Month 7 running a Volvo V40: final verdict on Volvo's entry-level hatchback
Seven of the ten best-selling cars of 2012 were hatchbacks – eight if you include the Nissan Qashqai, which is about as good off-road as a deflated Space Hopper, so let’s call that a hatchback too. Launching into this fiercely fought sector is a challenge for any manufacturer, but for Volvo… it doesn’t have a great track record. Remember the porridge 340 (every geography teacher’s favourite car)? Or the 480 with its pop-up lights and glass rear hatch? Or the handsome but flawed C30?
Maybe that’s why Volvo took such a conventional path this time. The V40 is a regular, unchallenging, some might say boring, five-door hatchback, aimed squarely at those top-ten favourites. Curvy to the point of being droopy, it’s not exactly a looker like the Golf, especially on our car’s 16-inch wheels.
Our long-term-test V40 was delivered in September 2012. Painted in Passion Red it’s a D2 SE Nav, which means a 1.6-litre, 113bhp four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, a six-speed manual ’box, cloth-trim seats and a host of high-end electronics, including Bluetooth phone and streaming music, sat-nav and air-con. Our car was also fitted with the optional Driver’s Support Pack, which means a bewildering array of safety features: collision warnings, pedestrian detection, lane-keeping systems, intelligent cruise control, blind-spot information… basically the kind of complexity that’s best forgotten as soon as the car arrives. Altogether, the options pushed the price up from the standard £22,545 to £26,820.
With hindsight, the option I’d omit next time is the ‘Active TFT & Illuminated Gearknob’. The glassy gearknob, lit from inside, is a pointless detail, and the Active TFT – an electronic dashboard display that allows you to switch colours – is just a first-week novelty. By week two, I can’t imagine anyone really changing colour from green to red just because they’re feeling a bit ‘sporty’.
Details aside, it’s been the interior that’s won everyone over at CAR, including me. My recent migration into the Ford Focus ST (see p139) has only highlighted the quality of the Volvo’s design. Where the Focus has buttons scattered all over the dash like they’ve spilled out of a paper bag, the V40’s interior is a world of reason and order. The main functions are all controlled using four rotary dials on the centre console, and it takes no time at all to get used to switching from navigation to Bluetooth phone to your iPod on the move. Combine this intuitive design with high levels of equipment and the uncluttered look and feel, and you’re looking at a truly premium-feeling interior.
The other highlight has been the engine. Rather than order the top-of-the-range D4 with its five-cylinder diesel back in September, we thought we’d try the 1.6-litre four-cylinder. More conventional, yes, but a really spirited engine, and it felt strong and responsive in any scenario. Plus it allowed me to reach my best-ever average fuel economy, of 46mpg.
So I really admired the V40, even if there was little to really fall in love with, other than that interior. Maybe if it was drop-dead gorgeous on the outside, I might have felt more for it? Anyway, in the end the issue became not looks, nor performance, but size. The arrival of a new baby late last year meant the V40 was simply no longer big enough. By the time we were loaded up for a typical day out (car seat, three-wheeled buggy, changing bag etc) the car was rammed full. Maybe that’s why so many people buy Nissan Qashqais? Whatever – the V40 is undoubtedly a serious contender in the hatchback market, but only if you travel light.
By Mark Walton
Month 6 running a Volvo V40: a pale interior colour was mistake!
You only really get to know a car when you clean it – when you get down on your hands and knees and get intimate with the footwell, when you scrape that gummy bear out of the door pocket with your fingernails, or shove a Hoover pipe into those crevices where the sun never shines. Only then will you find the sharp edges, the exposed screws and the cheap plastics that betray shortcuts in quality. It’s another reason to be impressed with the Volvo: the V40 has a beautifully made interior, with its solid-feeling dashboard grained like elephant skin, its stainless steel-look trim highlights, and the bespoke feeling switches and dials. I love the ‘floating’ centre console too, Volvo’s design quirk that creates a hollowed-out space behind the lower dash (though I haven’t actually found a use for the cubbyhole).
My only concern is the pale interior. Our ‘Passion Red’ paint finish is complemented by the ‘Blond’ cloth trim, but the seats are getting a serious battering after just 6000 miles. I can’t even blame the kids, and their lethal combination of melted chocolate, McDonalds’ ketchup and that orange stuff that stains your fingers when you eat Doritos. No, the worst affected area is the driver’s seat – my jeans are turning the seat blue. Advice? Go for blue seats, as Volvo doesn’t offer ‘Dorito Orange’.
