|Long-term test: Volvo V40 D4 R-Design
|Real-world average fuel economy
||54.3mpg, 73% of official
|Official combined economy
|Joined Parkers fleet
||6 December 2017
- Volvo V40 proves that it's well-suited to hard work
- Read our Volvo V40 full review
- Read about the rest of our long-term fleet
The latest: A notable absence
Volvo V40: The story so far...
An approved-used Volvo from their Selekt scheme - how does it compare with new? We'll let you know, as consumer editor Richard Kilpatrick puts it through the daily grind of long-distance commuting...
Our Volvo V40: Price, dimensions and performance
Reflecting the real-world buying options available to the majority of drivers in the UK, we’ve added a genuine used car to our long-term test fleet. Though tempting to go and scour backstreet dealers for interesting machinery, it’s through a manufacturer approved scheme and represents one of the better value models for car costs – a year old, average mileage and current model with a value roughly 66% of new list price.
We haven’t gone entirely mainstream though, for two reasons. One, the Volvo V40 is an excellent contender in the midsize family hatchback market, rated four stars in our review and 4.2 stars in our owners’ reviews.
Two, Volvo has introduced a new, sustainable model of approved used cars that encompasses vehicles up to seven years old. As typical finance agreements last three years, this means Volvo are standing behind their current products up to ten years old; a real statement of faith.
It foreshadows an overall shift in the car market where Volvo are pioneering the marketing, if not the core concept – subscription, rather than ownership. A pilot programme for Care by Volvo is taking place within the M25; ultimately a strong used-car scheme will support subscriptions for the bulk of the car’s usable life.
The Volvo Selekt Programme
Volvo’s new scheme cherrypicks used cars for an extensive quality check and ideal presentation, the intent being to provide a car that is as appealing as a brand new example.
Patrick Ford, of Paul Rigby Volvo in Birmingham, gave us a guided tour of the inspection process before revealing our used car.
Coverage of the inspection varies according to the car, with over 100 points checked on all models. Software versions and operation of entertainment features are included, as well as the more obvious checks of bodywork, running gear and interior.
Worn parts are replaced, so suspension bushes and exhaust rubbers will perform as well as a new car, and tactile surfaces are also inspected and renewed where necessary. Electric window switches are apparently the most common, but if damage to a seat bolster or trim item is found it will be rectified.
Our car: The Volvo V40 D4 R-Design Nav Plus
Arriving at the showroom no cars resembling our V40 were to be seen, though a car covered under a black sheet inspired curiosity. It seemed reasonable that a secondhand vehicle would be retrieved from the workshop, keys passed over and on your way.
It was a genuine surprise to complete the paperwork and be lead over to the covered car, for the sheet to be pulled back and a gleaming red V40 revealed. Handover is certainly an impressive show; used car buyers are just as committed and valuable as new, but it is still unusual to be made to feel that way as a customer.
A thorough introduction to the driving, safety and entertainment systems gets the V40 set up exactly as the buyer prefers, and ensures the buyer knows where all controls are; for example, where many cars have rain-sensing wipers as a position of the stalk, Volvo thoughtfully provide a dedicated button with indicator LED.
Finished in Passion Red, the V40 D4 is appropriately hot – albeit understated – with a 190hp 2.0-litre diesel engine and six-speed manual gearbox capable of delivering a 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds. Top speed is an equally impressive 143mph. With power comes efficiency, and it’s rated for 99g/km and 74.3mpg.
Following a facelift in 2015, the V40 includes LED headlights, speed limiter, autonomous emergency braking up to 31mph, Bluetooth and DAB.
Our R-Design model includes:
- Alloy wheels and a half-leather black interior with supportive sports seats;
- Navigation via the media display
- Adaptive cruise control
- Intellisafe Assist and Winter packs priced at £1,400 and £575 respectively when new.
- Usefully, there’s also a spare wheel kit, a £150 option
When originally ordered, then, this Volvo cost £29,670. it would be expected to retail for £19,500 with finance buyers benefitting from a deposit contribution.
We’ll be taking a longer look at our Volvo over the coming weeks, but in the meantime you can read our full review here
Keith Adams/Richard Kilpatrick
For the past couple of weeks, we've pushed the V40 into a typical commuting role. Covering A-roads, B-roads and dual-carriageway stretches for almost 100 miles every day, the Volvo's character is coming through loud and clear.
Externally subtle, the R-design trim is technically Volvo's sportier line. It's more obviously presenting as a performance model inside, with a matt black interior and alcantara headlining. Supportive half-leather seats and a thick steering wheel complete the atmosphere for the driver, but it's not raucous.
