Words: Francois Steyn | Photos: Francois Steyn & Volvo SA
Early in 2012, the Scandinavian carmaker represented by its ‘male sign’ trademark, launched a new competitor in the middle of nowhere. I’m not saying Geneva (where the press first saw the new Volvo V40) is in the middle of nowhere. I mean this ‘premium hatchback’ was launched into a segment of the market that is hard to define.
It seems much longer than the old C30, so at first glance it looks like something between a hatch and a station wagon. But it has almost the same wheelbase length as the VW Golf and is only 10 cm longer. It also has four doors, so five adults will fit in, but due to the slanting rear roofline, my expanding hairdo kept getting messed up against the roof lining. The overall shape of the V40 hints at ample boot space, but our fold-up pram only just made it inside (with some clever Tetris skills needed at that). Where it does work well is from any angle, as a spectator and even more so as a driver behind the wheel of the T4 Powershift turbo-petrol.
With 132 kW at a racy 5,700 r/min from only 1,596 cc and 240 Nm torque in a super-wide range (1,600 – 5,000 r/min), you never feel left behind. When I last compared a petrol Volvo with a diesel Volvo (the V60 T3 vs. D3), the petrol version made for a relaxed drive compared to the heaps of torque from the manual diesel.
This time round, the contest was hardly fair because after a week in the ‘drive-me-hard-please’ T4, I got into the lazy D2. Not exactly D for Donkey, it still delivers 84 kW at 3,600 r/min and a T4 beating 270 Nm between 1,750 and 2,500 r/min, but you cannot compare the experience. In the T4, I felt like auditing the claimed 8.5 seconds 0 – 100 km/h acceleration time at every opportunity and, as a result, did not get close to the claimed, mixed-driving fuel consumption figure of 6.1 l/100 km. The lower specified D2 (Essential), on the other hand, did everything I asked of it, but no more. The claimed acceleration time of 11.9 seconds seems fair, but you’d have to blow ever so softly on the ‘go’ pedal to achieve the claimed mixed-fuel consumption figure of 3.4 l/100 km.
Design your own
I cannot fault the V40 on looks and, judged by the amount of stares I received, so can’t a lot of others. Inside, the amount of customisation is limited only by your sense of style and health of your bank balance. I don’t know the proper name of the colour, but the interior of the T4 was a mix between blue leather and light brown.
There is more than a dozen different wheel sets and you can choose your gear knob, steering wheel, and a range of fancy safety features. The fully graphic instrument panel has three selectable themes: ECO shows a blue analogue-type speedo, with a bar-type rev-counter to the right and an eco-guide that shows how frugal you’re driving to the left. The ELEGANCE theme shows a brown speedo in the middle, with the same bar tacho to the right and the engine temperature to the left. The one I liked most was the all red PERFORMANCE, with a large rev-counter and its yellow needle in the middle, temperature to the left, and a power indicator to the right. The latter shows current power available (depending on the gear and engine speed) and current power being applied. You can also see the average and current fuel consumption, as well as range left and trip data, in all three themes.
On the display above the centre air vents, you can further adjust a plethora of important and less important stuff. For instance, you can deactivate certain safety features, such as traction control (called DSTC) and City Safety, or you can select the colour and intensity of the ambient lighting inside.
On the menu are around ten hues to choose from, from porno purple to dentist chair white (please note: they do have better-sounding official names). A nice feature is the sensitivity of the audio system’s volume compensation that can be set at either low, medium or high. This function adjusts the radio automatically when you accelerate to compensate for the increased road and wind noise. Apart from being able to set the sound’s bass and treble, there’s a five-band equaliser to fine tune John Mathem’s voice on the afternoon drive.
Yes, but is it safe?
Volvo is synonymous with safety, so yes, it is a safe car. Rather than explaining what each one of the standard features does, I’ll list the acronyms and explain a friend’s findings of the City Safety feature, which is standard on all V40, as follows:
• DTSC with ASC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) with (Advanced Stability Control)
• CTC (Corner Traction Control)
• EDC (Engine Drag Control)
• ABS with HBA (Hydraulic Brake Assist)
• RAB (Ready Alert Brakes)
• AHB (Active High Beam)
• ABL (Active Bending Lights)
Then there’s a bunch of airbags, an inflatable curtain, Whiplash Protection System, Side Impact Protection System, and collapsible steering column. “So,” I hear you say, “if you must collide with a Volvo V40, make sure you’re inside?” Not quite. If a V40, with an optional pedestrian airbag, runs you over, the shock will be absorbed in part by the bonnet that is disconnected at the rear end and lifted along with the outside airbag itself.
City Safety test
This system is supposed to detect when the car in front of you suddenly slows down or unexpectedly comes to a halt. If you do not brake in time, it will do so automatically when you’re travelling below 50 km/h. I was scratching my head, thinking of a way to test this feature without annoying Volvo by damaging the test car, when a friend of mine told me how his wife tested the system in their car. She was driving in peak traffic, looking every which way except at the road in front of her, when the car suddenly screeched to a complete stop. When she had caught her breath and looked ahead of her, she saw the two cars in front of her had suddenly stopped without warning. Right at that moment, the decision to purchase a Volvo instead of a VW Vivo (which they also considered) was ratified.
If you want a safe car that will turn heads in traffic (and protect you when you turn yours), the V40 is right in the money. But, if you have kids and want a car to go on holiday with, go for something bigger. The prices are hard to compare due to the different specification levels, but it can be compared to the upper end of the VW Golf range and lower end of the BMW 1-series range.