Car reviews - Volvo - V40 - D4 Luxury
Design, diesel performance and efficiency, solidity, instrumentation dials, seats, multi-configurable compartment, safety credentials
Room for improvement
Harsh ride, questionable value, big turning circle, rattles, dull dash, poor rear vision, cramped rear seat gravel road traction
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17 Apr 2015
Price and equipment
VOLVO’S latest entry in the premium hatch class has been somewhat underwhelming.
Released nearly two years ago now, at a time when its German rivals at last significantly improved their value-for-money quotient, the suave V40 nevertheless seemed overpriced and underdone – especially when the cheaper and more mainstream Volkswagen Golf showed all the premium players up for dynamics, refinement, efficiency and packaging.
Last October, however, a range of new-generation Drive-E petrol and diesel powertrains were introduced, prompting a Volvo revisit… and hopefully a rethink.
We’re looking at the V40 D4 Luxury, an upper-spec diesel in 2.0-litre four-cylinder guise, eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, offering a host of features designed to justify its $46,490, plus on-road costs, asking price.
Along with all the expected premium car goodies, the D4 Luxury includes City Safety (Autonomous Emergency Braking), daytime driving lights, active bending lights with bi-Xenons and approach/home-safe lighting, emergency brake lights, a multitude of airbags including a pedestrian airbag, anti-submarining front seats, electrically powered seats with memory, leather upholstery, climate control with cabin filter, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, auto wipers, Volvo’s High Performance multimedia with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and idle-stop technology.
If $46,490 is a bit rich for you, the Kinetic auto costs $4K less, or $6K in six-speed manual guise, while a smaller 1.6-litre auto is the turbo-diesel price leader from $36,990.
Some cars, regardless of price and positioning, have a certain wow factor from the moment you open the door. Sadly, this Volvo isn’t one of them.
The V40’s cabin ambience is a rare departure for the marque in that its dashboard is a little dull to behold and it is cramped in the back seat – and several passengers echoed such observations during our time with the D4 Luxury.
We do rate the instrumentation – the three-mode dial and colour options bring a playful flair, with the sober Elegant white markings a contrast to the racy red Sport and cool blue Eco alternatives that alter the look and functionality of the speedo and tacho significantly.
Excellent front seats provide ample support and comfort, with the driver set up well in relation to the switches and controls, while ventilation and storage add further to the V40 interior’s strong points.
But that floating centre stack is a touch outdated – it’s like a pre-smartphone Ericsson handset – and annoyingly fiddly to operate, with a confusing batch of tiny numbers acting only as a distraction.
Volvo’s tried to spruce things up with the screen above the vents, but this too is confusing and quite unintuitive to operate.
In the back of the cabin, the limited side glass area created by the upswing of the hip-line results in a dark and dour back-seat ambience, which is exacerbated by insufficient leg and knee room for a car of this length (4369mm) and wheelbase (2647mm). Taller folk are also likely to rue the smallish door apertures and confined headspace.
A constant rattle from somewhere beneath the front seats was a constant annoyance, the lack of rear-seat airvents is astonishing at this price point, and where are Volvo’s trademark integrated child seat booster seats?A false floor with clever multi-configurable compartmentalisation does provide a sizeable amount of luggage space – the swoopy styling suggests as much so no surprises there – while a space saver spare wheel lives underneath.
Engine and transmission
Is the D4 Luxury the world’s best four-cylinder turbo-diesel drivetrain?On smooth, straight roads, this V40 shines as a toweringly effortless cruiser, launching towards the horizon with utter ease at just the mere thought of acceleration, backed up by a slick and smooth eight-speed auto application.
The official 7.2-second streak to 100km/h seems like a conservative figure for what in the real world is a strident and effortless performer. This dauntless engine will make a believer of any diesel doubter.
That we managed an indicated 6.3L/100km is further testimony the sheer excellence of the D4, and an outstanding efficiency achievement. Aiding that is seamless idle-stop and Engine Braking Energy Recuperation. That it manages a five-star Green Star Rating is icing on the mechanical cake.
But is the Volvo’s heart in the right place?
Ride and handling
Using the existing Ford Focus as a platform base should be an instant advantage in terms of steering, handling, road holding and comfort. But the term lost in translation doesn’t begin to explain it.
The ride is jarring enough to undermine what could have been an A3 crusher. As it stands, the suspension makes the hard A-Class’s seem supple, with too much vertical movement, jarring and thumping. This can’t be helped by the fact that our test car wore just 225/45R17 Michelin Premacy 3 rubber. The badge says Luxury remember. We urge buyers to try their regular driving route before settling for one of these.
Adding to the misery around town is a massive turning circle.
The good news is that, while quite benign and remote in feel, the steering is at least progressive in action and agreeable in terms of weight, reacting predictably to inputs. Furthermore, the chassis will grip endlessly on bitumen, come rain or shine.
However, we were dismayed to experience late-acting and quite crude stability control intervention over gravel roads, making the V40 more of a handful than we expected. It appears some fine-tuning is necessary here.
There’s also too much road-noise intrusion. And, over rougher roads, the front wheels can feel overwhelmed by the amount of torque barrelling through them, which might be the cause of the occasional rack rattle we experienced.
We wouldn’t call the V40 a hot mess dynamically, but it is definitely off the pace. A Golf VI from 2009 feels more resolved. How has Volvo managed to so thoroughly smother the D4’s inner-Focus?
Safety and servicing
The V40 scores a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, and it is available with a range of active driver-assist technology like active cruise control, blind-spot alert, and lane-change monitoring devices. Autonomous Emergency Braking is standard.
Volvo’s warranty period is for three years/unlimited kilometres, and it does not currently offer a fixed-price servicing scheme.
The V40 in near-$50K D4 Luxury spec is over-priced and under-achieving in the areas of ride comfort, rear-seat packaging, driver vision and turning circle.
That our test car also suffered from rattles (because of the harsh suspension?) and late gravel-road ESC intervention further undermine what could have been a serious Swedish contender.
And that’s a profound disappointment because the V40’s design is handsome, the safety credentials unimpeachable and the new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel’s performance and efficiency utterly outstanding.
The bottom line is that if you only drive on smooth roads and don’t need to convey taller people in the back seat, then you’re likely to love the D4 Luxury grand touring express hatch. This car’s potential has yet to be realised.
Audi A3 Sportback Ambition 2.0 TDI S-tronic, from $43,200, plus on-road costs
Beneath that near-invisible all-new body shell that’s bigger yet lighter than before is a stunningly designed interior offering beautiful fittings, excellent ergonomics and sufficient rear-seat space. At last the A3 no longer lives in the brilliant Golf’s shadow.
Mercedes-Benz A200 CDI, from $42,300, plus on-road costs
Attractive styling, gutsy performance and sharp dynamics help keep A-Class sales speeding along, but patchy interior quality, cramped rear seat, pitiful boot space and firm ride are pitfalls we’re surprised to see the Mercedes-Benz stumble into.
BMW 118d, from $43,000, plus on-road costs
The world’s only rear-drive five-door hatch, the second-gen 1 Series remains a driver-focussed machine with excellent poise, involving dynamics and a punchy yet parsimonious powerplant, but the cabin is showing its age and rear-seat room is at a premium.
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