Gareth Butterfield spends a week in Volvo’s petrol-powered Volvo V40 T5 Geartronic R-Design Lux Nav, which costs from £31,900
THIS is the Volvo V40. And there’s quite a lot of them about at the moment because, quite simply, it’s a very good car.
However, take a peek at the lumpy back end of the popular hatchback and you’ll usually see a badge beginning with a D – D2, D3, D4 and so on. That’s because, nearly all the V40s sold in the UK will be diesels.
This, I’m sure, is because the diesel engines Volvo produces are excellent and adding an oil-burner to your V40 makes sound financial sense – but is the petrol version really all that bad?
There are three petrol versions available in a range of strengths and the flagship model, the one I’m testing this week, is the T5. And, on paper at least, it looks great.
Let me throw some numbers at you… Two litre, four cylinder turbocharged engine producing 245bhp, capable of sprinting to 60mph in six seconds and returning a claimed 49mpg on the combined cycle. Impressed? So was I. Which is why I asked for one.
THERE’S something instantly likeable about the interior of a Volvo. It’s true of any Volvo and especially true of the V40. The Swedish manufacturer just seems to have a knack of putting things in the right place, laying things out exactly as they should be and not making anything too fussy or unnecessary.
They’re comfortable too. All the buttons and knobs being in the right place is only half the story. The seats in any Volvo, even a sporty one like this R-Design are soft and cosseting.
This being the most powerful version of the sporty version of a car aimed at a younger market, it’s not only got the sporty seats and bits of chrome trim, it’s also got an inexplicable and rather garish blue and chrome stripe on the otherwise stunning floating dashboard. I’m not so keen on that, but I love the big glass roof and the now familiar frameless rear view mirror – so I’ll forgive it just this once.
Compared with the diesel the petrol version sets off with quite a bit more “spark” about it. The throttle response is instant, to the extent that I’m going to have to get used to treading carefully on it to start with.
It’s not a quiet engine, either, but it’s not too harsh and, through the automatic box fitted to my test model, I’ve already established it likes to be revved. That’s obviously not so much the case with the diesels.
So far so good. Nothing to write home about yet, but it’s performing well.
TODAY I get chance to push the T5 engine a bit harder on a run home from work. The automatic box is perfectly decent but it’s hard to really get to know the characteristics of that Ford-derived four-pot through a lever-mounted sequential shift. Paddle-shifters on the steering wheel would have been a nice touch, but I’m wondering if I should have asked for a manual gearbox instead.
Happily, I can say that it feels quick. Properly quick, in fact. Don’t ask me why, but it suddenly springs to mind that 245BHP is quite considerably more than was offered by Escort Cosworths lads of my age coveted back in the 1990s and that makes it all the more impressive. I didn’t expect this to be a slow car, but I’m certainly not disappointed.
As I neared the end of my 15-mile drive home, I reached my usual short stretch of dual-carriageway and, as I joined it, happened upon a BMW and an Audi that were “having some fun”.
I won’t go into too much detail about what happened next in case my mother is reading this but let’s just say the red mist descended and I “had some fun” too. Suffice to say I kept up with ease. Impressive stuff.
I REGRET behaving so yobbishly yesterday because my MPG has now dipped below 30mpg. I need to behave myself for the rest of the week. Fortunately, although the V40 is now the baby of the Volvo family, it’s remarkably good at pretending to be a big, comfortable grand tourer.
I’ve already mentioned the comfy seats but so many things make pootling around a pleasure. Take the various driver aids, for example. My favourite, by a country mile, is the adaptive cruise control – every car should have this, but it works so well on a Volvo.
Set yourself an upper speed limit, adjust the distance you want to remain from the car ahead and then let the car accelerate and brake for you, using radar and witchcraft to guide you along.
It’ll even – and this really scares my wife – nudge the steering back in to a lane if if thinks you’ve fallen asleep and notices you’ve crossed the line. I know Volvo would never use this in their marketing literature, but this car basically drives itself.
It parks itself too. It warns you if you’re showing signs of tiredness, if a car is in your blind spot and it will even dive on the brakes for you if you’re about to crash into a wall. I love all this because I’m a geek and, I grant you, it’s all available in many cars now, but Volvo does it well and, most importantly, it makes it affordable.
I’VE clawed back my fuel economy to an average of just over 40MPG which has really impressed me, so I’m going to celebrate by burning some off. It’s a sunny day, the roads are quite empty and I’m in Volvo’s best-handling car.
Today, at this moment, I still wish it had a manual gearbox but the automatic box is pretty good and, truth be told, now that I’ve really got to know it, I’m not sure I’d be able to exploit that much “character” from the engine. As good as it is, it’s just not that exciting. Not a patch on the wonderful old five-cylinder lumps Volvo used to use before ditching them in pursuit of better fuel economy and emissions.
Having said that, it does respond very well and there’s a very distinct “squeak” as you change up under heavy load. This, I assume is a noise from the turbo or the waste-gates but it sounds a bit like a belt slipping.
At least, I sincerely hope it’s not a belt slipping. I nearly set fire to an Alfa Romeo recently, I certainly don’t want to kill this Volvo. I really like it.
TODAY I’ve taken the V40 on a long run out to York, to go and see a mate who’s a bit obsessed with Volvos. While he’s a fan of the brand, he’s also picky and doesn’t really like petrol-powered cars.
He’s not swayed by the T5, even in this full-fat top-of-the-range guise. Even from the passenger seat he thinks it needs too much revving to get anything out of it and even then it doesn’t serve its power up in quite the healthy dose it should do.
He then said something really long-winded and boring about torque curves but I got a bit distracted by the cheeky squeak it keeps making on gear changes and the fact that my dull motorway run through a long 50mph average speed limit has worked wonders for my fuel economy.
To be fair, my friend’s right. There are more exciting petrol engines with more exciting power deliveries. A manual gearbox would help, but ultimately wouldn’t solve the problem entirely.
He’s just bought a convertible Volvo with an old five cylinder diesel engine. I ventured that sounded like a bit of a strange combination but then he took me out in it.
I remembered just how good Volvo’s big diesels are. His car is seven years old but it pulls so swiftly off the line and makes such an interesting noise. Still, the drive back home was quiet, relaxing and once again more economical than I’d expected.
SO life in a petrol Volvo isn’t as bad as I thought. In one way I’m surprised more people don’t opt for a quick T5. It makes a sporty car feel that bit more engaging and it’s nowhere near as costly to run as you’d expect.
But then, in another way, I put myself in the position of choosing one of the other, in the imaginary scenario of having to spend my own money on it, and I can’t think of any reason I’d buy the T6 over a D4. It’s not that the petrol V40 is a bad car, it’s actually a good car. It’s just that the diesel-engined option is a very, very good car.