- Distinctive, different exterior
- Seriously comfortable seats
- Frugal and fast new engines
- Expensive for what it is
- Not as practical as some competitors
- No capped-price servicing
With premium hatchback sales surging, Volvo are keen to disrupt the leadership of the three German five-doors that have the market cornered. With the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, BMW 1 Series, and Audi A3 all very strong contenders, we spent a week with the Volvo V40 T5.
What we found was a comfortable, likeable, and surprisingly rapid hatch, with a big dose of character—something the Germans tend to lack. At about $59,000 on road, though, the T5 is expensive for this class. Thankfully, there are better-value options in the late $40,000s, like the D4 diesel and T4 petrol, which retain most of the T5’s character with a more approachable price.
That’s a good thing for Volvo, who have a lovely little car on their hands with the V40. Ultimately, it will be sharper pricing that will be the key to pulling the V40 hatch out of niche status.
ChasingCars.com.au reviewed the 2015 Volvo V40:
- 2015 Volvo V40 T5 R-Design (top trim), with the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol and eight-speed automatic, in Ice White with black leather, priced at $50,400 before on-road costs.
Volvo have recently overhauled the V40’s engine range, with a new set of turbo cylinders. There’s a choice of two diesels and two petrols: the picks are the high-output D4 diesel, which pairs very good fuel economy with a huge 400Nm serving of torque; and the low-output T4 petrol, which is very refined. The T5 petrol that we sampled for a week with the V40 is fast: 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque produce a Volvo hot-hatch.
The rorty old five-cylinder has been swapped out in favour of a new four which is efficient on the highway, but push it and the T5 is quicker than the Volkswagen Golf GTI—everybody that experienced this was taken by surprise by the T5’s ability to lay on speed. So, it’s a rapid cruiser—but does it sound overly ‘sporty’? Not really. The loss of the fifth cylinder has, sadly, meant the T5’s trademark growl has been pretty much muted. It’s quiet until revved out to redline, where some naughty induction noises break through into the cabin.
All V40s share Volvo’s new eight-speed automatic, which is a great gearbox. There are steering-wheel mounted paddles, but the transmission is smoothest when left to its own devices. A sport mode intuitively triggers quicker upshifts and downshifts. The only lag experienced is a little bit of turbo pause, though Volvo has done well in eliminating the worst of it.
Like most of its competitors—aside from the BMW—the V40 is front-wheel-drive. Pushed hard, the front wheels do get a bit overwhelmed, but understeer is remarkably well controlled while cornering. The T5 handles very sharply. Direction changes only require small inputs at the steering wheel, which feels very connected to the wheels. All V40s have a firmer-than-average suspension, but R-Design models are downright harsh over poor road surfaces, with some friends complaining about our T5 model’s ride.
The strength of the entire Volvo range is their comfort: specifically, they’ve got great seats. The seats in the V40 are the best in any premium small car, bar none—they are incredibly supportive and well-bolstered, no matter which model you choose. The leather-trimmed versions in the Luxury and R-Design models are very supple. What this means is that the V40 is very relaxing to drive over long distances, and for long stints at the wheel.
Interacting with the V40’s navigation and audio systems is difficult compared to the Mercedes or the Audi. The Volvo’s seven-inch infotainment screen is bright and crisp, but you can’t touch it—nor is there a rotary dial between the seats, like in the Germans. Instead, you use a mix of nineties, Nokia-style buttons and dials on the dash to work the various systems. Thankfully, this is disappearing in the new Volvo XC90 SUV. The V40’s sound system is brilliant out of the box. A variety of tracks sounded full and bassy, without any noticeable distortion.
The driver’s seat sits adequately low in the V40, which isn’t something we have been able to say about the company’s S60 and V60 midsizers. You’ve got a decent view out the front, but the small hatch window in the back makes rearward visibility really tough. Plus, there are some major blind spots to the left and right of the little Volvo. Both of those things make it troublesome that Blind Spot Assistance is only available as part of a costly $5,000 option package, along with other safety features.
Rear-seat passengers are accommodated comfortably in the V40. Fitting three adults abreast is a battle, but if you’re just carrying two, they will enjoy the bolstered outboard seats that are almost as comfy as those up front. As long as they’re not too tall, that is: the raked roofline makes space tight for six-footers.
The curvy Volvo isn’t as practical as the squared-off Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3, but it’s far from the worst in class. Inside, there are a number of cubby holes in which to stuff everyday clutter, plus a generously sized glovebox. The 335-litre boot is on the small side, though: the Golf offers a full 380 litres.
