.3secs, 3.8L/100km, 99g/km CO2; D4 - 5cyl 1984cc automatic, 130kW at 3500rpm, 400Nm at 1750-2750rpm, max 215kmh, 0-100kmh 8.3secs, 5.2L/100km, 136g/km CO2.

Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear independent. Electric power assisted steering.

Safety: Pedestrian airbag, pedestrian detection, ABS, ESP, seven airbags, Collision Warning system, 'City Safety' system, Road Sign Information system, Adaptive Cruise Control, Active High Beam Lane Keeping Aid, Enhanced Blind Spot Information System, Cross Traffic Alert, Driver Alert Control


Dimensions: L 4369mm, H 1445mm, W 2041mm, W/base 2647mm, F/track 1559mm, R/track 1546mm, Fuel 52-62L, Weight 1357-1498kg.

Pricing: To be announced closer to the range's October launch.

HOT: Pretty styling; solid cabin; five-cylinder performance; D2 carbon footprint; implacable chassis; sound insulation.

NOT: Looks less impressive without glass roof; no petrol units for New Zealand until 2013; likely to be expensive, as it is in Europe.

VERDICT: Watch out Audi, this Swede has the new A3 in its sights, and it has the build and drive quality to convince buyers, and a safety set-up second to none.

VERDICT: Watch out Audi, this Swede has the new A3 in its sights, and it has the build and drive quality to convince buyers, and a safety set-up second to none. reputation is as synonymous with safety as a mother's wish.

It's Volvo's new V40, a car that appears to have confused its maker a tad too, as the Swedish carmaker normally uses V-prefix for its wagons. It's not a wagon, it's a hatchback, but to call it such is like calling a classic silk cocktail dress, a frock.

My photography fails miserably to depict just how good-looking this posh new Volvo five-door is. The distinctive, low-slung, chiselled look seems nothing like the Focus III that provides its base. The usual Volvo 'shoulders' are there, but on the V40 there's a delightful flourish, called the 'P1800 hook.' It's a subtle upwards crease in the waistline linking the shoulder plane with the closure line of the rear side-door glass.

The resulting curve is inspired, says Volvo, by its P1800, or Saint coupe of the 60s.

It has to be said that if Volvo ever decided to make a three-door version of the V40, they could safely call it a C40 coupe, with that hook forming the side windows' leading edge behind longer, possibly frameless doors.

As a fully-fledged member of the premium hatch segment, the V40 has to look and feel good inside, too. After all, it's competing with three of the best-built and well- executed posh five-doors in the business.

No worries there. Almost as expected as the Volvo's safety premise is its disarmingly clever and simple ergonomics, exemplified by its flying console and the human pictographic air- con control, while it's a given that the car's seats will be the best you can get. They are, though those occupants in the rear are a tad less fortunate if they're especially tall.

The rear seats offer good leg room and they're almost as shapely and supportive against side forces as the front pair, so you'd never call them a bench. But you pay for the swoopy coupe-ish design by losing ultimate headroom, and the rising waistline makes it slightly less airy than in the front.

The V40's airiness is created, say Volvo's interior people, by linking the top fold lines on the inner door ledges through to the same point on the dash, the flow stretching the perceived width of the whole fascia, and this is accentuated by the wide round- cornered indentation into which the instrument cluster is mounted.

The instruments add further interest by offering different colours and graphics depending on what drive mode you select.

Eco mode provides green lighting and readouts for current and average fuel consumption. Performance mode, which resets and sharpens throttle and steering responses has a central tachometer and shows a what you could call a 'red mist' effect. You could call the Elegance setting the Goldilocks one, as for most driving, it's just right, adding a classy brownish back light.

As far as luggage is concerned, the hatch has a high opening and ultimate volume is 335 litres, which doesn't sound like much but it's almost 20 litres up on the Focus III and it's an uncluttered area. However, the load lip is too high for comfort when lifting heavy loads.

A nice touch is the way the load floor folds like an iPad case, to enable different or loose loads to be separated over what is effectively a double-floored space. Also pleasant is the use of the old block-serif V O L V O font on the dark lower-hatch glass, triple- spaced just as it was in the era of that lovely old P1800.

