Volvo V40 2013: Launch Review

words - Mike Sinclair
Volvo's new V40 premium hatch has a job to do – attract a whole new generation to the Swedish fold

Volvo V40 2013: Launch Review

Local Launch
Adelaide, SA

What we liked
>> Cabin design and quality
>> On-road manners
>> Despite its age and thirst, T5 five is still a great engine

Not so much
>> Where are latest fours and dual-clutch gearbox?
>> Manual only for D2
>> Steering is totally devoid of feel

>> Vee for Victory
Volvo’s future starts here... The first all-new model to be designed under the Swedish marque’s “Human-centric, Designed Around You” mantra, the V40 is exactly like the Volvos that have come before it... Only, totally different...

Different in the fit, finish and design of the cabin; different in the external styling; different in terms of the demographic of buyers it’s targeting; and, best of all, different in its dynamic abilities. If the S60 and V60 started to change the way some consumers think about Volvo, the V40 is intended to push the point home – even with the recalcitrants.

The stylish low-set five-door hatch lands in an emerging premium hatch segment that will be kickstarted this year (2013) with the simultaneous March 1 launch of Mercedes-Benz’s new A-Class. Benz’s first conventional front-drive hatchback arrives Down Under with a high level of equipment – even at base grade – modern engines, DCT gearbox and pricing that is already causing BMW (1 Series) and Audi (all-new A3) heartburn.

Volvo ran the risk of pricing itself out of the game before it started, but the V40 range arrives Down Under with pricetags that on the surface at least are competitive.

>> A for Effort
In fact, Volvo will take on the A-Class almost dollar for dollar with its new V40 premium hatch, which we first drove at its international launch in Italy in June, though not necessarily with like for like.

The new V40 will be offered across three specification levels and a total of four engines with pricing that counters the aggressive entry into the Australian market of the baby Benz. To sweeten the deal, Volvo Australia has thrown in three years of scheduled servicing.

But the devil is in the detail. Though the V40 is available internationally with Volvo’s latest turbo four-cylinder petrol engines matched to dual-clutch automated gearboxes, local buyers will choose from a truncated powertrain line-up - and an entry-level variant that for the moment is manual-only.

Like the A-Class, the new V40’s pricing kicks off firmly in mainstream hatch territory - $34,990 for the 1.6-litre entry-level manual-only 84kW Kinetic D2 turbo-diesel. From there the new V40 range matches Benz’s bandwidth - the range topping (0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds) 187kW/400Nm turbo-petrol T5 R-Design is priced from $49,990.

In between, the 130kW D4 turbo-diesel and 132kW T4 turbo-petrol models (both 2.0-litre five-cylinders) will be offered in the choice of grades. A full rundown of the pricing is listed below.

D2 Kinetic (manual only) - $34,990
D4 Kinetic (manual) - $39,990
D4 Kinetic (auto) - $41,990
D4 Luxury (auto only) - $45,990

T4 Kinetic (auto only) - $41,990
T4 Luxury (auto only) - $45,990
T5 R-Design (auto only) - $49,990

The three model grades (Kinetic, Luxury and R-Design) offer stepped levels of standard equipment. Key inclusions across the range comprise a very clever and beautifully executed new three-mode TFT instrument panel, multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, alloy wheels (16, 17 and 18-inch depending on model), auto wipers and lights, a smart frameless rear-view mirror and seven airbags (including a driver’s kneebag).

Key standard safety inclusions are Volvo’s new Pedestrian Airbag System – a claimed first for the segment - and City Safety autonomous braking which is now operable up to 50km/h. The V40 is the best rated vehicle Euro NCAP has yet tested.

Kinetic is the V40’s entry-level grade and features classy T-Tec cloth trim (with contrasting stitching), a power driver’s seat, halogen headlight lamps, 16-inch alloys and a five-inch multifunction centre stack display (Bluetooth audio streaming included but no reversing camera).

Step up to Luxury, available in a choice of T4 and D4 powertrains, and you add a powered passenger seat, leather-trimmed seats, bi-Xenon active headlights and sat-nav with seven-inch display including a reversing camera. Wheels are 17-inch.

