Although the award-winning XC90 and, more recently, the attention-grabbing S90 sedan are the Volvos on most people’s lips, a recent update to the V40 sees the Gothenburg-based premium hatchback come of age.
We Like: Styling, quality interior, ride quality, safety features
We Don’t Like: Distracting buttons on centre console, small boot and limited rear passenger space
- For a sportier drive: Consider the BMW 120i 5-door Urban automatic priced from R473 784. Its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produces 135 kW and 270 Nm of torque. The 1 Series' rear-wheel drive dynamics are advantageous, but not a deal-breaker.
- For the fashion-conscious: There is the Mercedes-Benz A200 Style, which offers middling outputs of 115 kW and 250 Nm of torque from its 1.6-litre turbopetrol (R462 984). Like the Volvo, it's not the most practically packaged, but has plenty of kerb/yuppie appeal.
- For more practicality, but at a premium: The facelifted Audi A3 Sportback presents premium appeal as well as family-friendly packaging. The 2.0 TFSI automatic with sporty S Line kit starts at R475 500 ... and that's before you start speccing it up.
What is it?
The facelifted V40 features attractive Thor's Hammer headlights.
Given the popularity of the Audi A3 Sportback, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the Volvo V40 and Lexus CT200h are two of the last premium compact hatchbacks that spring to mind, which is rough justice for the former, considering the Swedish product's level of understated style, driving enjoyment and overall sophistication...
The V40 was developed before Geely took over Volvo Car and invested heavily in new product programmes, but it nevertheless received a tasteful refresh last year. The T4 Inscription is the range's top-specced turbopetrol derivative and comes well-equipped with dual-zone air-conditioning, electric front (leather) seats and side mirrors with memory, rain sensor and auto-dipping rear-view mirror, etc.
It looks smart and sophisticated. Finished in Mussel Blue metallic, with chrome exterior detailing (complemented by "Inscription" sill plates and puddle lights in the side mirror housings) and topped off by high-level "Thor's Hammer" LED headlamps and 18-inch alloys (courtesy of the Techno pack), the V40's appearance strikes a fine balance between sporty and suave.
The well-insulated interior is a class act. Some elements, such as the fascia design and minor controls are a trifle dated. However, from the fit and finish of the amber/charcoal interior, the stitching of the leather trim and the weight of the switchgear, the Volvo exudes that "little big luxury car" ambience that buyers in the premium hatchback class want. The front seats afford generous levels of electric adjustment, the frameless interior mirror is an exquisite touch and, moreover, Volvo seems to have improved the cabin insulation (suppression of mechanical, wind and road noise).
Our test unit had an interesting mix of interior colours and it looked and felt very luxurious.
No need to add much in the way of optional spec. Apart from the items listed earlier, the T4 Inscription comes with a milled aluminium décor panel (floating centre stack), a DVD, USB, Bluetooth and auxiliary audio-compatible 8-speaker audio system (with voice control), LED interior illumination and rear park distance control. While we believe most buyers will forego the heated seats option, keyless entry/start and a reverse-view camera would have made the T4 Inscription's spec more comprehensive. The latter items are well worth the extra outlay, however.
Sufficient power delivery. The T4 motor (a 2.0-litre turbopetrol unit producing 140 kW and 300 N.m of torque) is more powerful and torquey than its equivalent BMW and Benz rivals' powerplants. It admittedly produces 20 Nm less than the Audi A3 2.0 TFSI Sportback, but its torque peak is available marginally earlier than in the latter. As with so many direct-injection forced-induction powerplants, the engine note is not particularly characterful, but the 6-speed automatic transmission seems well calibrated to the motor's performance characteristics.
Admirable ride and handling balance. Even though adaptive suspension is not available on the V40, the T4 Inscription's ride quality was firm, but not crashy – even considering that the test unit rode on 18-inch alloys. Good road holding, allied with an effortless steering action (of which the level of feedback is adjustable) made the Volvo comfortable to drive 'round, but also on twisty country roads. For a car not purported to be overtly sporty, the V40 handles with aplomb and inspires confidence; the overwhelming majority of premium buyers will probably expect no more than that.
The digital display can be customised with 3 different themes, each is particularly crisp and clear to read.
It pre-dates the XC90 and S90 and it shows. Possibly our biggest issue with the V40 is the button-splattered dropdown section where the driver controls the climate control air conditioning, telephonic functions and infotainment system. It takes some time to come to grips with all the buttons and their functionalities; something that would improve with familiarisation, but given the Volvo's opposition's slicker, more modern user interfaces (not to mention the upgraded onboard technology in the upcoming Volkswagen Golf 7 facelift), the XC90/S90's tablet-like touchscreen is sorely missing.
Small boot. The Volvo V40 features a notably smaller boot compared with the class-leading Volkswagen Golf (380 litres). However, at 335 litres, the V40’s boot can still store a fair amount of luggage and it comes equipped with a false floor, which, when lifted up, offers extra storage and a shopping bag hook. On the plus side, there is a 12V charging outlet in the luggage bay and the rear seats fold forward in a 60:40 configuration for practicality.
The fussy centre stack has too many buttons. The V40 is begging for the S90 and XC90s touchscreen system.
Rear passengers space could be better. Taller passengers are likely to be bothered by the Volvo's sloping roofline that encroaches on headroom and, should the driver and front passenger be of above average height, aft leg/knee room will be tight. A large rear central armrest adds a degree of added comfort for rear passengers, while the door pockets also feature storage space for bottles and other items such as books or magazines.
Safety spec is impressive, but Volvo could have been a little more generous. Although availing City Safety (with full auto brake function) is a welcome standard feature, some of the features included in the optional Driver Support Pack would have given the V40 a head start had they been stock fitment... Even if just one or two of these: Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), Cross Traffic Alert (CTA), Active High Beam, Lane Keeping Aid (vibration and/or steering feedback), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with toggle to cruise control and a reverse-view parking camera.
The V40 has a smaller boot than most competitors but the false floor is useful for storing shopping and items that roll around.
Price and warranty
The Volvo V40 T4 Inscription Geartronic is priced from R461 112 and is sold with a 5-year/100 000 km warranty and 5-year/100 000 maintenance plan.
Whereas the premium end used to make up a small percentage of the compact hatchback segment, there is now a plethora of competitors in the new vehicle market (dominated by the two-time Cars.co.za Consumer Awards winner, Volkswagen's Golf GTI, of which an updated version will soon be available). Now in the second half of its product lifecycle, the V40 T4 Inscription comes reasonably well equipped with standard features and as a mid-range offering and source of daily premium transport, it does not disappoint.
It will appeal to single professionals or married couples without children in the main and, thanks to the recent introductions of bolt-on value added propositions from Volvo Car SA, including Versatility Finance – a new guaranteed future value (GFV) finance product and comprehensive insurance tailored specifically to owners of the Swedish marque's products, the V40 looks like good value. If you require more space, it's probably best to look elsewhere, but that does not detract from the fact that the Volvo is a mature, grown-up quality product.