Volvo: that paragon of all things perfectly Swedish. Except now, of course, it’s not Swedish: the iconic brand is owned by the Chinese. That deal, of course, caused a lot of head-scratching when it came to considering the quality of future Volvo models. But now the new V40, the first Volvo to be built under Chinese ownership, has arrived: and it’s mightily impressive.
In fact, it’s so good that the V40 has the potential to go head-to-head on build quality terms with the class-leading VW Golf.
Observed from the outside, the five-door V40 is sportily squat and low: it’s 1.8m wide and 1.4m tall. And that in itself sets it apart from the opposition, which instead tend to favour higher-roofed designs.
In fact, there’s a 1960s look of the classic 1800ES about the new V40, which is no bad thing.
The V40′s lines are stylish and handsome, setting it apart from many of its rivals, and those attractive looks are capped by an impressive shiny black grille which hides a number of safety cameras.
Step inside the V40 and you’re immediately struck by how spacious the cabin is, certainly in the front. As if that wasn’t enough, the seats are, without question, the comfiest in the ultra-competitive class in which it sits. Those in the rear are also roomy and comfortable.
If there’s a slight downside, it’s that there’s not a huge amount of storage space, and the door pockets — which, let’s face it, we all use for stashing away CDs, bottles, and a myriad of other bits ‘n’ bobs — are on the small side.
The boot too is actually smaller than that of a BMW 1 Series, at 335-litres, but at least there’s an adjustable floor system allows luggage to be mounted on two levels.
The interior also gets a very impressive new digital instrument pack. Ok, it’s an option, but I’d suggest it’s going to be an option that the vast majority of buyers will snap up: it’s honestly that good.
There are three regimes (Elegance, Eco and Performance) and cleverly, not only does the display change to suit, but so too does the car’s whole character.
It’s pretty groundbreaking stuff, and I’d definitely expect other manufacturers will have to follow the trend.
Safety, of course, is not a trend, but a necessity, and one which Volvo has long been directly associated with.
So it should come as no surprise that the V40 pioneers a new world first in terms of road safety: the world’s first pedestrian airbag.
Standard on every model across the V40 range, the airbag pops up from the rear edge of the bonnet when the car encounters a pedestrian and cushions their impact with the car.
And while it will, without question, save lives, it’s incorporation into the front of the car has allowed the cowl height to be much lower than most of its rivals: the result is it makes the car look better.
Still on the subject of safety, the V40 also includes City Safety. Using its radar system to spot a pedestrian in front of the car, the system will stop the car dead if you’ve been looking out the side window and haven’t seen the pedestrian right in front of the car!
In addition to the three trim levels — ES, SE and SE Lux — all of which are superbly equipped, there’s the choice of five engines.
There are three turbodiesels, a 1.6 four-cylinder, plus two versions of the five-cylinder. In addition there’s two 1.6 turbo petrol fours, delivering 150bhp and 180bhp.
The biggest seller in the UK will, not surprisingly, be the£21,345 1.6-litre diesel D2 SE. Why? Well not only does it emit just 94g/km CO2, but it returns an eye-wateringly impressive 78.5mpg.
And just for good measure, it also qualifies for a very low benefit-in-kind liability for business buyers: just £85 a month.
And just to cap it all, it’s also a fun car to drive. A Volvo that’s a ‘fun car to drive?’ Yup.
Power’s delivered though the standard six-speed manual gearbox. It’s a slick movement which, combined with the Volvo’s 114bph sprightliness, sees it reach 60mph from standstill in 11.7secs. It’ll go on to hit a max of 118mph.
And forget any conceptions you may still harbour of Volvos being lumbering, wallowing pieces of kit. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the V40.
At the heart of the car is the basic running gear from the Ford Focus. But Volvo’s engineers have taken what has been the class-leading handling package in the sector, and actually improved it.
The Result? Thanks to subtle tweaks — including changes to bushes, rates and damper spec — the V40 has the sweetest steering and quietest ride in the class. Top marks.
Volvo’s sales objectives for the new V40 are 12,000 in the UK for 2013. To be honest, don’t be surprised if that figure is exceeded once the word gets out about just how good the V40 actually is.