The V40 sits at the smaller end Volvo’s line-up of cars, a small premium hatchback that combines sharp looks with the signature levels of high safety from the Swedish automaker. First introduced in 2012, and sharing some Ford-sourced underpinnings, the V40 is currently the only hatch they offer.
The V40 and some of its core components remain as one the last vestiges of Volvo’s prior ownership by the American company before their current stewardship under Geely, and over the years the company has been steadily chipping away at this fundamental link.
In 2016, the car underwent a refresh to bring it more into visual uniformity with the other cars in their stable while rectifying some of the weaknesses the car had at launched. Importantly, Volvo overhauled the V40’s engine range with new petrol and diesel motors with more powerful and efficient units.
It competes directly with the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 Sportback, and Mercedes-Benz A-Class in this higher end of the marketplace, and since its initial availability has been quite a popular and worthy alternative to that aforementioned German mainstream, offering buyers style, practicality, a solid build, sophisticated ride, a premium interior, and even a rather fun drive.
The V40 spread in Australia starts in the base Momentum spec, the more better equipped and more luxurious Inscription, or, for those wanting to make more of a statement, the sportier R-Design - Volvo’s equivalent of M Sport, S-Line, or AMG-Line trim levels.
“The sleek, almost coupe-like, roofline doesn't make it easy to get in and out of the V40 and taller drivers may need to set the seat height to its lower limit.” - CarsGuide
The V40 wears a smartly styled body that projects an air of sophistication over its contemporaries. Its lines may be graceful, but looks as solid as it is constructed. Volvo’s good relationship with the 5-door hatch is one built upon rough times and false starts.
Prior to this, its previous attempts such as three-door C30 weren’t very well received and ultimately had to make way for something a little more practical. As a design study, though, that car proved useful to gauge the market’s reaction, and quite a fair few design cues surfaced on the 2012 V40.
It’s also larger than its main rivals in this space from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, with a larger passenger cell as a result - though not by an appreciable amount. In terms of the five-door hatch benchmark, the Volkswagen Golf, it does make a comparable good use of its space and is much more interesting to look at than the rather plain German.
Engine and Drivetrain
“In time all V40s will be powered by 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines as Volvo rolls out its Drive-E units, but right now there's a mishmash of capacities.” - EVO
Since 2014, Volvo has been swapping out their older engine generation with a newer batch of in-house developed e-Drive petrol and diesel motors that are more efficient and powerful. In keeping with Volvo’s engine line-up not exceeding 2.0-litres, they all share the same maximum 1969cc displacement, augmented by turbochargers.
The new powerplants endow the new Volvos with an impressive spread of ability for the money over their nearest rivals. In Australia, there are two diesel engines using the same 2.0-litre block: the D2 kicks things off with 88kW and 280Nm while the punchier D4 tune ups it to 140kW and 400Nm.
Expectedly, the more powerful D4 is the better of the two, if your budget stretches that far as you aren’t penalised for the extra performance with meaningfully worse fuel consumption. Volvo claims 4.5-litres/100km from the D4 and 4.1 for the D2.
Petrol lovers have more options. The T3 is the only 1.5-litre engine here, and the smaller four pot churns out a mediocre 112kW but a respectable 250Nm. From there, the T4 and T5 are 2.0-litre turbocharged motors, offering between 140kW/300Nm and a hot hatch-esque 180kW/350Nm, respectively, while consuming between 5.6 to 6.1-litres/100km between the three.
They are all reasonably fast in a sprint, with only the D2 exceeding 10 seconds to 100km/h. Even the 1.5-litre four cylinder of the T3 manages the dash in 8.3 seconds, though the T5 wins handily with a 6.3 second time. That said, Volvo drivers won’t care for such numbers.
There are no manual options for the V40, instead Volvo supplies an automatic with either 6 or 8 speeds to handle shifts.
“If you’re drawn to the V40 by Volvo’s reputation for practical, comfortable transport, you’ll probably be quietly impressed by what you find.” - Autocar
The quality Volvo’s interior are on the same level as that from any German manufacturer worth its salt. Actually, Mercedes-Benz and their A-Class could learn a few things from the Swedes on how to position items in a clear and considered manner.
There aren’t nearly as many shiny gimmickry or eye catching details to be found here, but once you’ll appreciate the restraint here as the way the car is designed and constructed is focused on providing a good experience, even if it does sacrifice some of the initial wow-factor.
