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The Top Gear car review: Volvo V40

£19,140£33,900
8/10
Overall verdict

For: 

All-round abilities, classy interior, keen prices, very fuel-efficient engines

Against: 

At the moment, not a lot. This is a very able new compact hatch indeed
Great-looking, great to drive new Volvo should be a fine car to own.

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Our choice

Volvo

D4 SE 5dr

£24,115
N/A
66mpg
8.60s
177bhp
114g/km

What we say: 

Volvo hits the premium hatch format on the head: the V40 is an impressive model that's a genuine Golf rival

What is it?

You’d think that of all the posh car brands building a rival to the safe, sturdy, sensible VW Golf, it should be Volvo. But no: for years, Volvo has missed the premium five-door hatch target, giving us small saloons, small estates and small three-door coupes instead. By the law of averages, it was bound to stumble across a winning recipe at some point: the launch of the five-door V40 hatch is it.

This is a vital car for the brand. It’s intended to be a step up for Golf buyers, for those who don’t want the flash of an Audi A3 or BMW 1-Series. On looks alone, it’s there: this is a rather foxy-looking Volvo, and even the bonnet has been kept low and sporty thanks to the trick addition of a pedestrian airbag. Underneath, there’s a Volvo-ised version of the fine Ford Focus platform, plus a range of engines that shame even Bluemotion Golfs for efficiency. There’s no doubting the potential it possesses.

Driving

The surprise comes in how the V40 drives. Starting out with a Focus-derived platform is a smart move, for it breeds in a high level of ability right from the off . Volvo has simply enhanced this with some well-judged tuning of springs and dampers to create one of the most likeable upmarket family hatchbacks on sale. It’s a blend of tidy handling and absorbent ride quality that few manage to hit. Under the bonnet, fizzy turbo petrol engines are fun too – both Ecoboost motors come straight from the Focus – but diesels will naturally sell best. The 1.6 is OK but the real hitis the new D4 four-cylinder engine. This exceptional engine is smooth, eager and hot-hatch fast (the 0-60 dash takes 7.0 seconds) yet somehow blends it with high economy and low CO2. Amazing.

On the inside

Volvo has blended its usual warm and welcoming design with fine space, good layout and great quality. The seats are exquisitely comfortable and there are neat design touches such as a frameless rear-view mirror. A must-have option is the fully configurable TFT instrument pack display, whose digital layout is reminiscent of a Range Rover. It’s a lovely touch and just one of many examples that the V40 has been carefully, intelligently designed by people who care. It treats its occupants really well.

Owning

No faulting the diesels’ economy. The 1.6 D2 does 78.5mpg, while even the new D4 manages 74.3mpg and 99g/km despite its 190bhp power figure. That’s staggering. With an inclusive standard spec coming with even the ES – posher trims simply add to the luxury – this is a car with few apparent flaws and strong appeal. Volvo has at last got it right.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
T5 [245] R DESIGN Lux Nav 5dr Geartronic
6.4s 137g/km 47.9 245 £31,515
The cheapest
T2 [122] ES 5dr
9.8s 127g/km 51.4 122 £19,140
The greenest
D2 [120] ES 5dr
10.5s 94g/km 78.5 120 £21,140

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

7/10

Skoda Octavia

£16,230£27,695
If you want something sober, sturdy but just a little bit exciting too, there's always the new Skoda Octavia vRS