Even the instruments can be toned down from their red highlights and revcounter-centric design.
It features larger wheels and has stiffer suspension - yet is nowhere near as aggressive as say, Audi's S-line benchmarks. Even in passion red, the Volvo blends into the scenery without trying to intimidate.
That's not to say it is anonymous, though. Volvo make a lot of the 'Thor's Hammer' day running lights (which are also unmissable indicators). Around the body, there are a lot of neat details - the large apparent glass area of the tailgate harks back to the 480 and P1800ES sports estates of the past, and the tall tail lights emphasise the thought given to preventing accidents by being visible. Easily missed, there's a hockey-stick waistline that directly links to the classic P1800 coupe.
Being so restrained, it's easy to forget that the D4 is a 190hp engine with impressive mid-range torque. A slightly old-school approach lets you feel like you are fully in control of the car, though - all the controls are placed to suit drivers who want to be involved.
D4 R-Design - not hot, but quick
The steering wheel a hand-span from the gearlever, and the handbrake a similar distance again, and utterly functional. There's no attempt to disguise it as an umbrella or hide it under an armrest, and it works the old fashioned way - the temptation to revert to boy racer bravado and handbrake the car into corners is incredible.
Almost everything you touch in the Volvo is fundamentally pleasing, too. Not just the materials - everything feels well weighted and well matched. Third gear acceleration is genuinely impressive, and the chassis strikes a pleasing balance between roadholding and comfort.
Lacking the harshness that defines typical modern hot hatchbacks, a useful amount of progressive suspension travel absorbs remarkably poor country tracks and changing surfaces at impressive speeds. There's no floaty, uncontrolled zone though - it's capable of keeping the body in check on undulating fast roads. Most manufacturers seem to have the track in mind for their performance versions; this feels more likely to be bouncing down a forest road with rally aspirations.
This considered approach to rapid progress is thoroughly enjoyable. No showboating, no violence and anger - just the right amount of compromise and ability to cover distance on real roads very quickly. Motorways are smoothed away without fidgeting or tramlining, and it's a good thing the V40's cruise control has a limiter and an unobtrusive speed-limit warning.
As a new buy, the V40's list price and age don't look like good value on paper - and the most compelling discount deals are for lesser specifications. Numbers aren't everything and what the V40 offers is not necessarily a competitive spec for the money; instead it offers impressive build quality, satisfying detail and ability in real-world driving.
Tellingly, the Volvo has spent a remarkable amount of time being borrowed by other members of the Parkers team; despite the latest, shinest and occasionally super-cars showing up for review.
It may be taken for a practical reason at first, but the repeat requests are invariably due to the impression it made.
Taking a break from his long-term Mazda CX-5, Christofer Lloyd has enjoyed the Volvo a few times...
Ignore the bold red paint and oversized alloy wheels, and our Volvo V40 is a pretty unassuming machine should you park it in a typical supermarket car park.
Jacked up crossovers and attention-grabbing hot hatchbacks may be much more noticeable, but I’d wager that few cars can match the muscle from the V40’s effortlessly punchy diesel engine, the precise steering or supremely comfortable suspension and seat combination.
Even fewer can marry all these traits in one package. But this is where the V40 excels – making it a great high-speed, long-distance car – and why I’ve been so keen to pry the keys from custodian Richard’s hands whenever the chance arises.
With the task of zooming from Peterborough to Norwich for a post-work Gumtree collection, the V40 was the perfect car for the task. The front seats – supremely comfortable provided you take the time to use all the countless adjusters – and low noise levels keep you relaxed on a long journey.
The diesel engine that punts you up to high speeds with a big, smooth swell of power and sharp steering, meanwhile, make it a surprisingly enjoyable car to drive. With none of the roadholding, comfort and performance compromise associated with overweight, oversized high-riding crossovers, the V40 manages to be both sporty and comfy.
And that Volvo-designed 2.0-litre engine is a great fit here. Despite the mammoth low-down torque on offer, the V40 remains refined and smooth with good grip from the front tyres, while the slick manual gearchange only adds to the experience.
Volvo V40 - good value used, or new bargain?
I can’t help thinking the cash price (£19,500 for our used example, or £29,790 new with the closest current specification) is astronomical and it’s more than I’d like on PCP finance, but hunt down one of the cash deals that slashes around 25% from the price and it’s a very appealing small family car.
Or it would be if the media system weren’t so convoluted to use. If you’re used to the sharp media systems – whether touchscreen or rotary controller-based – in most cars of this price, or even £10,000 budget models from Dacia, this is simply not acceptable.
