Volvo’s crusade to get its entire model range adopted as part of the Green Party manifesto has arrived in Golf territory with the introduction of the new ‘Drive-E’ powertrain in the V40 hatchback. Drive-E is intended to force down C02 emissions while maximising responsiveness and performance – a quest that ought to set petrolheads and environmentalists hitting the same dancefloor for an unprecedented merry jig. Oh, that it were that simple.
Volvo is proud of Drive-E, which has already garnered decent notices in V60 and S60, and you can see why. The numbers on this four-pot diesel certainly add up: CO2 is down to 99g/km (on the manual version – our auto achieves 109) and 67.3mpg is fairly foliage friendly, yet there’s still 188bhp and it’s 0-60mph in 7.0sec dead. A happy marriage, like so many in life, based on compromise.
So, has Volvo really hit on something with the V40?
If your mission is purely efficiency, then yes, I think it has, because it hasn’t tried to be too clever. Drive-E is based on the premise that power has nothing to do with cylinder count, and thus all Volvos going forward will be four-pots. While the petrol versions pack both a turbocharger and a supercharger, the diesels rely on two-stage turbocharging. If you can get more air through a smaller engine, goes the mantra, then you get the same power more efficiently.
This may not sound revolutionary, but incremental advancement seems a better way forward than revolution, if that revolution means your electric car runs out of juice half way home, or you have to drive for two hours to find a hydrogen station. This is real-world, today, this-afternoon technology.
Plus, Drive-E has bags of cleverness underpinning its efficiency drive. It has a common-rail injection system with a pressure monitor in each injector (rather than a single one in the rail), smart heat management and ultra-low friction surfaces and oil, and a belt-driven fuel pump to keep up with fuel injection pressures of 2500bar.
Impressive. Is the latest V40 good to drive?
Damn. Was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that. Sadly, respect for the technology drains away 50 times quicker than the diesel in the tank when you start to hook it up. I thought I read somewhere of the D4 engine’s ‘smooth power’ and ‘absence of vibration’, but I must have imagined it. There’s a trucky rumble at start-up, a wheezy rattle from under the bonnet through the lower gears and still a bit too much noise and vibration even once you’ve settled to a mid-range cruise. Hugely disappointing.
There’s plenty of torque in the powerplant (295lb ft), so you never feel short on urge, but there’s little pleasure in unleashing it, even modestly. Our car is fitted with the new eight-speed auto ’box, which has a typically beardy habit of rushing to cog eight at – or before – the earliest possible opportunity, leaving you short of momentum and unappeased by the likely fuel saving.
Add a baffling ride quality that mashes uncontrolled float with an occasionally seismic secondary compression, and steering less talkative than Harpo Marx, and any remotely keen driver is left baffled.
Ah, but does a classy Swedish cabin save it?
It’s nice to be inside the V40, for sure. Minimalist yet modern, not unlike the sort of space those other Swedes at Ikea serve up with meatballs. The seats are firm but comfy, the dash plastics have a quality feel and the elegant floating centre stack still knocks chunkier rivals into the middle of next week.
A lack of knobs and switches makes it all feel very calm, until you get to the infotainment suite and discover that all the buttons have huddled together on what appears to be a giant-sized mid-’90s mobile phone. The interface isn’t the most fluid I’ve seen, and in this spec commits the ultimate sin of lacking either DAB or MW, thus rendering 5 Live off-limits.
The overall result is strangely both soothing and irritating at the same time – a bit like listening to Enya.
Volvo has done a strange thing with the V40 D4. I mentioned a keen driver being baffled, but you get the distinct feeling that the Swedes aren’t interested in wooing either keen drivers or, indeed, drivers of any kind.
There are so many safety devices fitted to this car that it could virtually drive itself, and I reckon that’s what Volvo ultimately wants. You’re so cotton-wool lined and so far removed from every tactile emotion wrought twixt tyre and road, that you couldn’t Really Enjoy driving it even if you wanted to. Best just to sit back and enjoy the knowledge that you’ve left A and will be delivered safely to B.
So, is the V40 now a company car A-lister in this segment? Some will say so, but I can’t agree. To me it looks blobby and formless from the outside, so lacks playground pizzazz, and with Golf or 1-series or A3 or A-class to choose from you’d have to be, well, Swedish probably.
>> Read our Volvo V40 Cross Country review here