Volvo has joined the twin-clutch brigade with the arrival of this, the S40 2.0D with the Powershift transmission option. Powershift is Ford and Volvo’s take on the DSG idea that came to the fore with the Audi TT and Golf GTI and spread quickly through the VW Group. Other companies are following suit as quickly as they can, with BMW's M-DCT being the most recent edition.
So this Volvo S40 Powershift is performance-orientated car?
No. This isn’t a hot hatch – it’s a warm saloon – and it doesn’t have gearshift paddles or 'sport' mode. The automatic six-speed sequential gearbox has a lever that can be moved over to the left and changed up or down manually. It’s available with only the 2.0-litre diesel engine, which makes 134bhp and 236lb ft. You’ll find pretty much the same set-up in the Ford Focus 2.0 TDCI.
Unless you’re driving in a very odd manner the car’s software anticipates which gear you’ll want next, and has that gear ready to leap into action the moment you call upon it. In a nutshell, the odd gears have a different clutch from the even gears, allowing there to be less delay between, say, third gear being disengaged and fourth being engaged. In manual mode it will change up for you if you go into the red and down for you if you simply don’t bother, but otherwise you’re in control.
Like the VW system, the Ford/Volvo transmission’s greatest virtue is that it makes for smooth, precise changes that are quicker than conventional automatics and quicker than most drivers could manage with even the slickest of manual ’boxes. The changes really are very quick and smooth, and you’ll soon notice that they’re quicker and smoother if you let the gearbox the do it all itself.
There are potential performance advantages, but Volvo has set the S40 Powershift up for clean running of the 2.0D engine developed jointly with Peugeot-Citroen. On the face of it the figures aren’t impressive. The combined official fuel figure is not quite as good as the manual’s, at 47.1mpg versus 48.7mpg, and the carbon dioxide emissions are worse, at 159 rather than 153. Top speed is the same at 127mph, while the 0-62mph time is slower, at 9.6 rather than 9.5 seconds. The point is that all those figures would be worse in a conventional automatic – and Volvo buyers have traditionally lapped up conventional automatics.
Click 'Next' below to read more of our Volvo S40 Powershift first drive
Why not go for the Focus?
The current S40 and the V50 estate share a lot of technology with the Focus hatch/estate/saloon/CC from Volvo’s parent company, but the Swedish cars (actually built in Belgium) are substantially different in many ways.
The exterior styling is, broadly speaking, shrunken S60; it’s actually fractionally smaller than the saloon version of the Focus. Like generations of Volvos, it’s proud to be a three-box saloon, with a big boot and loads of rear passenger headroom, although there’s nothing boxy about the styling.
Volvo made a big fuss about the interior when it launched the current S40. It still feels quite classy and modern, even if the ‘floating’ centre stack – housing the air con dials and other controls – isn’t quite so stunning as Volvo seems to think.
Does it drive like a Focus?
Not quite. Although the current Ford may not have the standout styling of the first Focus, and has put on a bit of flab, it retains most of the original’s dynamic qualities. Volvo, despite using the same basic underpinnings, has tuned the S40 differently, and not quite so well. It rides and handles pretty impressively – very impressively compared to most Volvos – but you get very little feel through the steering wheel.
There’s all the usual Volvo safety kit, including traction and stability control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist with the anti-lock brakes, as well as loads of airbags and side impact bars, whiplash protection built into the front seats and proper three-point seatbelts for five adults.
Click 'Next' below to read our verdict on the Volvo S40 Powershift
For now the gearbox is confined to the 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel versions of the C30, S40 and V50, and adds £1250 to the price. The cheapest version of the 2.0 D S40, the S spec, will cost you £19,070 when fitted with Powershift.
But even once the novelty of the manual function has worn off you’re left with a very superior automatic gearbox in a neat all-round diesel saloon that’s roomy, comfy and good to drive.