With a dash-mounted rotary controller needed to add sat-nav addresses and tweak most of the settings, it’s clunky enough to rouse expletives from even the calmest of drivers (using the thumb control on the steering wheel is less awkward but the interface is still infuriating at times).
Yes, the V40 has been around a while, but it’s just not good enough. If this doesn’t bother you, there’s little to fault the V40 for, but having scrolled through at least a dozen swear words chiding the media system over the four-hour Norfolk trip, this failing would make me think twice about going Swedish for my next car.
Over January, we've had so many new cars in and some seasonal weather - which means it feels like not enough time has been spent in the V40. Yes, the littlest Volvo is more than capable of handling some British snow, but as I also own a Fiat Fullback, it makes sense to be prepared when there's been a deluge.
And yet when filling it up for another week of racing around the East Midlands, the trip meter informed me that we have covered almost 3,000 miles, and it now has almost 16,000 on the clock.
A lot of that mileage has been acquired carrying my photographic kit - where the deep, spacious boot has allowed a full Elinchrom Quadra light kit, stands and two-body Fuji setup in a Peli case to live in the lower section. Normally this would be concealed with the optional false floor - leaving plenty of room for luggage, accessories and shopping.
There's even room for a stepladder, though the camera case serves as a stand-in to stand on.
This time there's little of much significance to report, despite the arduous winter conditions and hard work. Other than an appetite for screenwash, thanks to the three dual jets on the bonnet capable of delivering a generous - and effective - soaking to eradicate salt-spray and muck, the V40 has simply been a very effective and reliable companion.
After years of acquiring used cars, and plenty of experience finding buyer's remorse and reasons to complain at the dealers, covering that distance without so much as an errant squeak from the trim or mystery failing is reassuring for anyone taking on a Selekt approved-used Volvo.
Having delved into the V40's competence as a fast hatchback, and seen fuel economy dip as a result, I've attempted to improve the economy over the past couple of weeks too.
Maintaining typical speeds, it is very difficult to improve on 50mpg in British road conditions - though a good stretch of unbroken, traffic-free 50mph A-road would be the ideal.
As more manufacturers look to real-world economy figures rather than the sometimes unattainable numbers previous NEDC testing methods produced, expectations should be equally realistic.
Our actual tested economy across the long-term fleet often shows a tendency for achieving two-thirds of claimed figures, regardless of the car or fuel used.
Where the Volvo has shown promise is not in reaching the 74mpg, but in returning over 45mpg even when driven enthusiastically. The figures are good for the performance of the car - but current marketing and taxation supports some wildly optimistic claims across all manufacturers.
Considering we picked up our Volvo V40 some months ago, it's taken ages for me to actually get some time behind the wheel. I've been particularly interested in this one for a while, because it came via the Volvo Selekt approved used programme, and the company says that it genuinely is a great way to get that 'as new' feeling for a used-car price.
Of course, in reality the £19,500 price makes it look like an expensive option compared with, say, a new – and discounted – Ford Focus. But that's generally a view held by those who don't really know these cars, and before we picked up ours, I'd have subscribed to that view, too.
I ended up taking the V40 for a couple of long weekends, and in my time behind the wheel, this unassuming hatchback really grew on me. The assured feeling on the road, the positive steering, excellent adaptive cruise control, and rapid performance from its 190hp D4 diesel engine were genuine revelations in a car that's been on sale for so long.
What we like about the Volvo V40 – and what we don't
First things first, and Volvo will probably hate me for saying this, but the V40 really does drive like a well set-up warm hatchback. It's everything you'd expect from a car based on the capable Ford Focus. It's relatively quick, but still comfortable enough for long journeys, and unobtrusive enough to let you get on with things without attracting undue attention.
The interior really does look quite dated, even if it's functional and well made. I love the fact that there's a full-sized number pad in the centre console - but only because it's retro, and not because it's in any way useful. Finally, my only other crisicism would be that it doesn't do Apple CarPlay, and the search functionality when playing music from a USB memory stick is too limited. Small foibles really.
Does it feel like a new car for used money? In terms of condition and the way it's wearing its miles, yes. We've done 4,500 of the 17,500 miles on it now, and it feels as tight as a brand new car. But since attending the launch of the gorgeous new Volvo V60 estate, it feels like a car from another age – I can't wait to see what Volvo does with its next small hatchback.
One of the downsides of being a car enthusiast is the influence a brand has on your choices; when my housemate's elderly Saab 9-3 faced MoT oblivion, the classifieds had a few compelling choices for under £1,000.
