The Volvo V40 is a robust rival for the competing five-door hatchbacks Audi A3 Sportback, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. Its exterior dimensions are stylish, while it also offers excellent fuel economy and low emissions for rock-bottom running costs. It may look like an estate car, but the V40 is actually a hatchback that superseded the Volvo S40 saloon and the Volvo V50 estate, and it comes with a massive array of safety equipment fitted as standard, including the world's first external pedestrian airbag.
The Volvo V40 is available in five main specifications – entry-level ES, mid-range SE and SE Lux, as well as top-of-the-range R-Design and R-Design Lux. Of the engines, the entry-level 1.6-litre D2 diesel promises to return 83.1mpg in combined fuel economy and emit 88g/km of road-tax-free CO2. There are also some powerful petrol engines on offer offer. All V40s come fitted with Bluetooth connectivity and Volvo's City Safety automatic braking system, plus alloy wheels and a DAB radio. For a little more money you can upgrade the standard car to the sportier, performance-focused R-Design or the rugged Volvo V40 Cross Country model, which has the option of four-wheel drive if paired with the range-topping T5 petrol engine.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Fortunately, the high list price of the V40 is offset by inexpensive running costs. The D2 is the stand out model, offering tax-free CO2 emissions of 88g/km and impressive 83.1mpg in combined fuel economy. That is better than main competitors the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, so company car buyers will only have to cough up £85 a month in tax. The D3 and D4 diesels both return 65.7mpg in economy and emit 114g/km, even though the latter offers a lot more performance. The petrol models are also pretty good, with the T3 returning a decent 52.3mpg economy and emitting 125g/km of CO2. The more powerful T4 also returns 51.4mpg and emits 129g/km, but the top-spec five-cylinder T5 burns through a lot of fuel if you drive it fast. Volvo offers a three-year/60,000-mile warranty as standard, with extended packages available, so servicing and maintenance should be reasonably inexpensive.
Interior & comfort
The V40 continues Volvo's tradition of safety and comfort, coming with a well laid out interior and lots of equipment and accessories included as standard. That includes some very supportive seating (front and back), Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and dual-zone climate control, along with a central front armrest that offers deep storage, plus a set of cup holders. In the back, the outer seats have been moved nearer the middle of the car to create loads of elbowroom and a generally better view for passengers in the rear – though this does reduce room in the middle seat, making it really only suitable for four adults.
The well-cushioned standard suspension absorbs lumps and bumps well, but the sports suspension on the R-Design model is 10mm lower and much firmer, making the ride much harder and reactive to large bumps and deep potholes. On the other end of the scale, the Cross Country model is 40mm higher and has an even more comfortable ride – with the most expensive T5 petrol getting effective four-wheel drive for light off roading and improved grip.
Practicality & boot space
Most stylish cars tend to sacrifice practicality for sleekness, and the V40 is the same, even though it is a Volvo. So, the exterior dimensions may be bigger than many of its rivals, but the space inside is compromised, especially headroom for any passengers over six foot. Legroom is also more cramped that you’d expect. There are lots of storage cubbies and compartments, though, plus a decent-sized central bin and map pockets and higher-spec cars also get clever rear armrest cup-holders.
If you want more room, the Volkswagen Golf or the bigger Volvo V60 offer a roomier cabin and improved space for both driver and passengers. The Volvo V40 offers 335 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place, or 1,032 litres with them folded down, which disappointingly is still less than in a BMW 1 Series – hardly what you’d expect from a Volvo. But at least every seat folds flat – even the driver's – and a clever optional two-tier boot floor provides increased storage beneath it, so it is at least fairly flexible.
Reliability & safety
Volvo climbed two places in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey up to eighth, but, surprisingly only came 17th in the reliability category. This has a lot to do with customers expecting a lot for the price they pay, with expectation not meeting reality. That said, the petrol and diesel engines have been tried and tested in the Volvo C30, S40 and V50 and are proven to be trusted and reliable. The interior is constructed from high-quality materials that should prove durable while standing up to the stress and strain of family life.
In terms of safety, the V40 was awarded the highest ever crash safety score in the history of the Euro NCAP tests when it was rated in 2012, so, you can be super-confident that you’re buying the safest car currently on sale in the UK. Even the entry-level model comes fitted with a driver's side knee airbag and a smart pedestrian airbag that inflates on the outside of the car, lifting the bonnet in the event of a collision to create extra space between the bonnet and engine, so that the pedestrian's impact is absorbed. Other driver aids include blind-spot detection – to alert you of any cars obscured on motorways and dual carriageways, City Safety automatic braking technology and Dynamic Stability Control.
Engines, drive & performance
The V40 provides a comfortable drive, even when fitted with the optional larger alloy wheels. It comes with electric power steering that offers three modes – Eco, Normal and Performance – which adjust the feel and weighting. This gives the V40 plenty of control while keeping it fun to drive, even in the Normal setting.
The D2 is the most economical model, but even that still offers lots of performance along with its good economy and low emissions, while the D3 and D4 models are faster but not much less frugal. All models have responsive brakes, accurate handling and plenty of power for overtaking but if you want to maximise the fun, however, the turbocharged petrol models are better, proving to be smoother, quieter and faster when driven at motorway speeds. The T3 engine continues the excellent blending of speed and efficiency but the T5 petrol engine consumes fuel at a rate of knots when driving at higher speeds. You can have either a manual or automatic gearbox – with the manual feeling smooth and well suited to the more powerful diesel engines, in particular.
Price, value for money & options
The V40 is more expensive than either a Ford Focus or a BMW 1 Series, and what that extra money gets you is a generous amount of standard equipment and accessories, particularly safety technology. The entry-level ES comes fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured mirrors and bumpers, and headlamps that automatically adjust to how weighted down the car is. Inside, you get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a five-inch dashboard screen and iPod connectivity. The SE specification also adds keyless entry and engine start – so you can keep the keys in your pocket as you approach the car – as well as cruise control and a more stylish ‘T-Tec’ cloth trim. The top-spec Volvo V40 SE Lux also adds 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights and leather seats.
If you’re after a sportier exterior and large alloy wheels, the R-Design model is the model for you – but the stiffer suspension is less comfortable. Optional extras are expensive across the range, but if you can resist raising the price, you will get a relaxing, reliable and economical family car. Resale values on the used car market won’t be as good as either an Audi A3 or BMW 1 Series, however, but you should still be able to get a reasonable second-hand deal when the time comes to sell.