I’ve had plenty of experience with the Volvo V40 now, managing to review it in just about every engine and trim level available. And the result of this thorough research is that I can now conclude that the D2 Cross Country SE is just about the best V40 you can buy.
It took a mini adventure up and down the brilliant A470 in Wales for me to reach this conclusion. The opportunity was too good to miss – a cross country adventure in a Volvo V40 Cross Country. That’s not even the remotest bit tenuous. No really, it isn’t. Hey, indulge me for a bit, yeah?
The A470 is a magical, perilous, frustrating, exhilarating and delightful road. It begins its journey in Cardiff with the first leg consisting of mainly dual carriageways, traffic lights and roundabouts. I’ll confess I forwent the opportunity to drop into Cardiff for the full A470 experience, choosing instead to join the road at the Coryton roundabout on the M4.
A typically slow jaunt to Merthyr Tydfil followed, before the road made way for glorious A-roads across the Brecon Beacons. After the monotony of the M5 and M4 motorways, the view that greets you as you cross into Powys is quite breathtaking.
At the Storey Arms the A470 reaches its highest point, revealing a view that necessitates a quick camera stop. The road flows snake-like before you, hugging the hillside in the process. It would take a huge amount of willpower for a driver not to disengage traction control and unleash hell fire down the road.
Naturally as a Volvo driver such acts of frivolity and recklessness wouldn’t cross your mind, but the fact remains, the D2-engined V40 is a satisfying car to drive. If that’s not damning it with faint praise, allow me to explain.
I don’t think for one minute anyone will buy the V40 Cross Country for its razor sharp handling and delightfully communicative steering. And if they did, they’d be very disappointed. But for anyone interested in a beautifully engineered and wonderfully satisfying car, it’s hard to look beyond the V40.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine is perfectly capable of answering pretty much every demand you place on it, only occasionally demanding a shift-down in gear to maintain progress. It’s also remarkably economical, offering 74.3mpg on a combined cycle. Not once during the 800 miles I spent behind the wheel did the economy drop below 51.8mpg. Not bad considering the enthusiastic run up and down the A470.
Other satisfying features about the way the V40 Cross Country drives include a wonderfully composed ride, a silky 6-speed gearbox and a cabin ambience that belies its status within the Volvo model range. And all this from the supposed entry level model.
Back on the A470, the swift downhill section into Brecon was thankfully free of traffic, allowing for some spirited driving for the first time on the trip. Here was where the V40’s dynamic shortfalls rose to the surface. The steering is almost totally free of feedback and such is the car’s deliberately cosseting nature, you tend to feel quite disconnected with the road.
There’s also a fair amount of understeer and body roll if you push it too far, with the tyres soon letting you know that they’re about to let go. But on the plus side its all rather progressive and predictable. And once you get to know the car’s limits, it becomes an altogether – you guessed it – satisfying car to drive.
The stretch between Brecon and Builth Wells is relatively uneventful, save for a smooth and twisty section into Builth Wells itself. The River Wye follows the road to the right and if the traffic is light, it’s possible to make quick progress here. As much was evident by the speed camera van parked on the outskirts of town.
The A470 plays host to the grand sounding Heart of Wales Services in Builth Wells which in reality is little more than a pair of Esso garages, a Little Chef and Burger King flanking either side of the road. I didn’t stop.
What followed next was a section of the A470 that has recently been ‘improved’. The stretch to Newbridge-on-Wye has been straightened and smoothed over, making it quicker and safer in the process. It shows the importance of the great north-south road to Wales. This is more than just a relic from the old road network – this is an essential truck route.
The road continues through Newbridge, Rhayader, Llandiloes and Caersws before revealing its most technical section of the route so far. It’s noticeably narrower as it meanders its way to Snowdonia, chucking in some railway bridges, tight bends and hidden dips in the process.
There’s more evidence of the changing shape of the A470 as it enters the dramatic landscape of Snowdonia National Park. A series of temporary traffic lights slow progress down to a steady crawl as the road’s creases and often torturous bends are ironed out. It’s a sign of the times I guess, but I can’t help but mourn the loss of the old route.
Come 4pm and any chance of swift progress was put to bed by a combination of school buses, tourists and late afternoon traffic. I raised a smile as Sally Traffic read out the usual reports of motorway congestion as I drove through a sleepy Blaenau Ffestiniog. It seemed a world away from the rest of the country…
The overnight stop in Conwy Quays was eventually reached and the V40 was given a well earned break after a mammoth 350 mile trip from Dartmoor. 200 miles of fuel remained in the tank and I felt like I had just nipped to the shops, not driven across an entire country.
It would have been easy to take the simple route back home the following evening. But past experience suggests the M6 and M5 aren’t the ideal places to hangout on a Friday evening. So I did what any sensible petrolhead would do and head back down the A470.
I arrived home at 9.30 as refreshed as when I left and with utter admiration for the V40. It’s hard to fault it and that’s partly because it’s just so likeable. But it’s worth noting the D2 engine requires a service every 12,500 miles as opposed 18,000 as standard across the rest of the range. It’s also a little cramped in the back, with rearward visibility also a touch restricted.
In common with other Volvos it won’t suit buyers who suffer from ‘spec anxiety’. In other words, whilst the basic price may appeal, the actual price you pay after choosing a few options can be quite eye-watering. Add the Driver Support Pack (blind spot, lane departure, pedestrian detection, active cruise), Winter Illumination Pack (heated seats, active bend lights, LED daytime runners, heated screen), park assist, power seat, 17-inch alloys, metallic paint, active display, spare wheel, flexible load floor and passenger airbag cut-off switch and the price of an SE without nav jumps from £22,595 to £30,070.
Not quite the bargain it first appears. So you have to ask yourself, can you live without the options and perhaps more crucially, will the V40 feel less special without them?
I’d say yes to the first part of the question and no to the second. I still maintain that the T-Tec/Textile upholstery is as good as the leather and the V40 doesn’t rely on toys to make it feel special. The safety features are welcome and help to make it the safest car in the world, but the other items are wants rather than needs. It manages to feel premium without bombarding you with chintz and accessories.
Amazingly, the D2 Cross Country SE is a bit of hit with insurance firms too as they’ve given it a 16E rating. This compares with the 17E of the standard V40 D2 SE and D2 Cross Country Lux. Throw into the pot the fact that at 99g/km CO2 you’ll pay no road tax and you’ll begin to understand why I rate the car so highly.
The V40 is the cheapest way of owning a new Volvo and it retains all the hallmarks of what makes larger and more traditional Volvos feel special. That feeling of solidity combined with a sense that it’s a car genuinely built around you. A rare belief that the engineers and not the marketers got their own way with this car.
People will still flock to the A3, 1 Series and Golf in their droves and that’s their prerogative. But they’re missing out on a gem of a car. Look no further than the V40 Cross Country D2 SE – it’s just about all the car you’ll ever need.
And one last thing – if you fancy a good drive, you could do a lot worse than get up early to take on the A470. Do it quick before the tourists arrive and the government straighten it to within an inch of its life. You know it makes sense.