A Toyota Rav4 was dismissed as too basic inside, and a hopeful option of a yellow Saab 900S Cabriolet via friends in the industry turned out to be a futile chase. In among the adverts, though, a very attractive Volvo came up more than once.
Part of Volvo's major re-invention in the 1990s, the front-wheel drive C70 came out of the highly successful 850 and was offered as a coupe or convertible. We've got previous, the C70 and I - back in 1999 with a new advertising sales role and lifestyle magazine on the cards, a tour of the dealers for a new car got a test drive in a 2.4T automatic.
At £31,000 it was an expensive option, despite the blue and grey two-tone interior and surround sound stereo fitted. That wasn't why I walked away, though* - rather, the incredible scuttle shake (where the removal of the roof reduces rigidity of the body, and shocks from the road cause the front of the car to wobble) and vibration under power.
Thirteen years on, how is a C70 holding up?
We took the V40 along to view the C70 in Derbyshire. Of course there's nothing to report - the red Volvo has been almost excruciatingly reliable when hoping for drama and developments from a used vehicle.
Jen's reluctance to drive an unfamilar car home, however, meant another trip and her Saab got one last drive to fetch the usurper that sealed its fate.
Jen's C70 is a 2.0-litre GT automatic, with just under 100,000 miles on the clock. These are cheap cars now - dealers will ask as little as £1,495 for a good low mileage example, and most private examples are under £1,000 - despite the large, luxury open-top feel and Volvo strength and safety.
None of the interior fittings have broken, the seats are unworn, and the windows and roof all work perfectly. It starts reliably, runs smoothly and in essence, feels like a car that will do another 50,000 miles comfortably with just routine maintenance.
This is not a rare, cherished one either - there's damage on the bumper, no history to speak of; if it can be neglected and still feel this good, our arguably better-made, higher quality V40 should have an extremely long useful life.
Despite being a 2005 example, following a facelift in 2002, the scuttle shake that put me off when they were new is also present, correct and equally annoying.
It's not my car, though, and objectively despite that trait there are no squeaks or rattles from the roof or windows - just a tendency to shudder horribly on potholes or speedbumps.
What has changed with Volvo design?
Lots. The V40 represents the pinnacle of a design language that started when Volvo were part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, but crucially, were allowed a great deal of free reign in their own design and engineering.
Where the difference is really felt in the V40 is behind the wheel. Yes, the C70 was a sportier model than anything else Volvo offered at that time - the 480 having ended production without a replacement (the C30 came close) - but a proper sense of driver enjoyment has become part of the Volvo DNA. Supportive sports seats, a quick and responsive steering setup, and commnicative chassis can now be found in most Volvo models.
For those saying 'it's a Focus'; maybe. There are many cars with roots in Ford's global platform programme - not all of them handle or ride well. Volvo chose to make the V40 an entertaining drive.
Simplified interior design is also a major evolution from the square-rigged dashboards of the ancestors. One large component across the car eradicates rattles and gaps in the trim, and looks solid. None of the functionality has been lost, but it's all much higher quality - even compared to a premium model of the past.
We've got the power
Under the bonnet is the biggest change of all. The C70 predates the diesel-boom, and we're now entering a period of petrol gaining ground again, but a 1999 driver would have been blown away by the economy and output of Volvo's VEA engine range.
It may lack the delightful soundtrack of their white-block five-cylinder unit - an engine so good that Ford adopted it for high-performance models of the Focus - but 190hp from a 2.0-litre diesel, with 400Nm torque and a six-speed manual gearbox, makes even the highest performance C70s look tame.
|C70 2.0 turbo||V40 D4 R-Design|
|Top speed||124 mph||143 mph|
It's possible to look at the development of cars from the late 1990s to now and wonder where the dramatic shifts have been beyond the proliferation of crossovers (a genre Volvo can also claim some significant influence in); maybe there have been few massive shifts in driver experience or technology, but there has been an immense amount of progress in quality, refinement and safety.
Everything that was exciting and novel then is reaching the stage of rock-solid reliability and maturity in 2018's mass-produced cars, and we're seeing more development in driver assistance, technology and convenience where 20 years ago, you got four speakers and a tape deck.
All of this improvement suggests it is something of a shame that Volvo did not follow up the hardtop C70 coupe-convertible. An open-topped (and indeed, three-door) V40 would be a very appealing car indeed.
* Instead, a Peugeot 306 Cabriolet fit the bill...
