venerable V40 is a car that didn't feel amazing in isolation four years ago. But we like a fast Volvo here on PH, and it should be noted that this particular car appears to have every single option thrown at it, right down to the 'flexible load floor with grocery bag holder' (for £100) - so it's hardly a representative spec. Perhaps a more pertinent question to ask is whether any of the Polestar Performance Parts are worth having; we know its complete cars have a distinct appeal, and that it has grand plans for the future, but what about the gubbins you can add to a regular Volvo now? Can the 100,000 customers who've already had their cars Polestared be wrong?
Er, perhaps. Like the V60 Polestar, the flagship V40 has surrendered its interesting engine - in this case the old five-cylinder 2.5 - for a seemingly more ordinary 2.0-litre with just the four combustion chambers. And while it revs keenly enough and feels to have made the front end less leaden, it still isn't fantastically memorable. As for the Polestar bit, it adds 8hp for £1,835 through an exhaust, intake and remap (you get the latter for free with the full package) but even someone who weighs money rather than counts it might question the value of that. Fortunately the gearbox calibration is slick, meaning that, while not rabidly fast, the V40 can be nudged along at a brisk enough pace.
You'll have to remind yourself of the cost of good looks, in every sense, when first mooching around in the Polestar. Those gorgeous wheels, combined with the Polestar springs and dampers, do give it a tangible abruptness at low speed. If you were feeling kind you'd call the damping purposeful, and certainly it's very well done, but heck is it firm.
At high speed everything starts to make a lot more sense. (Yeah, helpful in Britain, we know.) However where the previous, standard five-cylinder T5 would lurch and heave its way around, this car is significantly improved. There's now a real assurance in the way it shrugs off road imperfections that was lacking before. There's an increased willingness to change direction as well, a precision and eagerness hitherto absent in the V40. Some standard P Zeros will surely have helped, too.
There remains a good deal to like about the Volvo hatch - yet there's no mistaking its age or the fact that in the extraordinarily competitive hot hatch market, it's clearly out of its depth. Signs of Polestar's promise do shine through. Nevertheless what the standalone brand needs is not only a better base product but a broader remit, too. Constrained to aftermarket fiddling, as it is here, the result is confused and frustrating. With increased scope there's little doubt that Polestar could deliver on a new brief, which is heartening when you consider the former tuner's expansive new future as a fully-fledged division. The V40 feels very much like the past; the future though ought to be a much brighter shade of blue.
SPECIFICATION - VOLVO V40 WITH POLESTAR PERFORMANCE PARTS
Engine: 1,969cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 253@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,000-3,500rpm
Top speed: 149mph
MPG: 47.9 (NEDC combined)
Price: £32,015 (£42,665 as tested comprising £4,725 for Complete Polestar Performance Pack (including software optimisation, Intake and Exhaust Pack, 19-inch Polestar Lightweight alloy wheels, stainless steel exhaust system, Tech Matt Black rear diffuser, sports air filter and Polestar branded cover, Chassis Pack of Polestar, Blue sport springs and Polestar dampers plus Interior and Exterior Styling Pack of sports pedals, gearknob with Polestar branded emblem, glossy black door mirror covers, door sills and roof spoiler), £1,900 for IntelliSafe Pro (including Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, Queue Assist, Lane Keeping Aid, Driver Alert Control, Active high Beam, Road Sign Information Display and Blind Spot information System with Cross Traffic Alert), £775 for Winter Plus (including active LED headlights, heated front seats, heated front screen, headlight cleaning system, rain-sensing wipers, rear reading, theatre and front door side step illumination, illuminated gear knob), £500 for Sensus Connect with Premium Sound by Harman Kardon, £450 for Volvo On Call with app, £375 for rear park assist camera, £100 for flexible load floor with grocery bag holder, £550 for Keyless Drive with personal car communicator, £150 for frameless auto dimming rear mirror, £150 for gearshift paddles, £150 for Tempa spare wheel and jack plus £825 for Bursting Blue premium metallic paint)