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(Pocket-lint) - When the Volvo brand name is uttered what’s the first thing that springs to mind?  Safety? Family? Swedes (and we don’t mean the vegetable)?

We reckon all of the above, veg excluded. And yet the introduction of the five door V40 certainly adds a lick of style to that list.

The Volvo V40 - which the company has described as its most important release in two decades - is the first five-door hatchback it's made since the Volvo 440.

Pocket-lint was invited to sunny Wales to test the car in various diesel and petrol guises - and here’s the part where you apply your very best (or worst) Welsh accent - throughout the vällèys.

Diesel Power

This review is focused on the D2 model which comes equipped with a four cylinder 1.6 litre turbo diesel engine that can deliver 115bhp.

If that sounds a little pedestrian for your needs then the D3’s 150bhp five cylinder 2.0 litre turbo ups the ante, while the D4 tops the diesel list with a 177bhp 2.0 litre. On the petrol front the T4 produces 180bhp from its 1.6 litre turbocharged engine.

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The V40 D2 sure has enough oomph, though splashing out the extra for the D3 and its increased power makes a notable difference. The D4 and T4, for us, have a bit of a question mark over them: although there’s more power, they just don’t feel that much ahead of what the D3 has on offer. We reckon an even more serious engine, al la hot-hatch, would stand out all the more, irrelevant of whether Volvo shifted more than a handful of them. There is an auto-only T5 in the works with a 2.4 litre engine, but no manual box is a no go area as far as we’re concerned.

For a diesel car the D2 is a smooth ride; changes glide through the six-speed gearbox, hills don’t cause any unwarranted grunting and the gears continue to give when needed. When the turbo kicks in it gives that wave of extra power that not only provides that tickle of excitement, but also ensures that practical stuff like overtaking Sunday slowcoaches isn’t a bother.

The D2’s 94g/km CO2 emissions outage is also impressive considering the performance. Volvo claims that the V40 is class-leading in the C-Segment category.

Design & Tech

The V40’s contemporary design takes a balance of sweeping curves and more angular juts and arranges them into an attractive body. Its "nose" may be a bit horse-headed and long - there is a safety reason for this - and its rear is a little bit like a pinched-up J-Lo behind, but despite its cheeky looks - and, indeed, our cheeky comments - this is still unmistakably Volvo.

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It’s that je ne c’est quai, that distinctive look that has always been represented by the brand, albeit brought bang up to date. Those that wondered if Geely Motors’ takeover of the Swedish company would result in more Chinese influence can put that fear to rest.

But it’s inside the car that really impresses. The glass-panel panoramic roof lets in loads of light, or can be shut off for a cosier environment.

The seats - cloth at the basic ES and intermediate SE levels, or leather with the top-spec SE Lux trim option - are super-comfortable whichever trim option you go for. And we’re talking home sofa kind of comfy.

The dash is solid, the gear stick has LED lighting when the light dims, and there’s even a subtle, colour-selectable mood light in the roof.

For an extra £350 the dash display can be upgraded to a fully digital one: Performance, ECO and Elegance modes display your speed, power, and a host of other information depending on the selected mode. For example, guidelines can help you drive with best economical performance, or not, depending on how you want to drive.

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The V40 can also "see". Its sign recognition will display the last speed sign it’s spotted. This is fantastic stuff as it’s not tied into any pre-determined or satellite information, instead it’s what the car sees in front of it on the road. This upside is also its downside however: if the last sign it saw was a 5mph one but you turn onto a 40mph road the car will update only once it’s located the next sign. In some cases that can be a long ole time.

As well as a chilled glovebox to store your drinks, the boot comes with a two-level luggage store to help cram in all those extras. We can’t moan about storage space: the boot is big, as is the car as a whole, including the back seats.

Bluetooth is also standard across the range for hands-free calls or wireless music transmission.

