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.
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 hits are the five-cylinder motors, producing up to 177bhp. Their warbling engine note makes the V40 feel a cut above many rivals and they feel particularly well suited to the surprisingly appealing Cross Country SUV-look versions.
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.
No faulting the diesels’ economy. The 1.6 D2 does 78.5mpg, while even the five-cylinder D3 and D4 manage up to 65.7mpg despite their fruity engine note. 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.