By Mark Walton
Month 5 running a Volvo V40: testing the V40's practicality to the limit
Having a new baby at the end of last year has had quite an impact on family life with the Volvo: going anywhere these days – even a short daytrip – involves lugging a mountain of equipment around, like we’re embarking on a major expedition up the Orinoco River. Frankly, the V40 just isn’t big enough anymore. This came to light during a week-long winter holiday in the Lake District. By the time we’d loaded up the three-wheeled, off-roading baby buggy, the boot was full. Then the enormous Maxi-Cosi car seat, with its ‘FamilyFix’ clip-in base, took up one of the back seats, which means everything else (five bags, an enormous travel cot, wellies, umbrella, and enough waterproof clothing to kit out an entire scout troop) needed the split rear seat to be folded down just to fit it all in. If we’d been travelling with any of the other kids we’d have needed a roof rack.
Apart from its size, the Volvo performed well. As I’ve said many times before, the high-tech interior is a great place to spend a few hours, and all the gadgets have a sensible, Scandinavian cohesion that makes it a cinch to switch from sat-nav to radio to the Bluetooth phone on the move. From the driver’s seat that feels like ‘big car’ luxury, even if it only has a ‘small car’ boot.
And while our D2 SE model only has the four-cylinder 1.6-litre diesel (the D3 and D4 models come with bigger 2.0-litre five cylinders), with its slick six-speed gearbox and 200lb ft available from 1750rpm, it’s a car that rarely falters when you ask for more, and it’ll sweep you effortlessly up a steep Cumbrian pass. I enjoyed driving it to the Lakes and back – it was only when we returned to it after a long walk in the pouring rain, when we’d have to squeeze everything back in, soaking wet, that I’d think ‘I wish we had an estate’.
By Mark Walton
Month 4 running a Volvo V40: is the V40 spacious enough for a regular family?
Am I missing something? One of the options fitted to our Volvo V40 is the ‘Flexible Load Floor’, which costs £100. The grey carpeted floor of the boot has a little handle on it, and when you pull it, the floor folds up and back against the rear seat to reveal… a 9cm-deep tray. Nine centimetres. I actually pulled up the carpet at the bottom of the new floor, wondering if there was another 9cm-deep void beneath this, and another under that, and so on and so on until I found myself at the bottom of a deep well, full of bats and dripping water. But there was just the spare wheel.
What exactly does Volvo think you’re going to keep in this little compartment? An iPad would fit. A folded table cloth perhaps? Or are you just supposed to open it up to create a bigger overall boot, in which case, why not just do away with the false floor and have a bigger boot all the time?
And as a family car, the V40 needs every cubic centimetre. At 335 litres, its boot is bigger than a Focus’s (only 316) but smaller than the new Golf’s (380). On a recent weekend away with my three teenagers, the boys brought squashy bags, I brought a toothbrush and a carefully folded pair of underpants (hidden beneath the Flexible Load Floor), but my daughter brought three long-haul cases that needed a winch to lift in. I don’t need a flexible floor, I need a trailer.
By Mark Walton
Month 3 running a Volvo V40: our V40 dodges motorway dangers - 6 February 2013
I had a bizarre journey the other day. I was on the M6, minding my own business in the middle lane, when a lorry’s rear tyre disintegrated in front of me. The lorry swerved drunkenly and rubber sprayed out in all directions, thrashing the front of the Volvo.
I’d just got over that shock when – literally three minutes later – I was overtaking another articulated lorry with a white van on the back, when the van suddenly came loose and rolled off the trailer, like cargo being pushed out the back of a transporter plane. It landed on the motorway like a bomb going off, right beside me, in an explosion of metal and glass. It was like me and the V40 were caught in the middle of an action movie, only instead of calmly dodging the grenades and returning fire, I practically had a heart attack.
A few miles later I pulled into a service station and assessed the damage. Apart from a few black, rubber streaks across the nose, the only damage was a missing plastic cap, leaving the towing eye exposed. Meanwhile my hair has turned white.