It’s hard to find much to moan about in the design stakes. At a push it’d have to be the passenger-side positioned handbrake. Not a major issue, but if you’re driving with a new passenger it’ll look rather like you’re making a grab for their leg at each stop. Who knows, maybe you are; who are we to judge?

The car as a whole is one well-rounded, good looking beast with plenty of quality techy features as standard. Whether it’ll entice BMW, Audi or VW fans to step down from their 1-series, A3 or souped-up Golf seats is another matter entirely of course.

Safety First

All this good stuff and yet we’ve barely touched upon the extensive safety technology that’s been muscled into this motor.

The V40 is the first car to feature a pedestrian airbag as standard, whichever model or trim level you buy.

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This innovative tech works in tandem with the car’s pedestrian detection technology, dubbed City Safety. If someone dives out in front of you unexpectedly then the car’s auto-braking feature will respond quicker than you can, and is effective at up to 50kmph. That’s right, the car will automatically brake if it has to.

If the worst can’t be avoided and you hit the unfortunate road wanderer, then sensors across the front bumper will identify contact and deploy the pedestrian airbag. It’s programmed to respond to a leg-like shape, so in the event of a collision with another vehicle, for example, the full set of sensors will respond near-instantaneously to deploy the driver (including a new knee-positioned airbag) and passenger airbags.

The pedestrian airbag is part of the reason the windscreen is angled as it is, hence the "nose" being so long. It means the bag can cover the lower part of the windscreen and the two main steel-made chassis pillars. It’s not just for looks.

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It’s worth noting that the pedestrian airbag cannot deploy when the car is stationary, so an unfortunate kick or similar act of vandalism to the front of the car won’t result in a pricey airbag change being needed (it’s around £300-400 to get a new one, but what value would you put on someone’s life?). Hit a bollard, however, and it's possible the car will react by thinking it's a pedestrain.

A parallel parking assist controls the wheel should you find slinking the car into a tight spot a little too taxing. Front and rear alerts also sound and show up on the in-dash display when you’re close to a object and in reverse gear. It can be a little annoying when reversing out of a spot and getting unneeded warnings from in front, but at least the system never sleeps.

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Although not available in the basic ES package, there are additional safety features: Blind spot detection - known by Volvo as BLIS technology - displays a warning that includes wing mirror positioned lights and can even detect a vehicle approaching fast from the rear.

Like the Volvo S60 the V40’s optional sat nav is also up to the job and far better than previous iterations. It got us from A to B without hitch, can be paused, the in-dash screen display can be adjusted via the thumbwheel on the steering wheel, as can the volume of the lovely-sounding female assist.

Optional cruise control can also be added. Volvo’s DRIVe system can detect road lines and emit a vibration to the wheel if you’re about to cross one, and, in a similar fashion to the pedestrian detection, the car is aware of surrounding vehicles and can automatically slow down accordingly. It can pretty much drive itself.


The Volvo V40 is loaded to the brim with top notch features. It’s safe, it’s clever, it’s full of tech, is super comfortable and we reckon it looks like quite the charmer too.

It might not get the kudos that many of its competitors have, but if you’re a family man (or woman) and fancy a little luxury as well as some motorised oomph from your next car then the V40 has it all, including the space for more than just one or two bums on seats.

We’re glad the V40 rests on Volvo’s well-known safety and family laurels. But it manages to bring the fun too. Sure, you’ll probably want to upgrade from the basic £19,745 D2 (with standard or "ES" trim) to something like a D3 with all the SE Lux extras (that quickly mounts up to £25,795), so that means it might not be cheap purchase overall, though it’s well within touching distance of its competitors.

That's probably its one main "downside", so to speak: that the competition is so strong, and has such loyal following. Volvo also has its loyals, but its want of a broader audience and customer base is going to be tough to change over night.

The Volvo V40 may be built like a tank, but fortunately it doesn’t look like one and it floats along the road like a ballerina. It might not be to all tastes in light of the competition out there, but there’s otherwise very little not to like about this car.

Writing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 16 April 2013.