Review

Volvo V40 hatchback

£20,255 - £32,015

The Volvo V40 is a premium family hatchback that competes with the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. If you’re after a comfortable and luxurious car, but find the offerings from these manufacturers a little conventional for your tastes, the V40 makes an excellent case for itself. Looks may be highly subjective, but the Volvo's design undoubtedly appeals. Families after a safe car, meanwhile, will struggle to do better than the V40.

Volvo has a long-held reputation for safety and the V40 has seriously impressive credentials in this area: Euro NCAP rated it as the safest small family car to buy in 2012, with crash-test results that have only been bettered since then by the much larger and newer Volvo XC90. All V40s come with autonomous emergency braking (which applies the brakes for you if it detects an impending collision) as well as a pedestrian airbag, which rises out from under the bonnet. In fact, the V40 remains one of the safest cars on sale today; we gave it the Carbuyer Safest Car award in 2015.

The V40 is more than just a safe car, however. It boasts a high-quality and aesthetically pleasing dashboard, comfortable seats and an excellent engine range – particularly if you’re after a diesel. On the road, the V40 also impresses. As you’d expect, it's quiet and comfortable on the motorway, but show it a winding B-road and the V40 handles with more aplomb than you might expect; that's partly thanks to mechanical underpinnings shared with the Ford Focus, one of the best-driving hatchbacks on sale today. If you want a raised ride height and the option of four-wheel drive, Volvo also makes the V40 Cross Country, which we’ve reviewed separately.

Volvo offers the V40 with a range of petrol and diesel engines. There's a 120bhp petrol called the T2, as well as a 148bhp T3 petrol and the range-topping 242bhp T5 2.0-litre petrol. It's worth noting that the T2 and T3 come with a turbocharged 1.5-litre engine when fitted with an automatic gearbox, while choosing manual means these engines are 2.0-litres. The most powerful T5 engine is automatic-only.

Fuel consumption for the petrols ranges from 51.4mpg (for the 120 and 148bhp engines) to 47.9mpg for the 242bhp T5 model. Reasonable (if not exceptional) CO2 emissions will see you paying either £110 or £130 a year in road tax, while performance ranges from the lukewarm (the 120bhp takes 9.8 seconds to go from 0-62mph) to the rapid (the 242bhp engine takes just 6.4 seconds to do the same). The T3 costs about £1,500 more than the T2, while the range-topping T5 is best thought of as a performance-orientated model in its own right, as it costs £10,000 more than the basic T2 car.

In truth, the V40's three diesel engines are the star performers. The cheapest and most economical is the 118bhp 2.0-litre D2, which returns 78.5mpg. The 148bhp D3 and 187bhp D4 diesels are also 2.0-litres and both manage 74.3mpg. All the diesels are exempt from road tax thanks to their low CO2 emissions – unless you choose an automatic gearbox, available with all three. Even with this option fitted, though, road tax is only £20 a year.

Performance for the D2 diesel is satisfactory, with 0-62mph taking 10.5 seconds. The D3, which costs about £1,200 more than the D2, goes from 0-62mph in just 8.4 seconds. Choosing the most powerful 187bhp D4 shaves a second off the 0-62mph time, but adds a further £1,400 or so to the list price compared to the D3. If you’ve got the money to spare, the D4's excellent performance and economy make it easy to recommend. In fairness, though, many will find the extra cost hard to justify and the D3 is an excellent all-round performer.

The V40 has a luxurious interior, built using high-quality materials. The dashboard is sensibly laid out and – while a smattering of buttons makes it feel a little ‘busy’ – everything works intuitively, although some of the switches don’t operate with the same sense of solidity you get from an Audi A3. The seats offer excellent support and while rear passengers get a reasonable amount of room, the middle seat is a little cramped. The V40's boot is also on the small side, at 335 litres; this is less luggage space than there is in the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class – even if none of those cars offers an enormous boot.

The V40 is available in four trim levels. The entry-level Momentum model includes 16-inch alloy wheels, DAB radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity, LED headlights and air-conditioning. Moving up to the R-Design costs about £2,000 and adds larger 17-inch alloy wheels, a part-leather interior and an eight-inch TFT digital dashboard display, which replaces the traditional dials.

Inscription trim costs a further £800 or so and brings with it leather seats, cruise control and sat nav. The top-spec R-Design Pro trim adds a further £1,500 to the V40's cost, and for that you get 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, ambient interior lighting and rear parking sensors, as well as sat nav.

Depending on whether you want a sporty or luxurious feel, Inscription and R-Design trims provide the best blend of equipment and value for money. Volvo also offers a range of option packs, ranging from the heated seats and headlamp washers of the Winter Pack to the all-round parking sensors and panoramic sunroof of the Xenium Pack.

Performance fans should ask their Volvo dealer if their V40 can be fitted with Polestar upgrades, which include a power boost for the engine, as well as suspension tweaks, exhaust modifications and bespoke alloy wheel designs. These can be fitted individually or as part of a package.

As mentioned above, the V40 is a remarkably safe car. It scored a near-perfect 98% adult occupant protection rating from Euro NCAP and managed a 100% result for its safety assistance systems – results that contributed to its five-star overall rating. In short, there are few safer cars on the road today.

Reliability is less stellar, but still reasonable: in our 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey the V40 finished mid-way through the rankings, coming 78th out of 150 cars; a 43rd-place finish for outright reliability was more impressive, though.