Swedish exports have always done well here in Blighty.
Beyond the now ubiquitous Swedish furniture chains, we’ve also had an affinity for Scandinavian music – whether it won the Eurovision Song Contest or not – and if the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy is anything to go by, it seems we have a growing appreciation of Swedish cinema, too.
It’s not surprising, then, that we’ve grown fond of Swedish cars, with the seemingly omnipresent Volvo estate almost becoming a part of our national psyche.
Watch our Volvo V40 Video Review
It’s no secret that for many years Volvo’s design department was headed by a Brit, Peter Horbury, the man who’s now responsible for design at Chinese parent company Geely.
While there are those who dismiss Volvo purely on the basis of the Geely association, to do so is more than a little narrow-minded. Jaguar Land Rover has flourished under its new-found Indian stewardship, for instance, and if the design of Volvo’s new XC90 is anything to go by, it seems our favourite purveyor of Nordic metal is all set to follow a similar course.
It still needs to get its meat-and-potatoes models right, however, and for many people that means a Volvo V40.
Pitched into the aspirational hatchback market somewhere around the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series level, the V40 certainly has its work cut out.
Although based on the Ford Focus – thanks to the company’s brief period under the American firm’s umbrella – the V40 is the result of considerable fiddling by the firm’s engineers in Gothenburg.
It wears a suitably Swedish set of design cues, the most obvious of which is the strong shoulder line that runs from the headlights into the rear light clusters and finishes at the glass tailgate, which wears a hexagonal layout as a subtle nod to the stylish P1800 of old.
The interior, too, is all Volvo, and that means chunky column stalks, a tasteful use of technical finishes, and the now familiar floating central stack that provides a home for the minor switchgear as well as a little extra storage behind it, something the rest of the cabin isn’t short of.
While the sheer number of buttons can appear overwhelming at first, on closer inspection everything is logically grouped together, and we’ve always been a fan of Volvo’s so-simple-it-hurts climate controls.
The instruments are now entirely digital and feature exceptionally clear graphics and a rather elegant design, although two other modes – Eco and Performance – are available if you fancy a change of mood. Volvo have made an effort with the animations, too, with smooth transitions between the various menus and a fun silhouette that appears when you climb aboard.
Navigation, connectivity and infotainment duties are fulfilled by Volvo’s Sensus Connect system and this includes full European mapping, UK post codes, DAB digital radio, and the ability to store your favourite music on the system’s internal hard drive.
The My Car menu provides easy access to your most frequently-used functions, and that’s just as well because there’s an amazingly comprehensive array of vehicle configuration options available.
One particularly practical touch is that the owners’ manual is built-in to the system so there’s no need to reach into the glovebox and thumb your way through the index if there’s something you’re not sure of.
All in all, it’s a thoroughly classy cabin to spend time in, and at night a multitude of LEDs bathe the interior in coloured light to suit your mood, or change automatically with temperature. There’s even the option of a glowing gear-knob for a touch of bling.
Rear seat passengers will find Volvo have moved the seats inboard slightly, and this gives a better forward view as well as a touch more shoulder- and elbow-room, although some of this obviously arrives at the expense of whoever gets the middle seat. The thoughtful touches continue with storage trays alongside each seat, plus a pair of cup-holders tucked away under the middle seat.
The boot is equally practical, with a 402-litre capacity with the seats in place and loaded to the roof, increasing to 1,032 litres with the seats folded. Specify the optional flexible load floor and you’ll have a usefully flat area at your disposal, plus a handy underfloor compartment, although it’s a shame the parcel shelf is a touch too large to fit in here, as there’s no other logical place to stow it when not in use.
All of this is propelled by a range of engines that covers every conceivable base. All are turbocharged, starting with a trio of 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol units in 120, 150 and 180hp guises, plus a warbling 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit with 250hp.
Diesel options are covered by a 1.6-litre D2 with 115hp, plus a pair of 2.0-litre units with 150 and 175hp.
All offer incredibly low CO2 emissions and promising economy figures, headlined by the D2 unit with just 88 g/km and an official combined cycle economy figure of 83.1 mpg. Even the monstrous 250hp T5 emits just 137 g/km and returns 47.9 mpg.
Our test car was powered by the 115hp D2 diesel, and despite some lethargy below 1,800rpm if you can keep it in the power-band it’s a surprisingly willing performer, with 0-62mph taken care of in 11.9 seconds.
By default it’s mated to a six-speed manual transmission with a delightfully slick shift-action, although its tall and occasionally oddly-spaced ratios – which presumably have been chosen to deliver those killer economy and emissions figures – can occasionally leave the engine off the boil.
However, once you’ve grown to understand each other, it’s not difficult to find a natural rhythm, and for most people the D2 is all the engine they’ll ever need.
While we couldn’t match the government’s official 83.1 mpg figure, we had little trouble maintaining a 55mpg average, with a figure in the low to mid-60s perfectly achievable on longer journeys.
While Volvos have traditionally been given a rather stately set of road manners, the V40 actually goes about its business rather well. It’s not desperately involving, but there’s enough enthusiasm behind the steering and the body control to keep things interesting, although we did notice a tendency to crash into larger surface imperfections and make a bit of a din when driving over speed-bumps.
All V40s are fitted with the company’s City Safety system as standard, and this applies the brakes automatically if it detects a collision is imminent at speeds up to 31mph.
You can upgrade this system by specifying a £1,900 Driver Support Pack which adds features such as blind spot warning, cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, road sign display, a pedestrian and cyclist detection system that warns of obstacles in your path, applying the brakes automatically if needed, and distance alert that includes a series of lights at the base of the windscreen that glow threateningly at you like an angry Cylon if you get too close to the car in front.
The system also provides what is perhaps the best adaptive cruise control system we’ve driven, matching your speed to that of the vehicle in front, applying the brakes to maintain a set distance if required, and even allowing you to change gear on manual cars without cancelling the cruise function. On automatic models, it will even brake smoothly to a standstill and pull away again in stop-start traffic. All very impressive.
You might be wondering how much all of this is likely to cost you, and the answer is potentially less than you think.
The V40 range starts at £18,995 for the T2 petrol, with the diesel models starting at £20,795. It can all get a little pricey if you spend too much time ticking boxes on the option list, with our D2 test car coming in at £31,870 after £6,350 of options.
Keep it sensible, though, and the Volvo V40 represents a value for money, stylish, practical and typically safe alternative to the usual suspects.
|Entry-level Price||£18,995||Price as tested||£31,870|
|Engine||4-cyl turbodiesel, 1560cc||Transmission||Six-speed manual|
|Power||115hp @ 3,600rpm||Torque||270Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm|
|0-62||11.9 secs||Top speed||118 mph|
|Economy||83.1 mpg||CO2||88 g/km|
|Dimensions||4369 x 1802 x 1445 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1343 kg|