It’s minimal, solid, sophisticated and well executed, with nary a nasty piece of hard scratchy plastic to be found. Space, too, is overall a strong point, though like most cars in this space, three full grown adults won’t be comfortable for too long seated abreast in the second row. Still, the V40 fares well on leg and headroom, better still if the panoramic glass roof option is left unticked.
The boot will stow 335-litres worth of cargo, which is par for the course for a car of this size and segment, more than enough for a weekend’s worth of luggage. For the occasional need for even more space, the rear seats fold to accommodate 1,032-litres.
Behind the Wheel
“The surprise comes in how the V40 drives. Starting out with a Focus-derived platform is a smart move, for it breeds in a high level of ability right from the off .” - Top Gear
Lauding the driving dynamics of a Volvo is often usually a half truth. At times their cars are brilliant where others are merely average. As rivals such as the BMW 1 Series even the typically more lax Benz A-Class putting a larger emphasis on a more fun drive, Volvo has also imbued its hatch with an extra tinge of playfulness.
Don’t hold your breath for a revelatory drive, though, as the improvements are mostly in service to further the V40’s - and Volvo’s - primary strengths, which is why highway cruising is where the car shines the most with its comfort and refined ride at speed.
Around a corner, though, it’s actually quite talented, sharing quite a few genetic markers with the notoriously nimble Ford Focus. While the chassis and steering isn’t what you’d call communicative, it hangs on with plenty of front axle grip and keeps body roll at bay admirably.
Even when equipped with the more powerful T5 engine, the front-driven V40 resists being overwhelmed by power while sustaining a cornering angle. However, the R-Design’s larger 18-inch wheels do mean road imperfections are more easily felt.
Safety and Technology
“The V40 is equipped with a lengthy list of SAT including a world-first bonnet airbag system.” - ANCAP
Volvo is almost a synonym for safety in the automotive world, and its history of prioritising the highest standards for vehicle integrity and occupant protection in an accident is well documented. In terms of safety tech, too, the V40 is well stocked.
ANCAP tested the V40 in 2013, and as you’d expect, it scored a full 5-stars with a near-flawless 36.67 score out of a maximum 37 points. There Volvo’s City Safety system is standard in all variants, which includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB) up to 50km/h.
Dual front, driver knee, side, and curtains airbags, rear view camera, and hill start assist are provided, and buyers can specify even more safety equipment such as the Driver Alert System with lane departure warning, lane keep aid, active high beam, and forward collision warning. Additionally, there’s an optional adaptive cruise control option and pedestrian detection.
All V40s come with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Volvo’s Sensus interface. It’s slick and smooth, though it isn’t as new as the portrait screens found in newer models like the XC90 and S90, but it works well in comparison to rival offerings, though there isn’t support for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Audio is delivered through an 8-speaker array, though a premium Harman/Kardon stereo is available as, you guessed it, an extra.
The V40 has always been a very competent all-rounder, and now with the year-on-year updates, Volvo has evolved the car into a strong contender to the more established premium hatch monopoly. In many ways, it deserves higher placement on people’s buying list and represents a fine value proposition.
It’s a classy, even handsome car that’s as upmarket as anything German and is great to drive on both twisty roads and highways that will impress anyone who doesn’t succumb to the badge snobbery may have them flocking to BMW and Audi. Too bad they’ll miss out on a great car like the V40, then.
Autocar - 3.5/5 - “Stylish, practical, economical, refined, even classy… so much of the job here is done. Prick the surface and the V40 still bleeds the blue and yellow of Volvo’s idiosyncratic personality.”
CarsGuide - 4/5 - “…it’s the most attractive car in the field, is packed with safety equipment and is great fund to drive. We’d highly recommend taking one for a test drive before making a final decision.”
AutoExpress - 3/5 - “The Volvo V40 is a classy and economical alternative to the Audi A3 Sportback, as long as you don't need maximum boot space.”
Top Gear - 8/10 - “Volvo hits the premium hatch format on the head: the V40 is an impressive model that's a genuine Golf rival.”
EVO - 3.5/5 - “It's a premium quality product, with proper build inside and a decent exterior finish. The model range boasts a wide range of petrol and diesel engines to choose from, which means you can pick the exact powertrain to suit your needs.”