Premium hatchbacks have soared in popularity in recent years, the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 being two of the finest examples. Volvo fancies a slice of that action and will tackle its rivals with the brand new V40 -- a high end hatch designed tempt Jones-keeper-uppers away from usual suspects, while appealing to those who want something a little more glamorous than a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra.
The Volvo badge has never been quite as lust-worthy as those that adorn its German rivals, but don't let that put you off because the V40 is a real looker.
The front end has a tenacious determined look about it and in profile the car seems almost coupe-like. The rear is reminiscent of the Volvo's C30 hatch but smarter light clusters and a more curvaceous bumper give it a more finished look. The C30's rear end always looked a bit like there was something missing from it but the V40's backside is better proportioned.
Inside, the cabin's design is simple yet elegant with lots of modern touches thrown in to spice things up. For example the dashboard and centre stack are relatively basic in their design, but splashes of chrome add a contemporary touch. There's a colour-customisable LED spotlight on the ceiling that bathes the cabin in a hue of your choice (selectable via the onboard computer) and a fully digital instrument binnacle that shows your speed, rev counter, indicators and other instruments in clear, customisable graphics.
Our favourite flourish is the frameless rear view mirror, which looks like a piece of art hovering seductively from the windscreen.
Scandinavian seats have tendency to be a little too hard for our delicate British bottoms, but the pews in the Volvo V40 are excellent. They're comfortable and supportive and the driving position help you feel at one with the car whilst providing a good view of the road ahead.
The door bins, central armrest storage compartment and glove box are of a decent size and there's a useful, if slightly awkward to reach cubby for storing your mobile phone behind the centre stack just behind the climate control buttons.
There really isn't a lot of room for rear passengers in the V40. It's possible to get five people inside the thing, but those at the rear will feel a bit claustrophobic – particularly anyone that draws the short straw and has to sit in the middle seat. Four passengers fit best, especially if they're not very tall.
Performance & Handling
The V40 is easy to get on with for the most part. Its steering is light so darting in and out of gaps in traffic is a breeze, and the ride is supple enough to make light of damaged road surfaces.
It's also more than happy to oblige those who fancy a quick B road blast. It uses the same chassis as the excellent Ford Focus so it's well balanced and has so much grip you'll run out of talent before the car does. All modern Volvos can be rewarding to drive, but this is a level above any Volvo we've tested in the past -- it's an absolute delight.
If we had one criticism it'd be the frustrating, occasionally muddy gear change. At times finding the right gear (particularly reverse) is a bit like rummaging through a stranger's handbag.
The Volvo V40 has a good assortment of engines including D2, D3 and D4 diesels and T3 and T4 petrols. The 115hp D2 feels a little underpowered, taking 12.3 seconds to cover 0-62mph, but the 150bhp D3 and 177bhp D4 zip along very well, achieving the same sprint in 9.6 and 8.6 seconds respectively. The 150bhp T3 and 180bhp T4 offer similar performance to their D3 and D4 counterparts.
Economy & environment
The most wallet and planet-friendly engine is the D2, which emits 94g/km and returns 78.5mpg. The D3 and D4 aren't bad, either. Both emit 115g/km and return 65.7mpg. Both petrol engines return around 50mpg.
Equipment & value
The V40 is available in three grades. The entry-evel ES comes with 16-inch alloys, power windows, a leather steering wheel and gear knob and cloth floor mats. SE trim costs £1,333 more and adds slightly better upholstery, cruise control, a steering wheel remote control, keyless start, auto folding door mirrors with ground lighting and chrome exterior trim. An extra £1,667 gets you the SE Lux trim, which comes with leather upholstery, 17-ich alloys, LED day running lights, and active bending xenon lights.
Adding a Volvo integrated 7-inch sat-nav to any of these specs will set you back £1,000. This includes full European mapping, two complimentary annual map updates and the screen doubles as a DVD player, though only while the car is at a standstill.
It's hard to think of a safer car than the Volvo V40. All versions come with City Safety, which scans the road ahead for pedestrians and obstacles and can apply the brakes to prevent an impact. All cars also feature the world's first pedestrian airbag, which deploys to help save the lives of anyone you're unlucky enough to hit, and there are more airbags than you can shake a crash test dummy at.
The V40 will scan the road ahead for lane markings and will automatically steer itself back into lane if it thinks you've fallen asleep and are drifting off the road. It really is as safe as houses.
The Volvo V40 is a brilliant car. It may never be as desirable as a BMW 1 series or Audi A3, but it manages to compete with those cars on just about every level. It's attractive, well put together, drives brilliantly and comes with all the toys you'd expect to find in a premium hatchback.
Model tested: Volvo V40 D3 SE Lux Nav
Engine: 1.9L diesel manual transmission
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
Emissions: 114g/km CO2