Now Volvo gets lively
Posted on: 12th Sep 2012
We've come to think of Volvo as one of the most conservative of car manufactures, based in no small part on the corporate messages of safety, family and environment.
While the messages from Gothenburg preach unthreatening responsibility, the products are a good deal more daring. The Volvo V40 and V50 models used to be dull. Wholly, terminally dull. Worthy, yes, but nothing aspirational. That has changed, and how. The latest generation V40 is poised, polished and might just be the coolest five-door hatch around right now.
The V40 attacks a new sector of the market and does so convincingly.
What's more, it replaced both the old V50 and the S40 saloon to boot.
It's true that Volvo is no longer part of Ford's Premier Auto Group, instead being owned since 2010 by Zhejiang Geely of China. Planning horizons being as long as they are, however, it won't come as any great surprise to learn that most of the underpinnings of the V40 are shared with the latest Ford Focus.
If there's a more cast-iron guarantor of a decent drive in the family hatch sector than that, we've yet to find it. Customers looking for a spirited drive won't be disappointed by the petrol engines on offer, in four distinct flavours.
The T3 entry-level unit is a 150bhp 1.6 GTDi unit, offered with a six-speed manual gearbox. The T4 is an 180bhp version of this engine, offered with a six-speed Powershift transmission or a six-cog manual. At the top of this tree is a pair of T5 units, both deploying power via a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Diesel customers are also well catered for, with a 177bhp five-cylinder 2.0-litre D4 topping the range. This is joined by a 150bhp version, badged D3, and the entry-level model wears Volvo's eco DRIVe badge and is an 115bhp 1.6-litre unit.
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.
True, 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 full TFT graphic instrument panel and the deft piano black framed door mirrors keep the design balance well into credit.
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
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 features. 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 50km/h rather than the original version's 30km/h 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.
There's also a Driver Alert system and a revised knee airbag design. Plus 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.
Cost of Ownership
Residual values are certain to be good, although time will tell if the talent of the V40 can bridge the gap to the premium brands. Day to day running costs also appear to be kept well in check.
Choose a T3 petrol model and you'll see 49mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 134g/km. The T5 claims 36mpg although the five-cylinder 2.5-litre can be thirsty when extended.
Make no mistake, the V40 is a landmark car for Volvo. It's the first product of their 'Designed Around You' strategy, which aims to better understand how owners interact with their cars. You feel that this is a car that's on your side.