By Mark Walton
Month 2 running a Volvo V40: our Volvo V40's gadget round-up - 4 January 2013
It's who you want to be – it’s you.’ So says the Volvo V40 TV ad, highlighting the ‘adaptive digital display’ which you can change to suit your mood. But that display (a £350 option, by the way) is just the tip of the iceberg – there are so many ways to personalise your V40, you start asking yourself some deep, existential questions, like ‘Who am I?’, ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘Am I “Eco Green” or “Performance Red” or “Elegance Brown?”’
As well as choosing a brown digital display, you can also choose the ambient light colour that fills the cabin at night: do you want Glacier White light, or Toscana White? Sunset Red or Rainforest? I went for ‘Glacier Blue’ which gives the cabin the mood of a 1980s nightclub. And what about the low-level lighting: dim or bright? Then there are a million gadgets to configure – CAR’s Volvo is an SE Nav model fitted with the optional Driver Support Pack (£1850), so there’s a Lane Keeping Aid, Driver Alert Control, Active High Beam and the Road Sign Information Display system, the Blind Spot Information System, the Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Adaptive Cruise Control with Distance Alert. And Pedestrian Detection, apparently, though like a rare nocturnal animal, I’ve never seen it. With everything on, you have orange warning lights flashing in the windscreen (a kind of head-up display meets school disco), there are blinking lights on the door mirrors, warning beeps going off, most annoying of all, the car ‘detects’ when you’re drifting over white lines and steers you back. When you’re not falling asleep and you do want to swap lanes, that’s just disconcerting. I defined ‘who I want to be’ by switching it off.
By Mark Walton
Month 1 running a Volvo V40: introducing CAR's new long-term Volvo
Remember when Volvos were boxy? No-one wants to be boxy these days (though it’s an underrated look, that I reckon will make a comeback one day). But droopy isn’t much better, which is why I can’t quite decide if I like the look of our new Volvo V40 long-termer – that nose looks as if it’s wilting in the afternoon sun.
Still, I really don’t care what the Volvo looks like on the outside – I really don’t – because there are other reasons to love it. First of all, the dimensions: the V40 is the smallest car I’ve run for a while, more Focus-sized than Mondeo estate, and that’s a good thing. Regular readers will know I spend my mundane life parking in a narrow and unforgiving concrete car park, which means large SUVs and luxury limousines are now out of the question for me as everyday drives. Rolls-Royce, if you were planning on loaning me a Ghost for six months to use as my daily drive, I don’t want it – I can’t take the routine stress of parking it every day, with all the proximity sensors bleeping as if I’m flying a jumbo jet and about to ditch in the sea.
The other reason I’m not fussed about the Volvo’s exterior is the new car’s interior is so fantastic. Our car’s a D2 SE Nav, with a few options that bring the price up from £22,545 to £26,820. That puts it towards the bottom half of the V40 line-up, in terms of spec, but it doesn’t feel that way: the ‘charcoal/blond’ combination makes it light and airy, the cloth-trimmed seats are incredibly comfortable, and the quality of the fixtures and fittings is sensational for a car in this segment. Ikea clearly played no part in the choice of plastics and fabrics, and the electronics feel every bit as sophisticated as you’d find in a top-end luxury car. It’s not just that the Volvo has gadgets – and there are far too many to list here, including collision warnings and lane-keeping systems, intelligent cruise control, automatic headlights, Bluetooth phone, sat-nav, air con… – it’s also the way they work together so seamlessly that makes it such a pleasure to drive.
And the last reason I’m liking the V40 is the engine. The D2 model has a 1.6-litre 113bhp four-cylinder diesel (the D3 and D4 versions get 2.0-litre five-cylinder diesels). That’s not the kind of engine you’d normally get excited about, but it’s so much stronger than the figures suggest. It’s brisk, quiet, refined, and best of all I’m getting 50mpg. Fifty! I’ve never got 50mpg out of any car – ever – before. Admittedly Volvo reckons the car can achieve 78mpg (combined), so I’m still lousy compared to the claimed figure – but I don’t care. Every other driver on earth is in the same boat.
So never mind that the V40 looks like a melted Christmas candle (no I didn’t choose the ‘Passion Red’, I wouldn’t even choose a Ferrari in red); nor do I care if the 16-inch wheels look too small – from the driver’s seat, the V40 seems a real star so far.
I’ll fill you in on all those gadgets in my next report – brace yourself, I’ll need a small supplement to go through them all.
By Mark Walton