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Volvo's new concepts preview the 40-series

Volvo fires off 'next stage of the rocket' with 40.1 and 40.2 concept cars

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Volvo has released details and a pair of concepts for its next range of mid-size 40-series cars. “It’s part of the transformation of Volvo Cars,” says CEO Hakan Samuelsson.

The 40.1 concept (pictured first) is a ringer for the XC40, due to hit showrooms next year. That’s a crossover a size smaller than the XC60. A BMW X1 rival, if you will. The 40.2 wears fastback-saloon disguise but is actually a hatchback.

Design director Thomas Ingenlath is keen to point out how different they are from the XC/V/S90. Come to that, from the upcoming new XC60 too. He says Volvo isn’t about building one shoe in several sizes. He says that’s what his rivals do and he pours scorn on it. “It’s 100 percent recognisable, 100 percent on-brand and 100 percent boring.”

Switching to full designer-philosphy mode, he says Volvo design will be different shoes. Actually waves some of them around: a black loafer for the 90-series, a softer dark-brown pointed-toe loafer for the 60-series, and a designer sneaker for the 40-series.

Errr. Right-oh. Here’s another go at explaining it. The new cars have stronger surface facets and a distinctive kick-up to the rear door windows.

Ingenlath is also keen to say these are close to the showroom result. “We will deliver on the expectation of these two show cars as they’re becoming production cars.” The 40.1 is very close indeed to the XC40.

Despite its name, the 40.2 is the concept version of the third body style in the new 40 series, we understand. Samuelsson implies a regular hatch, replacing the current V40, will come next after the XC40.

I suggest to Ingenlath it’s not entirely unlike the gen-2 Skoda Octavia, which he also designed. He doesn’t get mad. “It’s a hatch that dominated its segment and did well both in Europe and China.”

Underneath the 40.1 and 40.2 is Volvo’s freshly-minted platform, which they’re calling CMA (Compact Modular Architecture). There will be a third 40-series body shell by 2020. Ingenlath says the short overhangs and tight proportions are only possible because of this new platform.

Volvo’s head of R&D Peter Mertens says the platform is a step ahead for Volvo. “We are going to fire the next stage of the rocket. That’s electrification and autonomous drive.” There’ll be plug-in hybrid versions of the new cars. They will be super-connected (Sweden is one of the world’s most connected societies). And early in their lives the 40-series will get self-driving tech trickled down from the 90-series Volvos.

Autonomy won’t happen until after 2020 he says. And even then it will be a part-time system. In the country and town centres, the driver will be very much in charge, with lots of support from steering and evasion systems. But “on a motorway the car takes over completely and you can lean back and use the time for something else.”

Power? Volvo is working on related petrols and diesels, some of the petrols having help from plug-in hybrid electrification.

There will be front drive and normal propellor-shaft four-wheel-drive. And also, according to Mertens, “very potentially possibly” one with the the XC90 T8-style 4WD via an electric rear axle motor.

Enough? Nope, there’ll be a full-electric version too, released in about 2020, which will be capable of “about 200 miles” on a charge, says Mertens. The electric version puts the flattened T-shaped battery under the centre of the floor, widening out under the back seat. This is previewed by the 40.2 concept, which has 20-inch wheels to raise the floor enough to make space for the battery without you having to cut your feet off.

At the sharp end of the sales figures will be a brand-new turbo three-cylinder engine, related to the firm’s recent generation of four-cylinder petrols. It makes 180bhp. Beyond that, the four-cylinder fits.

A new hybrid system has an electric motor/generator hanging on a twin-clutch transmission, so it can drive through the gearbox alone, or in concert with the petrol triple. “It’s low CO2,” says Mertens, “but good performance, a T5 position. High power without regrets.” It uses the 180bhp engine plus a 74bhp electric motor. Both drive through the seven-speed DCT transmission in hybrid mode. But to simplify the design and cut friction, in electric mode the motor uses second, fourth and sixth gears only.

Top Gear mentions Polestar. “We’ll talk later. But why would we have invested in Polestar if we didn’t want to expand it? Yes, we’ll build sustainable performance. Volvo doesn’t want to copy anybody.”

Meanwhile the full-electric version of the production 40.2 won’t look much different from the ones with regular engines. “A pure EV doesn’t have to be ugly.” Is this a swipe at the Leaf and i3 we quietly wonder, but Mertens carries straight on: “Ours aren’t yelling ‘I’m different’.”

Ah, but don’t EVs need ultra-low drag and special packaging for their batteries? “That’s the beauty of thinking about it from the start of the platform,” he argues, as opposed to just adapting an existing combustion car.

Beyond all the fancy-schmancy electrified versions, there will be a good old diesel. We prompt Mertens about dieselgate. “Diesels aren’t done. I hope the emotions calm down. Diesels aren’t done. We’ll have them for some time.” But he says he won’t do a three-cylinder diesel “for the foreseeable future,” just the existing four.

Inside, Volvo’s giant touch-screen will make an appearance on the 40-series, though not on all models. Among the apps will be one where you can do away with the key, and send anyone you want a secret code from anywhere via the web, letting them unlock and drive the car with their phone.

The CMA platform is actually a co-development, done in Sweden, with Volvo’s Chinese owner Geely. Geely will build a range of cars in China. It means Volvo could afford a new platform rather than borrowing something pre-existing from a rival.

But Mertens says it’s not just a re-skin job between Geely and Volvo. “We can differentiate from Geely - different component sets for different requirements. Different rear suspension, active safety equipment, electrics.” The Volvo will also get the big-screen infotainment system from the XC90.

“All Volvos will be tested at our safety centre. There’s the bandwidth for a low-cost mass-market competitiveness for them and also for us to beat the Germans in the premium segment.”

Beat the Germans? Fighting talk. Do the early signs look good? Comments below please.

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