As noted above, the top-of-the-line T5-only R-Design adds sports seats with upgraded leather (with a choice of perforated facings), plus a bevy of internal and external design tweaks and unique body kit.

In keeping with its long-standing commitment to safety, Volvo will also offer a Driver Support Pack including around $9000 worth of electronic aids. The DSP includes Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning and Full Auto Brake, a new radar-facilitated blind spot and cross-traffic detection system, driver alert system and auto parking. It is priced at $5000 on upper grade V40 models.

Key options across the range include metallic paint ($1550), Sports chassis (on all models excluding T5 R-Design - $1000); rear window tinting ($850); keyless entry and start ($1500) and a panoramic roof (fixed, with sunblind) $2650.

The company says the V40’s free servicing deal is valued at between $1500 and 2500 depending on the model and the amount of kilometres its owner covers in the three-year period. Free servicing is capped at a maximum of 60,000km, however.

>> Grandfathers axe?
Much of the V40's mechanical story is included in our coverage of the hatch's world launch (see here). As such, we won't regurgitate it in full here. It’s worth noting, however, that our international cousins get a wider choice of powertrains – specifically new high-tech 1.6 and 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrols matched to modern dual-clutch transmissions. The engines and Powershift gearbox are Ford-sourced.

For the time being Volvo will offer just two petrol and two turbo-diesel variants Down Under. Flying in the face of the segment's focus on four-cylinder engines, three of the four choices are five-cylinder units.

The V40 T4 petrol features a turbocharged 2.0-litre five, while the T5 steps the capacity of the blown five to 2.5 litres. The smaller engine is rated at 132kW at 5000rpm and 300Nm spread from 2700 to 4000rpm. The T5's output is a muscular 187kW at 5400rpm, with torque pegged at 360Nm from 1800-4200rpm. A 40Nm overboost function on the T5 livens up proceedings even further.

Both engines are matched exclusively to conventional six-speed automatic transmissions - Geartronic in Volvo parlance. Don’t look for paddles though – they are still on Volvo’s to-do list...

The T4 accelerates to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds and returns a combined fuel consumption figure of 7.6L/100km. The T5 is a good bit faster, stopping the clocks at 6.1 seconds for the same increment but is also thirstier at 8.1L/100km.

The sole four-cylinder V40 at launch locally is the 1.6-litre D2. The 84kW (at 3600rpm) and 270Nm (from 1750-2500rpm) direct-injected powerplant powers the D2 to 100km/h in 11.9 seconds. None too quick, but as an offset the D2 is the most frugal of the V40s at 4.2L/100km.

Alas, the D2 is offered as a six-speed manual only in Australia. Volvo insiders say a dual-clutch is on the way – but won’t say when.

The top-spec diesel is the D4. A 2.0-litre five-cylinder engine, it pumps out 130kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm from 1750-2750rpm. The D4 is available in both six-speed manual and auto variants.

The manual is rated at 4.9L/100km (combined) with the auto 0.4L thirstier at 5.3L/100km. The auto accelerates fast from rest than the manual – 0-100km/h comes up in 8.3 seconds, v 8.6.

The V40 is a conventional front-drive package, with all-wheel drive variants yet to arrive in Australia.

Volvo is at pains to point out that while the V40 is based on the same architecture that underpins the current Ford Focus, the structure is very much Volvo’s own work. In its evolution to the V40 the design has been upgraded with new crash structures and bigger, beefier MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link independent rear suspension that features high-spec monotube dampers.

Steering is electrically assisted rack-and-pinion and, as you expected, four-wheel disc brakes are standard. Volvo was a little unclear on whether the brake callipers are common to all V40 models. We can confirm in contrast that the front disc sizes ramp up across the range. The D2 gets modest 278mm front discs while the T5’s are 320mm platters.

>> Room to move
V40 is a handsome five-door hatchback with relatively low-set, sporty proportions. No three-door coupe variant or wagon re-jig are expected any time soon, though Volvo has debuted a high-riding V40 Cross Country version already in Europe.

