The traditionally neutral Swedes have fired a volley in the newest motor market segment compact prestige machines. Never have so many European badges been so affordable. Volvo's V40, released in a few weeks and tested by Carsguide this week, is the newcomer.
Adjudged the safest car in the history of Euro crash testing, it is the first car on the market to boast an airbag for pedestrians. But its time in the sun could be limited.
"There's going to be a massive battle between Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class, BMW's 1 Series and the Lexus CT as well. Volume in that segment is growing and we're looking at it, we don't know how far it will go,'' Volvo Car Australia managing director Matt Braid says.
He might well add Volkswagen's impending Mark 7 Golf to list, given that some 50 per cent of the variants sold are those priced from $35,000 -- the entry point into this arena.
The V40 range arrives in Kinetic, Luxury and R-Design trim levels, sharing some parts of its floorpan with the Ford Focus but boasting a large amount of Volvo development and design above the floor sill.
A Kinetic in the D2 turbodiesel gives Volvo a sharp entry point for the V40 $34,990 for the six-speed manual. Standard fare across the range includes USB and Bluetooth connections, wheel mounted audio and cruise controls, climate control, rear parking sensors, reach and rake adjustable steering, power-adjustable driver's seat, cloth trim and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Power-adjustable, retractable and heated exterior mirrors, 16in alloy wheels (and a space-saver spare), ambient interior lighting and LED daytime running lights. Stepping up to the D4 Kinetic pushes the price to $39,990 for the six-speed manual or $41,990 for the six-speed auto. The D4 Luxury is priced from $45,990 and is only available with the six-speed auto.
Luxury additions includes a meatier sound system, 17in alloy wheels, 7-inch colour control screen, satellite navigation, a reversing camera, active xenon headlights, power adjustment for the passenger's seat and leather trim.
The petrol T4 model range starts from $41,990 in Kinetic auto form, or the Luxury spec ups the ask to $45,990 - Volvo expects this model variant to account for much of the 800-1000 annual sales volume for its first full year on the market.
The flagship is the T5 R-Design, a six-speed auto, slots into the price guide at $49,990. It adds R-Design specific interior trim throughout the cabin, model-specific bodykit and door mirrors, 18in alloy wheels, a front sliding armrest (which doesn't lock in) and nubuck textile and perforated leather sports seats. The value equation also includes free scheduled servicing for three years or 60,000km.
The T4 is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged in-line five-cylinder, so don't take literally the ``T4, D2 and D4'' designations. Unlike most new cars from Europe, it lacks direct injection, but uses 95RON to produce 132kW/300Nm. The T5 ups the capacity to 2.5 and the output rises to 187kW/360Nm.
On the diesel side of the equation, the D2 runs a 1.6-litre 84kW/270Nm direct-injection turbocharged four and a 2.0-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel with 130kW/400Nm. Only the D4 does it with an automatic. The instrumentation also has a three-way level of tailoring to suit different information needs, although it's sometimes difficult to decipher the tachometer quickly.
The V40 makes a bold statement in this three-line design -- the sweeping roofline, the now-familiar shoulder line and the rising "rocker" line along the side of the floorpan. It is a sharp-looking hatch with a broad road stance and presence in spades.
There's no mistaking it for anything but a Volvo and that carries over into the Swedish cabin theme, which is well laid-out and comfortable, if not overly spacious (particularly in the rear for adults). The bootspace is clever. A floor panel hides additional storage space and can be sat up to keep cargo in place, or folded completely flat with the rear seat backs.
The much-vaunted pedestrian airbag is among the standard safety features, helping to win it NCAP's best-ever score. Other standard features include (deep breath) City Safety auto braking at up to 50km/h, traction and stability control that includes corner traction and engine drag control and a torque-vectoring system, plus pyrotechnic front and rear seatbelt pretensioners.
The $5000 optional advanced safety features pack includes adaptive cruise control with collision warning and automatic braking and parking functions, blind spot and lane departure warning and a cross traffic warning. It's available only on Luxury and R-Design models.
The V40 is also capable of "reading'' road speed limit signs and display them in the vehicle's high-tech instrument panel. Though there's not yet a link to the satnav mapping it will flash if you exceed the speed limit.
The T4 Luxury model is the pick. Quiet and refined (although susceptible to tyre noise from coarse-chip bitumen), the T4 sits comfortably on the road during the urban stint, dealing with road ruts without real concern. The engine is a smooth and has a decent spread of torque. With the six-speed auto in mild-mannered mode it does the job without fuss.
Pointing towards the hills, flick the transmission into the nicely aggressive Sport mode and the T4 makes solid progress on a twisting country road, with good body control and an absence of nose-heaviness. There's not as much feel through the steering as would be ideal for a sporting driver, not is it completely lifeless either.
A stint in the little D2 does nothing to upset the good first impression of road manners, but the manual diesel drivetrain needs to be stirred along to make anything other than sedate progress. Fuel economy in the mid single digits despite hard work says much for the frugality of the diesel. The petrol did high single digits or just over 10l/100km.
A quick run in the T5 exposed poorer ride quality degrade on the taller wheel/tyre package, albeit it with a solid increase in turn-in prowess. But the amount of grunt surging through the front end had it wandering a little. The D4 Kinetic also shows itself to be a good all-rounder, with a strong belt of torque and refinement from the engine bay. But the manual is a little snatchy under heavy torque, making the auto a better choice.
Volvo's prestige compact looks sharp and has impeccable safety credentials. But it's up against the laser-cut pricing of the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the inbound Golf. Stay tuned.
Price: from $34,990
Warranty: 3 years/ unlimited km
Resale: n/a (Source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: five star
Engines: 2-litre 132kW/300Nm and 2.5-litre 187kW/360Nm turbocharged in-line alloy 20-valve five-cylinder; 1.6-litre 84kW/270Nm turbocharged alloy 4-cyl or a 2-litre 130kW/400Nm five-cylinder turbodiesel.
Transmission: 6-speed manual or automatic (D2 manual only); FWD
Body: 4.4m (L); 2m (w); 1.4m (h)
Thirst: 4.2-8.1 1/100km, tank 62 litres (D2 52l); 110-189g/km CO2