Volvo V40 T5 R Design Review

Volvo V40 R Design 1

Volvo is a car company obsessed with safety. It’s an obsession that has won them countless awards, and a loyal following. But in the premium segment, you just can’t sell millions of cars on airbags alone. You need mass appeal, something which the brand might have lacked until now.

The V40 range was a bold step for Volvo, but I’ve sampled just about every V40 available (by my count there are 16 variants available) and I’ve generally been impressed. But nothing could have prepared me for the Volvo V40 T5 R-Design. A hot hatch? From Volvo? I had to have a go.

Volvo V40 T5 R Design Review by Ciro De Siena

Rebellious exterior

The Volvo V40 T5 arrives in quite the strangest paintwork I’ve ever seen. Somewhere between matte and metallic, it’s an unnatural hue of blue that I find myself staring at for quite some time. Volvo calls it Rebel Blue, a clue to this car’s cheeky demeanour.

The Volvo V40 T5 R-Design is lower than its stable mates, and features an angrier front chin, aerokit on the sides and rear and very sexy, unique 5-spoke wheels. It looks fantastic. A Volvo has just never looked like this. The V40 is already a very attractive car, but with the R-Design treatment, it looks like nothing else on the road.

That Scandinavian interior

The inside of a Volvo V40 T5 is a very comfortable place to be. The black leather seats in this test vehicle look so plush and comfortable, they might as well be American-spec Lay-Z-Boys. And they are, but they still manage to offer great lateral support. It’s a very good mix they’ve managed here.

The rear seats are just as comfortable but rear head and leg room are not what I expect. It’s certainly not cramped, especially for little ones, but I’d imagine an adult approaching 6 foot would not be too comfy back there for hours on end.

The centre console features that awesome floating design that first debuted on the S40 some years ago. It hasn’t aged at all; it still looks very clever and very modern. The fact that you put your arm through the space behind all the buttons is just cool, really.

The infotainment system takes a bit of getting used to, I keep turning it off when I want to hit enter, but I’d imagine I’d get the hang of it with more time in the car. The dials straight ahead feature quite a few gauges and graphics that I’ve never seen before. The fully digital display shows a power metre to the right seems to respond to my throttle inputs – to help you drive economically. You can change between three modes: Elegance, Eco and Performance. Each mode has its own unique look and feel, with different info emphasised in different ways. It’s interesting, but I’m more interested in the engine.

Volvo’s 5-cylinder engine and specs

This is the only 5-cylinder engine available in this segment, and it’s a peach. Smooth, powerful and with some mighty in-gear shove, the specs put it very firmly in the middle of the current hot hatch war.

187kW peaks at 5400rpm, but the impressive torque of 400Nm is available from as low down as 1800rpm. That’s some very clever turbocharging, but the bigger displacement helps. Where some hot hatches feel flat before the 2500-3000rpm, the Volvo V40 T5 pulls hard almost from idle. Throttle mapping feels a little dull though, I feel it could be even sharper.

And there is one thing amiss from the whole experience – the noise. I know how good a 5-cylinder engine can sound; it is a rare thrum in the world of motoring, and for my liking it’s just not loud enough. Sure, it has nice, bassy idle note, but perhaps an active exhaust might have added the joy of noise to the driving experience.

Volvo V40 T5 R-Design – Ride and handling

A sports car it is and therefore as a sports car it must be driven. The Volvo V40 T5 is quick, and it is a lot of fun shooting out of corners with all that torque. Its acceleration time is claimed at 6.1 seconds, which would make it the fastest hot hatch on paper, but acceleration feels similar to rivals – that is to say, very quick.

But there’s a slight dullness to the feedback through the wheel to your fingertips, and you’re not entirely sure what the front end is up to until there’s a bit of tyre squeal.

Bigger roll bars and a stiffer suspension mean this is definitely the best-handling Volvo I’ve ever driven, but still the car has a disconnect between what it’s doing and what its telling you. There’s a lack of engagement as well with the autobox, as there’s no flappy paddles to work with. You can manually shift with the gearlever, but this makes it feel even more like a car simulator and not a car.

In terms of ride, overall I’d say the R-Design chaps at Volvo probably wanted the T5 to be a bit edgier, a bit sharper, but were over-ruled by the powers that be, and told to make it more comfortable. It just feels a little reigned in, but Volvo knows its customers better than I do.

Low profile tyres are great for handling, but imperfections in the road have little rubber to overcome as they send shockwaves up your backside. The Volvo seems well sprung, and it’s a solid, well put together car, so it deals with bumps admirably. But for a smoother ride, you might want to walk past the R-Design and opt for a normal V40 instead.

Safety Features

This is where Volvo really excels. There are a myriad of safety features that are either unavailable on rivals, or only available on much more expensive cars. Two worth mentioning are the City Safety and pedestrian airbag.

City Safety is fed information by a pair of “eyes” hiding behind the rear view mirror, staring ahead through the windscreen. The Volvo has advanced software detecting stationary traffic, pedestrians and animals, and will alert you if it detects any of the above in your path. If you fail to brake before the car thinks you should, it will bring the car to a stop for you, at anything up to 60km/h. No more bumper bashings, I would hope.

The pedestrian airbag is a world first fitted to a production car. The windshield is particularly dangerous to pedestrians, and in the case of collision, the bonnet will spring upwards, and an airbag will cover the lower half of the windshield. Hopefully no one ever has to test this.

The car also monitors both your blind spots up to 70 metres behind the vehicle, so if you want to execute a lane change and there is fast-approaching traffic, it will alert you to that. The steering will also automatically correct any wandering, by detecting the white lines and shoulder of the road, it will make tiny adjustments to keep the car centred.

Volvo V40 T5 R-Design – Summary

At just over R400 000, the Volvo V40 T5 R-Design is on the upper end of the hot hatch segment. However, given the level of spec and comfort, I would look at it the other way. This is a compact car packing executive levels of just about everything. If you don’t need a massive saloon, the V40 is a seriously attractive option. Petrolheads might get slightly more satisfaction out of say a Ford Focus ST, but for exclusivity and style, the V40 is just that much more interesting.

View the vehicle: New Volvo V40 / Used Volvo V40

Quick Specs – Volvo V40 T5 R-Design

Acceleration6.1 seconds
Price R402 100
Engine 2.5 litre inline-5 turbocharged
Power 187kw at 5400rpm
Torque 350Nm from 1800rpm
Fuel comsumption 8.1litres/100km (claimed – combined cycle)

Hot Hatch rivals

  • From R368,300 (Manual)
  • Similar spec levels, similar performance. More involving drive though, especially the manual
Ford Focus ST
  • From R363,900 (Manual)
  • Very similar power, similar sized car but with more boot space. A bit more of a fighter in terms of handling which can be more exciting, but definitely a less comfortable drive.