That other area of dark-tinted glass, the Volvo's roof, helps give it its low-slung look. Models without it look a little naked, truth be known,though not disastrously so.

As well as the safety-belt pre- tensioners that everyone has these days, the V40 adds whiplash protection, a driver's knee airbag, rollover protection with inflatable curtains and a pre-crash preparation set-up that cinches you taultly in position if sensors deem it prudent to do so.

The new model also uses Volvo's laser-sensored city safety system, which can stop the car at speeds up to 50kmh if an impact is predicted. Further to that, a radar and camera-based system detects wandering pedestrians, warns the driver and if required, will apply the brakes.

If a contact does occur, the V40 deploys an airbag under the bonnet to cushion impact by raising the lid to generate a crush zone that really could save the life of a jaywalker. There is also a rear cross-traffic detector, which alerts you when you are reversing out into traffic and a new 'intelligent' cruise control, that will brake the car if required when behind a car that's changing speed right down to a halt if necessary.

The V40 petrol engines consist of 110kW T3 and 133kW T4 versions of Ford's 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbo unit, as well as two of its own fives, a 2.0-litre T4 making 133kW and a 2.5-litre T5 with 188kW on tap. The diesel range is made up of a 84kW D2 1.6-litre four and 110Kw D4 and 130kW D5 2.0-litre fives.

Volvo admits that this front- drive range could gain all-wheel drive in the future, as well as Ford's World Engine of the Year EcoBoost one-litre triple. When our line-up arrives in October, we'll have an initial batch of D4 automatics and manuals, with petrol engines arriving some time next year.

With the D5 and D2 engines only available at launch in Europe, it was obviously the turbo-diesel five six-speed automatic that was the star, emitting a delightful five- cylinder gurgle and feeling very quick. The smaller D2 unit was not well suited to its manual-only launch transmission, being peaky and a little lethargic at lower revolutions. A powershift electronic double-clutch transmission would be a good move here and though it's not available just yet, the chances are it will be in the near future.

I was a little vexed that the European market's 1.6-litre EcoBoost four isn't to be made available with an automatic or powershift yet either, though it has been promised and Volvo New Zealand will be glad to have it as a range-starter when it becomes available. After all, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz will all offer small two-pedal petrol units at the start of their line-ups in this segment.

Using the Focus III's MacPherson-strut front and control-blade independent rear underpinnings as a starting point, Volvo couldn't really go wrong for handling. However, the whole car feels better insulated and quieter than the Ford, through using more advanced damping units and extra-stiff location around the steering column.

It's the car's chassis that really impresses when driving this car, whether it's with the low-powered four or the charismatic five. The implacable nature of the suspension over broken roads, shattered surfaces and wicked changes of camber is to be celebrated. It appears that Volvo has taken what is acknowledged as one of the best-handling chassis in the business and made it into something that I for one can't imagine the Audi and BMW getting close to - especially in terms of ride quality.

The electrically assisted steering is able to be set with three different weights, with the middle 'normal' setting offering just the right heft for me. The adjustment is an option, and as you have to stop the car to switch between modes, it's unlikely to get as much use as Fiat's systems which can be changed while driving. It's not a box I'd tick, anyway.

Many will suggest that Volvo has a cheek aiming itself directly at the incumbent Germans in the posh hatch segment, but they'd be wrong. With an amazingly good chassis - Volvo's best ever - and levels of refinement and poise that almost makes it feel like a limo, the Volvo manages to combine comfort, class and safety into a very compelling package indeed.

I'm a tad disappointed that the initial batch of manual and auto five-cylinder diesels will probably place the range's pricing a little high for starters, though if they can start the D4 below $50,000 it will be compelling value and worth every cent.

My wish-list would be for a D2 and T3 entry-point diesel and petrol fours with automatic options so that the V40 can kick- start the game change here that the range is capable of.

The V40 is huge achievement, and shoppers for the usual German suspects in the premium hatch sector, should include the Swedish brand on their checklist as a safe bet too.

Taranaki Daily News