In the past, the V40’s seats didn’t fold flat: they do now, though, which makes it a little more useful for carrying longer, bulkier items—perhaps something flat-pack from the other famous Swedish manufacturer, IKEA.
Providing your passengers aren’t too tall, though, the cabin feels spacious enough to pack everybody in. If you opt for an all-black theme inside, it can feel slightly oppressive and tight: however, the $2,600 glass roof (that sadly does not open) brightens everything up significantly.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Volvo builds the V40 alongside the XC60 SUV at its Ghent factory, in Belgium. The heavy, solid feeling of Swedish-built Volvos is all present. The doors are reassuringly hefty; all exterior and interior parts fit together in a flush manner; and we didn’t experience any looseness or rattling inside the car.
Combined with the use of expensive-feeling materials in the cabin, the V40’s quality seems to be high. There isn’t too much data from Australian customers, but the V40 has performed well in reliability scores across the United Kingdom and Europe.
As standard, V40s are fitted with eight airbags and a number of active safety features. These include City Safety, Volvo’s autonomous emergency braking system that is works below 50 km/h. Primarily, it is designed to avoid running over pedestrians who stray into the Volvo’s path. More advanced safety technology is available, but only as part of a $5,000 option package. That price buys you most of the expected the toys: active cruise control, lane departure warning, and crucially, blind spot assist. All cars score the requisite five stars in crash ratings, out of the box.
Capped price servicing isn’t in effect for the V40, so predicting maintenance costs isn’t as easy to predict in some other cars. However, the decent reliability ratings, plus Volvo’s three-year, unlimited warranty should afford some peace of mind. The other side of running costs—fuel economy—is best in the diesels, though the new T5 can return economy in the 6.5L/100km range on the freeway. In town, that’s more like 10L/100km.
VALUE FOR MONEY
The Volvo V40 price in Australia depends on which of the three engines and trims you opt for. The ultra-frugal, 1.6-litre D2 diesel ($36,990) is only available in base Kinetic trim. Kinetics offer the adaptive digital dials standard across the range, but fabric seats the the going fare, and the central screen is smaller than in other trims. The D2 is only available as a manual; the T4 petrol ($41,990) and larger D4 diesel ($42,990) also start with Kinetic trim.
Stepping up to the mid-range Luxury trim brings soft leather trim, a larger screen, and satellite navigation, as well as cornering bi-xenon headlights, climate control, and powered front seats. Only the T4 ($45,990) and D4 ($46,990) are available as a Luxury in the standard V40 body. However, the fast T5 is available as a Luxury with the slightly-raised Cross Country body style ($52,990). A diesel Cross Country is also available ($47,990).
The top-spec car is the T5, only available in the sportiest trim, named R-Design ($50,400). That’s a big jump from the Luxury models, but brings stiffer suspension and a great deal more pace.
The options list is quite long, but there are a few key boxes to consider ticking: metallic paint is a pricey $1,750; heated front seats run $525; keyless go is $1,575. Don’t bother with the fixed glass roof or the uprated stereo—the standard unit is great.
The V40 to go for is the T4 Luxury, which mixes decent fuel economy with a drive-away price that rarely tops $50,000. That's still a high figure, though, and we're of the belief that Volvo would shift more of these enjoyable cars with sharper pricing closer to the high-end of the Volkswagen Golf range, which pulls plenty of buyers looking for a nice hatchback without stretching to German prices.
Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport ($51,000): what was once a tall, dowdy thing has been reworked into a proper Mercedes. The two-litre A250 Sport is a rorty little thing, a miniaturised A45 AMG. It’s not quite as rapid in a straight line as the V40 T5, and not quite as comfortable inside, but the A250 is a great way to buy into the three-pointed star.
BMW 125i M Sport ($51,000): the BMW’s standout feature is its rear-wheel-drive architecture, which makes it a natural performer in the twisty stuff. Interior packaging isn’t overly sumptuous, nor is it a beautiful looker, but it’s quick—and if you’re after more, there’s always the superlative six-cylinder 135i as well.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance ($48,490): the thinking buyer’s Golf is the GTI Performance, which offers cracking dynamics from a front-wheel-drive hatch, and looks the business, too. It’s automatic-only, pairing a quick turbo four to VW’s dual-clutch automatic. Better value than any of the others, too.
|Power||180kW @ 5500rpm|
|Torque||350Nm @ 1500–4800rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||123kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||6.1L / 100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Front wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||335L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||1032L|