Had PetrolBlog run a Car of the Year thingy in 2012 the Volvo V40 would have been in with a good chance of winning.
I like it rather a lot and not just because it manages to stir things up in the premium 5-door hatchback sector. I also like the fact the most impressive car in the range would appear to be the entry-level V40 D2, proving that sometimes simple ingredients make the perfect recipe.
But in 2013 things have changed with Volvo adding new flavours to the V40 menu. The R-Design spec for those who prefer something with a little more spice. Or a Cross Country version designed for those in need of some extra...er...height and bumpers.
The R-Design uses Volvo's tried and tested formula of offering exclusive exterior and interior styling and, in the case of the V40, an optional sports chassis lowered by 10mm. In just about every sense, the enhancements work. I've noticed (or perhaps haven't noticed) that the V40 can look a little anonymous on the road. But there's no mistaking a V40 R-Design - not least from the front, with a new grille, R-Design badge and LED daytime running lights. There's also a new rear diffuser with twin tailpipes, silver wing mirrors and a choice of 17 or 18-inch alloys. Add the sports chassis and Rebel Blue paintwork and you've got yourself the sportiest looking V40 yet.
On the inside the R-Design pack includes bespoke R-Design leather seats, an illuminated soft touch gear shifter and a unique R-Design instrument cluster. It's all delivered in the best possible taste and once again proves that the Swedes lead the way when it comes to designing elegant and ergonomically brilliant interiors.
But if the R-Design feels like a largely cosmetic exercise, the same label couldn't be applied to the new Cross Country. It's to Volvo's credit that it feels like an entirely new car and one that I feel could quite easily be the default choice for those looking at buying a V40. And to think that Volvo reckons it well sell just 1,000 Cross Country V40s this year compared with 3,500 R-Designs. On the strength of my brief flirtation with the cars on sodden roads around Basingstoke, the target looks undeniably pessimistic.
Gone is the XC badge, replaced by the Cross Country moniker, previously seen on the Volvo V70. It was later dropped in favour of the XC (see XC60, XC70 and XC90), so its adoption on the V40 could suggest an all-action four-wheel drive XC40 to follow in the future. Here's hoping.
In the meantime, the V40 Cross Country offers an increased ride of 40mm, revised rugged-look bumpers, larger tyres and roof rails. But unless you opt for the T5 petrol, there's no all-wheel drive option available. And of course, being the UK, there's no way in the world you would go for the T5. So to all intents and purposes the V40 Cross Country offers the practicality and reassurance of an SUV without genuine off-road capabilities and the running costs that go with it. A Rover Streetwise for a new generation then?
Maybe I'm getting old, but not only do I think the V40 Cross Country is the most convincing model in the range, but I also feel it's the best looking. The chunky bumpers and roofbars give the V40 a more muscular and purposeful look and it works especially well at the rear. And there's more good news, but you'll forgive me for whispering this. I honestly feel the smaller diesel-engined cars are better than the petrols. But don't mention this to anyone.
Truth be told, before the launch day I only had eyes for the T5 R-Design and T5 Cross Country. PetrolBlog has very much fallen for the charms of powerful petrol-engined Volvos. But with the early birds already grabbing the T5 worms, I jumped in the smallest of the petrol engines instead - the 1.6-litre T3 with 6-speed manual ’box. Crucially it was fitted with the optional sport chassis as part of the R-Design kit.
And as I'd discover later on, the sport chassis is a worthy addition to the V40. It was developed in conjunction with the Polestar Black Team and offers a 10mm lower ride height and firmer springs and dampers. It certainly sharpens up the handing with the ride becoming a little firmer without feeling uncomfortable. The only downside is for the car's tendency to be unsettled over bumps in the road.
But in every other sense it's business as usual for the R-Design. None of the qualities of the standard V40 have been lost and if extra toys and cosmetics are your thing, you'll undoubtedly find the V40 R-Design appealing.
V40 Cross Country
But the R-Design is not for me. I can do without the additional and ultimately expensive extras, for my heart belongs to the D2 or D3 Cross Country. The thing is, the R-Design leather seats look lovely and offer great initial comfort. But start to throw the V40 about and they offer little in the way of support. You also tend to sit on the seats and opposed to in them. So give me a Cross Country with cloths seats any day.
