It's been a long time between family hatchbacks for Volvo: about 20 years, in fact. Hard to believe when the Swedish/Chinese maker has such a broad (some might say confusing) model range.
Compact five-doors now account for more sales globally than any other segment, so it's not surprising that Volvo has filled that particular gap in its lineup with a new model, called the V40.
When we say 'family hatchbacks' we're not including the just-discontinued C30 of course. That was a three-door only and so of virtually no interest to Kiwi buyers. The new V40 is not exactly a Corolla rival – it's aimed more at the premium end of the market, against the BMW 1-series and top-line Volkswagen Golf versions – but it is also a properly practical five-door, with actual sales potential.
So just to be clear, the V40 replaces not just the C30, but also the S40 compact-executive sedan and the spin-off V50 wagon. It has a lot of work to do.
New Zealand importer Motor Distributors Limited (MDL) has decided to launch V40 as early as possible: which means the car is here in just one powertrain variant at the moment, a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel five-cylinder (you can call it the D4) making 130kW/400Nm. In February next year, T4 and T5 petrol versions will follow.
The six-speed manual D4 is $49,990, the six-speed automatic $54,990. Both feature stop-start technology and both have exceptionally good fuel economy: 4.3 litres per 100km for the manual and 5.2 litres for the auto.
There are two things we've come to expect from a 21st-century Volvo: sexy styling and the highest levels of safety . The former is a relatively recent thing; the latter has been a core element of the brand since… forever.
The V40 looks sensational and is the highest-scoring car ever to have been crash-tested by the European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP). Class-leading safety equipment includes City Safety (which will brake the car automatically from 50km/h to prevent a nose-to-tail collision, preventing any impact from up to 30km/h) and a pedestrian airbag (the bonnet pops up and it emerges from the base of the windscreen).
So V40 is the safest car in its class in standard form. But there is a huge range of extra safety gear available for those willing to pay the price. For example, you can have adaptive cruise control with collision warning and full automatic braking, for $5490. But only if you have first specified the Driver Support Pack (which includes blind-spot warning, automatic parking and a driver alert system) for $4100. There's a long list to peruse.
In any case, you don't need to get too hung up on safety because the V40 not only looks good, it's good to drive too. The six-speed manual D4 is especially satisfying, although of course three-pedal transmissions are of little interest to premium-hatch buyers in New Zealand. The automatic is great, too: smooth and with 400Nm on tap, very capable of moving the V40 along at warm-hatch pace.
Although Ford sold Volvo to Chinese maker Geeley in 2010, the development cycle of the V40 predates that, so it's still based on Blue Oval underpinnings: the platform of the latest Focus. It shows, with a chassis that seems especially adept over Kiwi backroads: composed and fluid. Even the electric power steering (not normally an enthusiast-pleasing system) seems to really work well in this package.
MDL does not have massive ambitions for this model: indeed, it only has 30 to sell before the end of the year. But it does want the V40 to be noticed in this segment and it certainly deserves your attention.