Kerb weight for the V40 ranges from 1357 to 1498kg.

At 4369mm overall, the V40 is longer than the two cars it’s most likely to be compared with - the class-default VW Golf (4199mm) and the new-gen A-Class (4292mm). In contrast, it sits on a wheelbase that splits the two -- 2647mm versus 2574mm for the VW and 2699mm for the Mercedes.

At 1439mm it’s lower than both and, compared to the A, there’s just a few millimetres different in width and track (at the front at least – the Volvo’s rear track is 14mm narrower).

Luggage space is quoted at 335 litres for the new Volvo. No maximum volume is stated, though we noted the test car’s rear 60:40-split folding rear seat did not stow completely flat (scoring an A plus, however, are slots ready for a proper luggage net). Our gut feel is that the Golf would have the margin in storage compared to both.

The V40’s program chief, Hakan Abrahamsson - on hand for the local launch - says seating is for five with a “focus on four in excellent comfort”. The front seats are excellent – especially the T5’s sports seats. The rear is sculptured for four but not to an extent that makes the centre position uncomfortable.

Headroom is good front and rear, however, my 180cm driving partner suggested that he was “very conscious of the low windscreen header and steeply sloping A-pillars”.

Overall the V40’s cabin gets top marks from this writer. It’s handsome, very Volvo but delivers a new level of design integration, excellent materials and great attention to fit and finish.

There are a variety of textures under hand as you sweep from instrument binnacle across the dash and down the door, but all of them are pleasing to the touch and the eye. Of particular note are the metalised surfaces on higher-spec models, but even the base Kinetics present well. The T-Tec cloth trim is far from cheap and nasty and the seats are well-shaped.

Volvo’s now-familiar ‘remote controller’ styled HMI system is stylish and the floating centre console is one of our favourites too. Very Volvo – and it works.

It’s interesting to note that, alloy wheel designs aside, there’s little to distinguish the different trim and equipment grades – from the outside at least. That said, the racier rear spoiler and ‘diffuser’ are dead giveaways when it comes to the fettled R-Design T5.

>> Top of the pops
The V40 is a five-star car but it’s noteworthy that its overall result was the best ever recorded by Euro NCAP. ANCAP acknowledged the car as a “stand-out performer”.

Volvo says the V40’s development goal was “to build in the same safety level as in larger cars”. The company is keen to espouse its “safety beyond stars” concept.

As noted above, City Safety autonomous braking with a pedestrian detection system is standard across the range, as is the V40’s ground-breaking pedestrian airbag.

The V40 also offers the option to fit additional driver aids including Lane Keeping Aid “with haptic auto steering”, an automatic Road Sign Information system (which displays the speed zone and other signs in the TFT instrument panel), auto high beam and a ‘Cross Traffic Alert’ radar system which can warn drivers of approaching cars when you are reversing. A blind spot warning system is also offered.

Power rear child locks are a handy inclusion across the range. Most cars require you to open the rear doors and flip a lever in the door itself to activate or deactivate this function.

>> An emerging segment
The premium hatch market is going to be a tough battleground in the very near future.

That the V40 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class are set to stoush it out is a given. They will jointly wish to win sales from BMW’s 1 Series, Audi’s upcoming new A3 and Lexus CT200h. Then there’s the all-new Golf 7 which, via its premium versions and variants, will also attract a fair share of monied buyers.

Further afield, the French marques are lobbing higher-spec hatches at this marketplace, Opel is offering higher-priced and equipped OPC versions and a resurgent Alfa Romeo has just repositioned (ie: slashed the price of) its wonderfully styled but largely still unloved Giulietta.

Plenty of choice...

>> Remote but compelling
Jump into the new V40 and you’ll be immediately impressed with the cabin. It’s easy to get comfortable and a ‘just so’ driving position is easily achieved thanks to a good range of adjustment from the seat (electric in all versions) and steering wheel (reach and rake).

