Return of the Saint

Road test: Volvo V40 SE D2

Volvo has announced that production of its C30 is ending. The S40 and V50 have also been dropped in US, so the V40 has to fill the entire lower end of the range.  It wouldn’t surprise me if this was echoed here in the UK so it is therefore the most important Volvo product launch for many years and explains much of the car’s attempt to tick all boxes with its size and styling: a combination of hatchback and sports break with five doors, a sleek profile and some interesting styling points.

In profile, the V40 is a handsome car. The slender front is balanced by a heavier hip line which adds visual strength. The rising sill line provides eagerness and the wheels sit well into their arches giving a slightly hunkered-down image. For those who remember the P1800 series from nearly four decades ago, there is also a subtle kick in the belt line beneath the window on the rear door. Similarly, the deeper glass section in the tailgate harks back to both the 1800ES and C30 while keeping the current Volvo brand shape.

Looks are half of the V40’s armoury; it is also crammed with clever driver and safety aids. While the car has been here at Motor Writer, it has covered almost 750 miles over all types of terrain and varied weather conditions. I tested everything on the car (rather a long list) and some technology I found useful, some sits in the background and other features were a little annoying so were switched-off. Let’s take a look at the key ones.

Volvo’s adaptive cruise control is extremely effective and because this car has a manual gearbox, it actually allowed gear changes while keeping cruise control activated (most disable on dipping the clutch). This is also the first Volvo I have driven which actually steers you back in lane should the white lines be crossed (unless signalling). It is amazing in terms of its operation but on long motorway runs I don’t always indicate when dropping back to the near-side lane so the gentle vibration of the steering wheel and additional tug to bring the car over became a bit of a drag. The auto-dipping headlights were slightly annoying too, sometimes refusing to re-enable high beam once a car had passed – somewhat dangerous on twisty, unlit lanes.

Of note is the car’s auto-park facility: drive past parallel-parked vehicles and once a space of suitable size has been identified by the sensors, all a driver must do is move the car backwards then a short nudge forward into the space. It’s fascinating watching the steering wheel whizz from lock to lock on its own and after an initial failed attempt with one wheel on the pavement (because I’d only used one reference vehicle) I used an additional car to create a very tight space into which the V40 slotted with ease.

Subtle, stylish and comfortable

Most of the controls for these functions fall into the conventional array of buttons on the central console and don’t take much getting used-to. The same cannot be said of the main instrument binnacle, which is overly busy with information and contains only one dial. It is configurable but either allows for analogue rev counter and digital speed reading (sports setting) or analogue speedo and linear rev counter (eco or comfort). Other information is jammed-in around the sides. Everything else in the cabin is as you’d expect from a Volvo: subtle, stylish and comfortable.

After spending the first couple of hundred miles fiddling with all the technology, eventually ignoring it allowed the mental space to sit back and enjoy the car. Ride is supple-enough yet offers the support needed when cornering hard. The overall balance is quite neutral which means turn-in is crisp and cornering is well controlled. The steering feel is a little lacking when straight ahead but weights-up nicely when turning. One of the more powerful engine variants would allow further enjoyment of the handling but the 1.6 diesel is perfectly adequate in this installation (although a little underpowered in the heavier V60 we reviewed recently). It is smooth, quiet and combined with the slick, light gear change it is easy to stay within the optimal power/torque band. Sixth is really only a motorway cruising gear although coped well on inclines. Critically, it falls in the lowest tax band so should be a favourite with fleet buyers. Of note is this car’s excellent behaviour when encountering standing water, in part due to the Pirelli P7s which dispersed the water well.

Attractive and engaging

I wouldn’t necessarily choose all the clever options present on this car but that’s just down to ticking boxes (or not) as desired, at the point of buying. However, apart from the overly busy driver display (which you’re stuck with), the V40 is an attractive and engaging car.

Volvo V40 SE D2, tested starts at £21,595.  Driver support pack costs £1,850.

Power: 115 bhp (3,600 rpm), torque: 270 Nm (1,740-2,520 rpm), emissions: 99g/km CO2 (band A), 0-60 mph: 12.3 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○


  1. Jamie says:

    Sounds nice but when are you going to unleash the review on the much anticipated Mercedes A Class which looks weirdly similar to the Volvo!!

    • admin says:

      The A-Class review will be posted in the next 24 hours – just sorting the piccies right now. Very interesting going back from the A-Class to the Volvo which I thought might disappoint…but it didn’t!

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