Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review

By Ollie Kew 29 January 2013

By Ollie Kew

29 January 2013

Volvo is rolling out its sporty trim level to the V40, with the launch of R-Design models. Think of R-design as Volvo’s answer to Audi’s S-line trim, or M Sport on a BMW. They look meaner, and punters are lured to them: 25% of British V40 hatch buyers on our shores are expected to tick the R-design box (compared with 10% of overseas punters).

CAR drove the Volvo V40 R-Design in D4 diesel and T3 petrol form to advise UK punters whether to tick the upgrade box.

What’s different about a Volvo V40 R-Design?

Outside, there’s a more aggressive front bumper with new LED running lights, and dummy rear diffusers sandwiched by twin exhaust pipes. Two-tone 17-inch wheels are standard-fit, with tasty diamond-cut 18s an option. Depending on the engine/model variant, R-Design will set you back an extra £430-2300

Inside you find a more sculpted steering wheel, attractive aluminium pedals and not-so-nice aluminium/blue striped dash inlays which look more like a foil chocolate wrapper ironed into the fascia surface than a crisp metallic highlight. Note to Volvo: your cabins do not require go-faster stripes. Still, you do get part-leather upholstery for the typically comfy seats. And gratuitous ‘R-design’ badging, naturally.

So the Volvo V40 R-Design gets no mechanical upgrades?

Just one in fact: you can have sports suspension for £500, which buys stiffer springs and a 10mm lowered ride height. More on how that affects the V40’s handling in a moment. But in short, R-design trim doesn’t turn your V40 into a hot hatch: you can spec it on everything from the lowly 94g/km, 78.5mpg (claimed) D2 diesel right through to the 178bhp T4 turbo petrol version.

The closest you’ll get a to a truly sporting V40 R-design is the £31,390 T5 model. Using a 250bhp petrol-fed turbocharged five-pot, it’s good for 62mph in 6.1secs, but its thirst and high entry price will make it a very niche choice in the UK.

Go on then, how does R-Design affect the Volvo V40’s drive?

For a start, save yourself £500 and don’t bother with the sport chassis option. While not exactly a bone-shaker, the lowered V40’s ride does suffer over Britain’s pockmarked network, and never really settles down and behaves at speed in the more composed way a regular V40 does. It’ll corner with less roll, and the V40 never feels like it’s going to get deflected into the scenery like some of its hard-riding German rivals, but it’s still a car set up for the family rather than B-road warriors.

Stick with regular R-design trim though, and the story’s rosier. Even on the 18-inch rims of our test cars, the V40 didn’t trade much ride comfort, or turn up road roar volume unduly at motorway speeds. Yes, it feels slightly less cushy than a lowly D2 on tiny 16-inch castors, but it’s perfectly acceptable, and besides, the body kit nicely enhances the V40’s doe-eyed styling.

Talk me through the rest of the Volvo V40 package

CAR tried the entry-level T3 petrol motor and top-spec D4 engines. To read our long-term running report of a regular V40 and the parsimonious D2 motor, click here.

Its brawnier five-cylinder D4 brother certainly sounds more appealing, and its 175bhp and 258lb ft look plenty. However, the maximum torque band only lasts from 1750rpm to 2750rpm, after which you’ll feel the urge surge tail off noticeably. Still, it requires less downshifting for overtakes and hills than the 113bhp D2 or 148bhp D3. Incidentally, that slick manual gearchange is a highlight of the V40’s dynamic repertoire, and more than reason enough to avoid the six-speed £1485 Geartronic auto, which slurs changes smoothly enough but doesn’t half pause to consider its options first.

Don’t automatically default to the diesel: there’s much to be said for the entry-level 148bhp T3 petrol. The four-pot turbo is naturally smoother and quieter, and doesn’t feel stressed by the V40’s 1380kg heft. It’ll hit 62mph in 8.8sec, and just about return 40mpg if you’re careful. It’s also £600 cheaper than the equivalent diesel.

Are you still a fan of the Volvo V40’s cabin?

It’s a Nordic treat inside, though the business-like blackness of R-design spec is less welcoming than the lighter hues of a regular V40.  Funky fully-digital instruments can be tailored to three modes: Elegance, Eco, and Performance. Click the indicator stalk and graphics for the speed, rev-counter and current MPG all trade places like a Lexus LFA’s adaptive display.

The trademark ‘floating’ centre console that stands separate from the main bulkhead remains, creating a further illusion of space and a handy hidden cubby. Though its controls are intuitive enough to use, it does look awfully buttony if you’ve sampled the minimalist delights of the new Volkswagen Golf Mk7 or Audi A3.

Space and storage is decent front and rear, though access to the back seats is hampered by teeny rear doors. And although it’s eye-catching, that fussy rear end means the boot opening is higher and narrower than you’d expect from a Volvo. Beware niggles too: we noticed slight trim rattles in every test car we tried, and the clutch pedal sticks momentarily if you rattle through a cog-change quickly.

Verdict

R-Design trim enhances the V40’s styling without ruining the ride: we give the thumbs up to the quarter of UK buyers who’ll opt for it. But R-Design V40s cost from £22,295, directly in Audi A3 Sportback territory, which boasts a roomier cabin, larger boot and that badge. That said, the Volvo V40 remains an appealing choice, if you don’t want to follow the herd flocking to the German mainstream.

Statistics

How much? £23,545
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1984cc 20v 5-cyl turbodiesel, 148bhp @ 3500rpm, 258lb ft @ 1750-2750rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 9.6sec 0-62mph, 130mph, 65.7mpg, 114g/km
How heavy / made of? 1484kg/steel
How big (length/width/height in mm)? 4369/1802/1445

Ratings

Handling 3 out of 5
Performance 3 out of 5
Usability 3 out of 5
Feelgood factor 4 out of 5
CAR's Rating 4 out of 5

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  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
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  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
  • Volvo V40 R-Design (2013) review
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