The virtual instrument panel is best in show, but not a segment first as Volvo claims. That honour goes to the CT200h... But the Volvo’s is better in almost every way, with three modes (ECO, Elegance and Performance) that each offer functionality that is actually usable.

Top marks too for the cabin. It’s the best Volvo interior yet. Nice touches, good styling and that certain something to the control weighting that says ‘quality’ not ‘cheap’.

We kicked off our Adelaide Hills launch drive in the $35K manual entry-level D2 and can vouch for the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel’s well-stacked midrange. Shame then it’s too easy to stall off the line and is handicapped much of the time due to a combination of relatively narrow torque delivery and what seems like big gaps in the six-speeder’s ratios.

On the open road it was very happy at a constant 100km/h but in the hills it needed to be rowed along a little. Our 6.6L/100km average probably reflects this.

In short, here’s a good little diesel screaming for a well-calibrated automated dual-clutch gearbox.

Riding on 16-inch alloys and 205/55 Michelin Primacy HP low rolling resistance eco-tyres, the D2 proved a little too sharp in terms of its ride around town but was very capable and well controlled in the twisties. And thus we arrive at the conundrum that still has yours truly in two minds about the V40 – its steering.

Though the electric power assisted steering (EPAS) is linear in its ratio and quite accurate (once you are used to its light weighting and over-eager assistance), it is almost completely devoid of feel. Feedback is limited to a little torque steer on the higher-powered versions (but only a touch) but as to knowing what’s happening at the front tyre contact patch – forget it!

This is baffling, given the pace at which it’s easy to rock the top-of-the-range T5 R-Design along. By any measure, the V40 flagship was rapid on the Adelaide Hills’ roads. Bags of natural grip and a chassis that stays light on its feet and is willing to change direction with verve and accuracy contrasts with the absolute lack of communication through the wheel.

Porsche and to a lesser extent even Ford’s Focus ST have proven that EPAS need not be mute, so we’re not sure where Volvo went wrong. For the record, V40 ‘father’ Abrahamsson says they haven’t – he reckons the steering is fine.

Don’t for a moment think I’m not a fan of the T5 – just perplexed. The engine is not as vocal as some of its applications in the past (C30 or Focus XR5), but that fantastic five-cylinder warble is still there and so is its torque, lag-free unburstable feel.

It’s well matched in terms of ratios to the six-speed autobox but we’d be keen to sample it with a proper manual or, best of all, a quick witted twin-clutch. In Sport mode the auto defaults down a gear most of the time to make the T5 really jump on the throttle. But in manual mode (via the centre console lever – there are no paddles) it is slow to take commands – up or down the box.

Across a mix of roads at a sporting clip we averaged 10.5L/100km. Owners should easily get into the low nines – better than we remember from early versions of this engine.

Our test T5 was loaded with the Driver Support Pack and we sampled both the cross-traffic detection system and forward collision functions in the company of other V40s. Both appear to work well, but less endearing was the lane departure warning system, which seemed to constantly shake the steering wheel (at last some feedback!) on the windy roads. At least there’s a simple switch to deactivate it.

Praise though for the R-Design sport seats and interior trim upgrade. The stock D2 was great, and the R-Design cabin excellent.

For all the T5’s pace and charm, the five-cylinder focus of the new V40 range and the sidelining of Volvo’s best engine and gearbox technology is a concern for us.

The T4’ five-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol and turbo-diesel offer good performance and fuel economy on paper, but in the real world are unlikely to match the efficiency of the 1.6 and 2.0-litre direct-injected engines (and dual-clutch transmissions) that are fitted to V40 models in Europe and key markets.

Volvo Australia disputed our assertion that the company had limited the V40’s powertrain range locally to help keep prices in check.

“There are a range of engines offered internationally, but it’s a case of what engines have been made available to Australia,” Volvo Australia boss Matt Braid stated.

“We’ve selected from a group [of powertrains] we can homologate... Demand in other markets [based on taxation regimes and the like] also plays a part in what’s made available to us,” he said.

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Published : Friday, 22 February 2013
In most cases, attends new vehicle launches at the invitation and expense of vehicle manufacturers and/or distributors.

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