Volvo returns to hatchback arena

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 08:00 17/10/2012
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ROB MAETZIG
Volvo V40 hatch
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ROB MAETZIG
Volvo V40 hatch

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Some marketers will tell you that it is very dangerous to create an advertising campaign for a particular product that takes aim at - even names - the opposition product.

The danger, they will say, is that such campaigns can backfire because all they do is divert attention to the very

VOLVO V40 D4

POWER PLANT: In-line five cylinder turbo diesel, 130 kW at 3500 rpm, 400 Nm at 1750-2750 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, both with stop-start technology. MacPherson strut front suspension, independent rear. Electric poweer assisted steering. Kerb weight 1498 kg (manual), 1508 kg (auto).

FUEL ECONOMY: Manual 4.3 L/100 km, automatic 5.2 L/100km. CO2 emissions, manual 114 g/km, auto 136 g/km.

HOW BIG: Length 4369mm, width 1802mm, height 1445mm, wheelbase 2647mm.

HOW MUCH: Manual $49,990, automatic $54,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Distinctive styling, lovely chassis, flexible turbodiesel performance.

WHAT'S NOT: Additional safety specification is expensive.

OUR VERDICT: This new V40 is about perfect as the lead car in a fleet of coming new Volvo arrivals.

product intended to pinch the sales off.

If that theory is true, then there's an inherent danger in a new campaign about to be kicked off by Volvo New Zealand to market its first five-door hatchback in 20 years - the V40.

This vehicle initially goes on sale this week in 2.0-litre five- cylinder turbodiesel guise for $49,990 with manual and $54,990 with auto, and will be joined in February next year by a 2.0-litre five-cylinder petrol model for $52,990 and a 2.5-litre five-cylinder R-Design petrol model for $64,990.

Volvo V40 replaces the C30, S40 and V50 models in New Zealand, and is a vitally important vehicle because it will enter a growing and already congested market segment filled with such product as Volkswagen Golf, BMW 1-Series, Audi A3, and Mercedes- Benz B- and A-Class.

That's a solid lineup of very good European product - and that's what Volvo NZ is targeting in its soon-to-be-launched marketing campaign.

Using the strapline "Uber- different" and dismissing European rivals as Benzzzzz, Yavwn and even Predictabmwle, the campaign will push messages such as "Only $49,990 - that's all, Volks", and "Welcome the new A-Rival", and "Avoid the Teutonic Plague".

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At a media function in Auckland last week, Volvo New Zealand was questioned heavily over the wisdom of moving in this marketing direction - to which general manager Steve Kenchington replied that his company has no choice.

"Our challenge is to convince the public that Volvo is a worthy competitor to the German brands. We've got to get people into our showrooms to look at our product, and we've got to get bums on to our seats. So frankly it is time for us to roll up our sleeves," he said.

Certainly it will be very important for Volvo that the V40 can hit the marketing ground running in New Zealand, because if it does sell well it will add to an improving sales position in this country - and with more product to come.

Already, this year has seen more Volvos sold than the whole of last year, and if the company can finish with more than 275 sales it will be best year since 2005.

Limited supply means the company will only have 30 of the new V40s to sell this year, but it is aiming to sell at least 100 units next year. Not only that, but 2013 will also see facelifts to the S60, V60 and XC60, plus arrival of an XC version of the V40. That will be followed - probably in early 2015 - by a brand-new XC90, and also an XC40.

"So the medium-term future looks exciting for Volvo," said Kenchington. "There's no better time for us to carve our bit out of that German segment."

So if late 2012 can be considered as a sort of new beginning for Volvo in New Zealand, then there's no better car with which to mark that beginning than the V40.

It's a beautiful machine. Built on the same platform as the Ford Focus - and, in fact, the last model to result from the now-dead Ford- Volvo alliance - it is a sleek, well- built and highly appointed five- door hatch that arrives with a very high level of standard and optional safety specification.

V40's exterior look is unmistakedly Volvo. The hatch sits low-slung and wide on the road, and a special visual feature is a flick at the end of a crease along its shoulder line that Volvo says gives it a look reminiscent of the legendary Volvo P1800 of the 1960s.

Interior is pretty Volvo, too. This new model features the Swedish marque's signature ultra- slim centre stack, and there's nice use of silk metal chrome finishing throughout to help give the vehicle a premium feel. As is usual with any Volvo, seating - particularly at the front - is among the best on the market.

With all seats in use, the rear load area is 402 litres. This betters all the opposition apart from the Benz B-Class; and when the rear seats are folded down, this increases to 1032 litres which is among the worst of the Euro hatch fleet, but still a lot of room.

A notable feature of this rear load area is that it has a load organiser, which folds so that not only can it can be used as a load compartment divider which helps keep items such as supermarket bags secure, but which can also be turned right over to provide extra protection against load damage when the back seats are folded down. It's one of the best setups I've yet seen.

Also very good is this Volvo's level of safety specification. Standard items include eight airbags, including a pedestrian airbag that pops up just in front of the windscreen and a driver's knee airbag. There's also a City Safety system that uses radar to measure distance to a vehicle in front and will automatically stop the car to prevent collisions at speeds of up to 50 kmh.

A swag of other safety items can be optioned in to the V40 including lane- keeping aid, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, blind-spot detection, a driver alert system that warns if the person behind the wheel might be getting drowsy and wandering over the road, another system that reads speed signs and displays them in colour on the instrument panel, and pedestrian alert.

These options don't come cheap, and if added to the V40 in their entirety they will add thousands to the base price of the car.

Steve Kenchington said while he could see the day when all such safety items would be standard specification, he forecast that right now most of the additional items purchased for the V40 would be more in the interests of comfort and convenience.

For that reason, the new car comes with three comfort-related option packages that offer a choice of Driver Support such as park assist, Lifestyle which gives the likes of heated front seats, and - best value of all - a Teknik Pack which, for $6000, gives $15,000 worth of extra equipment including leather upholstery, special alloy wheels, an illuminated gearshift knob, high- performance audio, electric seats, and navigation.

Because the petrol versions of the new V40 aren't expected here until the second month of next year, the drive programme at last week's media launch was all about the diesel models.

The five-cylinder turbodiesel, called D4, is a lovely unit. Offering 130 kilowatts of power at 3500 rpm and 400 Newton metres of torque from 1750 rpm, it immediately impressed as a flexible and long-legged power unit equally at home when mated to a six-auto or six- speed manual.

It's interesting to note that acceleration times to 100 kmh are quicker with the auto at 8.3 compared to 8.6 seconds, but that the manual's top speed and fuel economy are superior.

It drives well, too.

Since the V40 shares the Focus' MacPherson strut front and control- blade independent rear suspension, it is difficult not to compare its ride and handling against that of the Ford. My opinion? It could be that it is even better, not the least because it seems quieter and because the power steering is a new- age electronic version that has excellent feel to it.

Make no bones about it - this new Volvo V40 is easily good enough to compete against all the rest of the European competition in that vital C-segment of our new car market.

No doubt we'll soon see if it is a good idea to encourage that competition via the aggressive mickey-taking marketing campaign that is about to be launched.

Let's hope it does work, because it would be nice to see some Volvo success in the luxury hatch segment after a 20-year hiatus.

Both the marque and this new model deserve it.

- Taranaki Daily News

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