Road Tests


Wednesday 7th August 2013


A T5 badge on its rump and a warbly 254hp turbo under the bonnet - it's a hot hatch, Swedish style

The Volvo V40 is a stylish car, and is attention-grabbing even when not painted in vivid Rebel Blue. Not convinced? OK, when was the last time you saw a BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 or Mercedes A-Class and thought 'Mm, there's a really good-looking car."

Polestar influence only extends to the paint
Polestar influence only extends to the paint
It's a theme that carries over (largely) to the V40's interior also. The TFT instruments are cool and crisp, whilst the floating dash is still an attractive design. Unfortunately, as far as ergonomics are concerned, that's the end of the V40's positives.

The centre console is a SNAFU of buttons, dials and switches that prove largely unfathomable prior to proper acclimatisation. Furthermore, even when familiar with their functions, the buttons are too small to hit at speed. Adding to the frustration is that the individual systems, particularly the navigation and radio, actually operate very well.

All in a (long-winded) name
But what is a Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Geartronic like when infotainment doesn't matter and fun is the sole aim? Again, it's a mixed bag. The engine is really strong, powerful across the rev range and with a discreet (probably too muted) five-cylinder warble.

Paint looks lairy, driving experience less so
Paint looks lairy, driving experience less so
Unfortunately, its strengths are undermined by the dire six-speed auto. Upshifts are smooth enough at lower speeds, but are frustratingly slow when pushing on. There are no steering wheel paddles either, plus changing on the shifter requires 'wrong' movements. It doesn't really need to kick down given the torque but, when it does, it's too slow.

But in one gear and with a few corners, the V40 feels good. It's rather aloof, with little sense of connection through the steering, but it doesn't feel wholly dictated by that engine out front. You don't need to Harris-like senses to note the decent sense of agility that eventually collapses into a predictably soft cushion of understeer and overall the V40 isn't dissimilar to the S60 T6 Polestar. Competent and strong without ever being truly involving, in other words.

Crash, bang, wallop
No discussion of the latest V40 is complete without reference to its ride. Our T5 was on a standard set-up and certainly wasn't flawless; the 225/40R18 tyres generate a lot of noise, marring the high overall refinement levels. But of greater note is just how crashy it can feel, wheels thumping down into potholes and lacking the composure of rivals.

It does warble, just quite modestly
It does warble, just quite modestly
And what rivals they are. Without a single option, the T5 R-Design is £31,390, which places it squarely against that BMW and the Audi S3 Sportback is expected at around that price too. A five-door Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance is £3,000 cheaper if not quite as fast. To compound the Volvo's problems, our test car came with options such as a £1,000 sunroof that pushed the total cost to £38,115. That's A45 AMG money.

The unfortunate reality is that the V40 simply cannot compete at the price. However, on our trip to Spa, it was a great companion; the ride was smoother at higher speeds, the seats are wonderfully comfortable and the (optional) stereo was great.

The point is these are traits available on lesser V40s, which must surely offer a more complete package. Smaller wheels combined with a lighter kerbweight (the 1.6-litre turbo is 120kg less than the T5!) can only improve the dynamic balance, and the price would be closer to its direct rivals. As a competitor for the lesser Golfs and A-Classes of this world, the V40 would definitely warrant serious consideration. As a hot hatch though, it simply can't cut it.

2,497cc 5-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 254@5,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 265@1,800-4,200rpm
0-62mph: 6.1sec
Top speed: 155mph
MPG: 35.8 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 185g/km
Price: £31,390 (£38,115 as tested)





Author: Matt Bird