IAIN ROBERTSON 

Renowned for its unique classlessness, Volvo’s market stance is engagingly positive and its run-out V40 model (set for replacement next year) satisfies the suggestion by Iain Robertson that it is a timeless design, worthy of markedly greater recognition.

While not unique to Sweden, as Norway, Finland and Denmark can also claim some of the plaudits, a dependence on powerful design ethics and assembly aspects that are all but bulletproof ensures that we place Scandinavian products on a lofty platform. Most of the time, we scarcely think about it but, despite fairly-low manufacturing volumes, products from those countries seldom experience much difficulty in presenting their USPs (unique sales propositions).

With so much genuine excitement surrounding the Sino-Scandi relevance of Volvo Cars, in which its Chinese owners (Geely) have told the Stockholm-based carmaker to ‘do your best’ and left it to its own fruitful devices, its oldest model line, V40, that is also its second most popular one (after XC60), is due by the law of averages for imminent replacement. Altered significantly since its first appearance in 2012, it was in the vanguard of new models intended to sever Volvo’s previous links to Ford Motor Company, which had owned it for more than a decade.

Based on the Focus platform of the period, the ‘baby’ Volvo benefited from decent underpinnings and replaced not just the former V40 estate car but also the S40 saloon and C30 three-door hatchback in the range. It had a monumental role to fulfil. While a mix of PSA, Ford and Volvo-sourced engines complicated its position initially, by 2015 and the mid-life refresher exercise, a brand new D2 engine designation was introduced with the application of Volvo’s modular 2.0-litre turbo-diesel unit. There is a smaller 1.5-litre, sleeved-down version in petrol form.

Developing a modest 120bhp but a useful 206lbs ft of torque from a lowly 1,500 to 2,250rpm, while its on-road performance (0-60mph in 10.0s, 118mph top speed) was not up to Volvo’s renowned, stellar, tyre-stressing, turbo-petrol levels, an earthier delivery would prove to underpin the firm’s reputation as a solid and dependable workhorse. Just as Volvo knows that its top-end of range XC90 and both S and V90 models serve purpose in a more bespoke arena, an entry-level, prior to dealer discounts being applied, of £20,500 for a V40 D2 in Momentum trim represents something of a grab-it-and-run bargain.

You see, Volvo has grown immeasurably in recent years. Its repute is eminently respectable. The materials used in its products are all merchantably excellent and whatever ‘short-cuts’ are applied to make the car more affordable, none are visible externally, or from the driver’s seat, which is immensely satisfying. For a car that is now well settled into its sixth year, from an industry fixated on ‘cyclical replacement’, the current V40 is aging most gracefully and, yes, timelessly, which is of great credit to Peter Horbury, the long-time head of Volvo design prior to him relocating to run Geely’s design house, as it was his last sign-off for Volvo. Respect where it is due.

While the car’s exterior styling remains relevant, its interior is marginally out-of-step with the rest of the Volvo range, which now features an equally design-centric, portrait touch-screen in the dash-centre of most models. When it was introduced, the thin centre console structure, which provided a modest storage space behind but grouped a series of Bang & Olufsen TV remote control-inspired microswitches on its frontal face, was a revelation. Very Scandinavian in its presence, while it featured a telephone dialling block surrounded by functional switches and a lovely air-flow graphic for the heating and ventilation system, it demanded some learning time. Fortunately, being exceptionally logical to use, owner familiarity grew speedily.

In fact, I would venture to suggest that I prefer its logic to the less agreeable swipe-and-touch methodology applied to the newer screen system, which does not always work first-time for me. While the 6.5-inch screen located in the upper dashboard is smaller than is now typical, it is no less configurable, as any dab on the ‘My Car’ button exemplifies, and it can be tailored perfectly to meet user needs. By the same token, the TFT screen carrying the main ‘analogue’ dials ahead of the driver is another friendly interface that would be difficult to improve upon. The rest of the dashboard consists of soft-touch plastics and metal inserts that enhance the tactile and high quality image.

Typical of Volvo, the front seats are immensely comfortable and fully adjustable through an enormous range, with extra clearance for longer driver’s legs through adjusting the steering column’s rake and reach. There is plenty of head and shoulder room up-front. On the other hand, rear seat occupants, behind a driver and front seat occupant of average height, are in a cosier environment that is no less comfortable but is a lot less spacious. A decently proportioned boot space, with a pop-up floor that contains shopping bag retainers, always a good Volvo detail, is accessed via a flip-up electric boot release. Of course, the rear seats split-fold to increase the load carrying space from 324 to 1,021-litres. Several of Volvo’s rivals do fare better.

Another positive sign of the five-door V40’s relevance lies in its outstanding drivability. Low-power though the engine may be, it is gutsy enough to make cross-country (sic.) progress surprisingly relaxed and rapid. Possessing a wealth of bottom-end grunt, even though a fairly-narrow peak rev-range is suggested by the figures, shifting into any of the gearbox’s six forward ratios is met with silken punch from little more than engine idle speed. Of course, this translates into frugal fuel economy, as I attained an excellent 64.0mpg on a drive to and from the Lincolnshire coast, for a car rated at 61.4mpg Official Combined, while emitting a modest 122g/km CO2. Incidentally, its road tax liability is £165 in year one and £140 annually thereafter.

Compliant suspension, nicely-weighted power steering and a fluent ride quality makes a small Volvo feel much larger than it is. Volvo has a long-standing reputation for first-rate chassis dynamics and the V40 displays them to perfection driving across Lincolnshire. Grip levels are excellent and the major controls are well-matched, especially useful for driving on our sometimes poor road surfaces that give air, or oil-based suspension systems a nightmare ride. Of course, the test car is in Cross Country specification, which means a smattering of alloy exterior trims but strictly crossover and not 4×4 emphasis, which also hikes the price to around £5,000 more than the base-line model.

It is worth highlighting that my car also featured a number of extra-cost items, such as the Winter Pack (+£575) and 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels, from a very comprehensive selection of accessories that whisked the on-road price to £30,550. Bear in mind that the Intellisafe Pro package that incorporates collision warning, pedestrian alert, blind-spot notification and distance alert (+£1,900) is also included.

Although its connectivity and semi-autonomous addenda are said not to be to the same specification as top-end Volvos, it does actually have them and, with keyless entry/start, stop-start technology and a practical mix of convenience and safety features, the V40 still represents good value in the class. According to Volvo, its V40 is set for replacement late next year, even though, contrary to a journalist-led view that it is ‘overdue’, I believe that it is standing the test of time rather well. Volvo never used to rely on model replacement cycles, as evinced by the continued sale of its PV544 model, even though the newer Amazon (120-series) was sold alongside it in the mid-1960s.

Conclusion:   Thanks to Volvo customer loyalty, which is among the highest in the motor industry, the V40 holds its own in sales terms but represents a most positive entry-level to the rest of an impressive line-up.