Then there's Volvo's historic fascination with Alan Partridge's ‘big plate scam’. Why oh why do Volvo steering wheels have to be so big? On the XC60 it's fine, but on the V40 it becomes comical. There's little in the way of steering feel as it is, but the large diameter only serves to make things worse. It's less of an issue with the Cross Country where the emphasis is placed on comfort and practicality over driving dynamics.
I tried four flavours, from the £23,795 D2 SE Nav to the £33,875 T5 SE Lux Nav AWD. Each car had about £7k worth of options fitted which is arguably where the V40's appeal starts to wane. It's not a cheap car to start with, but by the time you've added a few safety features, option packs and cosmetic additions, the V40's price becomes a little eye-watering. The T5 for example would set you back £40,425. That's an awful lot of money for a premium 5-door hatchback.
Volvo did a brilliant job of laying on so many cars for the driving day. The pub car park was rammed full of V40s, highlighting the bewildering array of options available to prospective buyers. Volvo dealers will deserve a medal for taking customers through the various engines, trim levels and options. They may need to stack up on tea, biscuits and comfortable chairs.
Drawing conclusive views from a pick and mix affair is tricky, so I've arranged a proper review of the D3 and the T5 AWD over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, here are some thoughts.
The basic D2 SE presents an incredibly tempting proposition. At £22,595 it's the cheapest price you'll pay for a V40 Cross Country but you'll never feel particularly shortchanged. Admittedly my test car was loaded with options, pushing the price up to a ‘start looking at alternatives’ £30,070, but look beyond the likes of sat nav, power seat, metallic paint, flexible load cover and Driver Support Pack and there's still a convincing car underneath the surface.
The D2 is also the best choice for those in search of low running costs. The 1.6-litre engine emits just 99g/km of CO2, meaning you'll pay no road tax. It's also capable of a theoretical 74.3mpg on a combine circle. Perhaps the only thing worth noting is the fact that the D2 needs servicing every 12,500 miles, whereas all the other V40s have an 18,000 mile interval. Worth taking into consideration if you're likely to do big miles - it's the equivalent of an additional service every 36,000 miles.
It also needs pushing hard to get the best from the engine, with low-end poke particularly poor. The top speed is just 115mph and it'll take over 11 seconds to reach 60mph. But then if you buy the D2, you'll probably have one eye on economy rather than performance.
If you're after performance and economy, then you ought to try the D3. The 2.0-litre 5-cylinder diesel engine makes all the right noises and produces 150hp and 350Nm of torque. And if that isn't enough, the D4 produces 170hp and a massive 440Nm of torque, 80Nm more than the T5 petrol.
But in truth the D3 is perfectly adequate. It feels properly quick with peak torque available as low as 1,500rpm. The power delivery is silky smooth too, to the extent that I can't look beyond the diesels when it comes to the V40 Cross Country. Sorry PetrolBlog readers!
It's just that in the company of the diesels, the petrol engines were just that little bit of a letdown. The 1.6-litre T4 is quick enough, but never feels particularly exciting and I'm reserving judgement on the T5 until I've spent a week with it. As it stands my notes consist of ‘terrific road manners, an excessive amount of road noise, 21mpg, loads of grip, Geartronic not the best and £40k (including options) is a massively high price to pay’. On paper at least the T5 AWD should be my favourite, so you'll excuse me for wanting to give it another try.
Final thoughts...for now
But as things stand right now, I see the D2 and D3 not only as the best Cross Country prospects, but also the most convincing V40s in the entire range. They Cross Country gives up nothing to the standard car in terms of driving pleasure - the ride strikes a perfect balance between comfort and sharp handling the steering is nicely direct. It also looks more authentic than the R-Design models and feels more premium than the standard car. Nice work, Volvo.
There's no getting away from the fact that the V40 can become rather expensive if you start ticking a few options boxes, but it's encouraging to note that it's as convincing without the frilly bits.
It feels different to the Germans, looks better than the Germans and in many respects, is better than the Germans. In the Cross Country, the V40 just got better.
V40 Cross Country T5 AWD and D3 reviews to come. In the meantime, have a read of the *cough* 3,000 words on the V40 launch from last year.