► We test new-for-2016 Volvo V40
► Driven in popular D3 engine spec
► With R-Design trim level
The Volvo V40 has been with us since summer 2012 and has gone on to become something of a sleeper hit for the Swedes, accounting for 39% of all Volvos sold in the UK in 2015.
It was the right car at the right time - the company’s first C-segment Focus/Golf rival since the old 340/360 and 440 hatchbacks which trickled off sale with a whimper in the 1990s. Volvo needs a big hitter in this part of the market, the second biggest by volume in the UK.
So what’s new on the 2016 Volvo V40?
Detail changes, mostly. The more eagle-eyed among you may recognise the new ‘Thor’s hammer’ headlamp graphics nabbed from the XC90, V90 and S90 range-toppers. Full LED lights are standard on every model. There are eight new alloy wheel designs too - and the trimlines are tidied up, leaving R-Design, Momentum and Inscription specs for buyers to choose from.
It’s a simpler range, reduced from 14 different variants to just nine. Less confusing for buyers in the showroom to mull over and simpler for Volvo to build, supply and maintain. Here we’re testing the second likely bestseller, the mid-liner D3 diesel in mildly athletic R-Design trim (a popular choice: 42% of buyers choose this spec).
In the cabin
Step into the newly facelifted 2016 V40 and you’re met by a halfway-house cabin. Not long ago we found this cockpit to be an inviting paragon of Swedish calm, but truth is the recently launched, larger Volvos have skewed our expectations. The V40’s interior feels old now: the seats are still tremendously comfortable, the digital instruments impress and the driving position is spot-on, but the switchgear on the ‘floating’ centre console in particular looks ancient and its 40 buttons, four dials and archaic screen graphics are a fiddle to use. Touchscreens have a lot to answer for…
There are improvements though. Volvo has fitted its On Call app to the latest V40, so you can locate your car in the car park after a particularly relaxing holiday and company car drivers can log their last 40 days of journeys via the sat-nav to assist with expense claiming. The digital software onboard still feels woefully off the pace, however.
More bad news in the back of the V40: this is a poorly packaged car with way less space than a rival Golf or Astra. Rear legroom is poor, there’s nowhere for your feet under the bulky front seats and headroom is considerably tighter than the class best. Front-seat passengers are well accommodated, however, and the double-decker boot has a decent volume.
How does the Volvo V40 drive?
This car is based on old, Ford-era mechanicals and is ageing gracefully. While the new CMA architecture bound for the next generation of 40-series cars (and previewed by these concept cars) should address many of the packaging woes, we’d also hope for a more clearly defined purpose. Modern Volvos should waft in luxuriant Swedish splendour, judging by the XC90 and V90 we’ve driven, but the V40 fails to repeat this trick.
The 2016 facelift model isn’t bad at any one thing; it just fails to sparkle in any one area. And that’s a problem when so many rivals excel in different disciplines. Our D3 R-Design rides ok on its 225/45 R17 Michelin Primacys, but can’t match the comfy plump of a Golf; the steering and handling aren’t as alert as a Focus’s; and the pedals and gearchange all suffer a layer of anaesthetised woolliness, removing any real connection to the art of driving.
It’s pleasantly refined though, the 148bhp D3 engine providing sufficient grunt and an impressively low 99g/km and 74.3mpg combined economy, making this a tempting proposition for company car drivers and privateers alike. We averaged 43mpg in a week of mixed use.
The Volvo V40 has been improved by its mid-life facelift, but we worry it’s not enough to win a place high on many buyers’ shortlists. The packaging is a concern if you regularly carry rear-seat passengers, but we still applaud the hewn-from-solid build quality, leftfield vibe and classy styling, plus potentially low running costs of this D3 (the even cleaner D2 has cut its CO2 emissions from 94g/km to just 89g/km).
If it could improve in one of two fundamental areas, we suspect the V40 could be a big seller. Let’s hope the next-generation CMA-derived model smashes it out of the park. If they can recapture some of the momentum from the 90-series cars in a smaller, more affordable package, they could have a real hit on their hands for those who don’t want to play Golf.