The Numbers

2497cc, 5cyl, FWD, 187kW, 360Nm, 8.1L/100km, 189g/km C02, 0-100km/h in 6.1secs, 250km/h 1468kg

The Topgear Verdict

Safer than CIA safe houses, it’s a very pleasing premium hatch with a wide range of models to choose from. It has its work cut out, though, in a super competitive segment dominated by the holy trinity of German luxury.

2013 Volvo V40

Provided you're human, this car ought to be the best one Volvo has produced. So says Håkan Abrahamsson, Volvo's man who made it. It's the first Volvo, he says, built to a new philosophy of "human-centric design - designed around you".

At last! Volvo's previous philosophy, which presumably designed their cars around drivers who were dogs or imaginary space aliens or bollards, was a disaster. It explains why to drive an XC90, for example, you needed tentacles. But… a motor vehicle that's been designed specifically for humans? It's genius.

Silly Volvo. Of course, all cars, even terrible Chinese cars, are designed around and for humans. Volvo's slogan department should be sacked. But its safety engineers remain the best in the business. They're on track for a raise. Another one.

The V40's most reported feature is its groundbreaking pedestrian airbag, and most reports about the car have begun by pointing it out. It's clever, running across the exterior base of the windscreen and vertically up the A-pillars, and - combined with super smart technology that can tell a human from a dog or a bollard or a space alien - goes off if you hit a pedestrian between 20-50km/h. Touch wood.

It's excellent, and it's also altruistic - because it won't sell them many cars. Nobody buys a car with the safety of the thing they'll run into in mind, for the same reason that nobody really cares whether the tree that Brocky hit died.

Lucky, then, that the safety features for people inside the car are also top-notch. A pedestrian avoidance system and City Safety auto braking come standard, and its NCAP result in Europe is the highest ever recorded. (An extras package including a speed-sign reading HUD, lane-assist, blind-spot warning, auto high-beam dimming and a system that warns of cars approaching from the side while reversing from a nose-in park costs $5000).

Abrahamsson says Volvo never expected all the fuss about the exterior airbag, which is odd, because it's both revolutionary and weird-looking. He's frustrated that nobody has concentrated on the rest of the car. He shouldn't be - because the rest of the car isn't as good.

Australia gets four models, all with turbos, starting with a 1.6-litre, manual-only four-pot in the 84kW D2. The rest sport five cylinders: the 2.0-litre, 130kW/400Nm D4 diesel; the 2.0-litre, 132kW/300Nm T4 petrol; and the top-end, 2.5-litre, 187kW/360Nm T5 R-Design. The petrols are best, and the T5 has the guts, at least straight-line terms, to beat proper hot hatches like the Golf GTI with a 6.1 second 0-100km/h time.

All of them look fantastic; raked and hunkered, an unlikely asset made of the lifted bonnet line (to accommodate that airbag) sweeping into muscular, if unflexed, shoulders for a look of litheness and speed.

The T5, in fact, is rather good. There's power to burn, enough to chirp the tyres on a second gear upshift, although paddles would be a huge addition; manual shifts are made by levering the gear knob.

It sounds the business, if in a slightly muted way, without the over waffle and bark of a show-off hot hatch contender in the Focus or Golf GTI mould. It's also dynamically sound through twists, although the steering has so little feeling it would dump a disabled girl by text.

It's competitive with A3, 1 Series and A-Class inside the cabin as well - and on paper. Price-wise, the aggressively priced new Mercedes is its main competitor.

If you want a sensible premium hatch with surprising grunt, look no further. This price, though, is entry level to the premium marques, where show-off badges are a genuine drawcard. Volvo's been lying awake at night thinking about humans. The Germans are yet to lose sleep over the Swedes.

Reviewed by: Ben Smithurst

Driven: June 30, 2013