I believe it was one hit wonder Mika who sang that big girls are beautiful. Well the new Volvo V40 has plenty of cushioning for the pushin’ – especially for those on foot, thanks to Volvo’s world-first pedestrian airbag. We drove it its Mzansi launch.
Curvaceous, sleek and striking, the new V40 is a far cry from its insipid predecessor of the 1990s which might have scored high for occupancy safety, but not much on the excitement scale. It’s a transformation akin to the taciturn girl from primary school who blossomed into the bombshell every boy wanted to take to the matric dance in high school.
Volvo has their sights set on the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class; although the latest generations of those models have already been released abroad, they’re taking some time to arrive locally – the Volvo certainly has time on its side, for now. But apart from that, the newcomer is competent in most areas and there’s no doubt that it has the substance to give its German counterparts a real fight.
Since the demise of SAAB, Volvo has been tasked with being the bastion for Swedish automotive engineering and even though they’ve been adopted by Chinese conglomerate, Geely, the V40 holds onto that ineffable Scandinavian charm. Inside you’ll find a “floating” centre console with an uncluttered, user-friendly layout. Tasteful surface materials and trim pieces are successful in achieving the premium ambience buyers in this segment expect.
Rear space is adequate, but if you’re a family of four about to embark on a holiday trip, boot space is going to disappoint. We were enamoured by features like the digitized instrument panel and special cabin lighting; allowing you to “get the mood right” like Johnny Gill, with a choice of ambient colours including a very porno purple and a cheerful yellow.
Buyers more attune to driving dynamics are going to be pleased with this one. It feels incredibly balanced and doesn’t shy away when the road gets twisty. A responsive, accurate steering and clunky short-throw gear-shifts contribute to an immersive driving experience. The V40 is available with a standard six-speed manual transmission or the Geartronic automatic ‘box, which dispatches shifts with immediacy and smoothness.
There’s an engine to suit a variety of tastes and budgets in the range; all are turbocharged. This scribe’s top picks are the T3 (110kW), T4 (132kW) and the diesel D3 (110kW). They’re effusive and more importantly in these austere times, they’re economical. If you like a bit of go, steer clear of the entry-level diesel D2 derivative. This 84kW propels the V40 with the enthusiasm of a chain-smoker running the Comrades Marathon. The hot 184kW T5 model will be launched in 2013.
Prices start at R281 200 for the entry-level T3 Essential model. The T4 Elite; with greater specification comes in at R330 700. It’s reasonable when you consider who the V40 is competing against, although we doubt the potent T5 model will be much of a success, with a hefty price tag of R373 300 – there’s just more value to be had with a Volkswagen Golf GTI or the new Ford Focus ST.
An array of extras and customisation options are available; but you do pay the price of course: features like the pedestrian airbag are not standard.
Certainly, it’ll ultimately come to brand preference, yet Volvo has always offered competent alternatives to the Germans – and it’s no different with the V40, which satisfies the criteria of excellent build quality, refinement, an engaging drive and aesthetic charisma – rather excellently.
STORY BY BRENWIN NAIDU