Throughout winter, a succession of snow-capable SUVs graced my drive and the Volvo went on errands in less rural locations. In fact, by the time I got it back from James, Chris, Gareth and Keith Adams, the car had gained many miles. We naturally get the opportunity to be reacquainted, like meeting an old friend, and all the charms of the Volvo were intact.
Our seasonal, infuriating but necessary scattering of stones on Britain’s road network results in airborne peril for one of the most critical parts of the car’s structure, and at some point a tiny projectile had landed under the passenger side wiper. A crack began to wind up the windscreen, and a call to Autoglass was unavoidable.
Because of the time of year and the sophistication of the V40’s sensors and screen heating, a genuine windscreen was sourced with a little wait; during which time I enjoyed Parkers long-term Toyota C-HR, Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5. On time and well-planned, Autoglass sent technician James along with the new, Volvo-branded windscreen, and under a remarkable awning that resembled the wings of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our Volvo’s cracked glass was removed and the aperture prepared for replacement.
From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success
Weather was not an issue, but rain still plays a role – as the sensor array on the V40 comprises a rain/light detector, a camera for road signs and lane keeping, and the Lidar for City Safe autonomous emergency braking. Oh, and of course, the bane of windscreen replacements for decades, the mirror; this is mounted on one of the most serious-looking bits of metal I’ve seen on a windscreen and won’t be going anywhere, unlike the ‘glue it on and hope’ method that often resulted in a pothole leading to a surprise in your lap and no rear vision.
With a device plugged into the OBD-II port to keep all the computers in order, James removed the large plastic trims confidently – leaving the roof console off as it covers a vital trim piece for the sensor array. Unlike many cars of the 21st century, the Volvo’s sleek looks don’t involve heavy, fragile trims or the need to disturb the internal windscreen-pillar coverings to remove the glass; only the wipers, side trims and scuttle covering have to removed.
As an aside, James points out the underbonnet airbag and the importance of checking that when buying a used Volvo V40, as many repairers will overlook it when preparing an accident-damaged car; it’s a great location to find evidence of hidden history.
Gone, too, are the vicious paint-damaging, rust-encouraging knives of the past. A geared system pulls a plastic wire through the bonding for the screen with impressive torque, causing one small secondary crack rather than the terrifying bang I anticipated watching it. You can understand why normally, customers would be encouraged to stay away here, and protective goggles are essential.
Once removed, the old screen was inspected and the aperture cleaned and primed. James points out some residue from the rain sensor’s attachment – ‘That will need a new gel pad – refitting with the existing one would leave bubbles’. I’ve seen this myself, little pockets of air on sensors; on a rain/dusk sensor it’s not such a big deal, but it can really mess up lane-keeping assistant cameras.
After applying new bonding/sealant with precision that would impress any Great British Bake Off judge – get an Autoglass fitter to ice your decorated cakes, people – the one-person screen fitting kit was attached to the passenger window and set up with the corresponding suction disks on the windscreen itself.
A free moving arm allows one fitter to lift the large screen into place with astounding accuracy – in one movement, the glass is in the car with factory-precise gaps all around.
Curing time is around 15 minutes, apparently – enough time for the trims to be reattached, the wipers replaced, and the electronics to be reinstalled inside. The whole process takes a little over an hour on the V40; other cars will vary of course, and we did not require a recalibration of the Lidar or camera which adds an additional short drive.
I can see clearly now
Years of experience with used cars means I’m wary of any major body repair – rattly trim, scratches, damage where it can’t be seen leading to other problems later. Observed dispassionately and uncritically, the entire process Autoglass used to replace the screen was professional and respectful of the car’s condition, with protective panels and care to inspect all plastics and paintwork.
Driving off, there were no creaks, no signs that the car was anything other than the V40 I’d been driving for the past few months, except with a spotless windscreen and two inoperative lines on the heated screen now banished.
The delay for sourcing a screen was a little inconvenient, as I’d stopped driving the car in case the crack got worse; James assured me that wasn’t necessary, and I’d have been fine to drive it. It seems the amount that windscreens add to the rigidity of the car is a little less than the first bonded types.
Naturally there’s no real cause for replacing a windscreen except for accidents, but with costs between £170 and £600 for the majority of cars (excluding insurance replacements, of course), the level of knowledge and care shown during this replacement makes a periodic refitting more appealing. For the price of a high-end service that lasts 1-2 years, my 20 year old SLK could have a road-rash pitted screen removed and a brand new, clear and scratch-free one fitted.
It’s odd how we prioritise spending on our cars, versus the comfort that results from the cost.
On the road
Back to the Volvo itself – it feels just as good as ever, and I’ve missed the eager, confidence inspiring performance and subtle appearance. Now it has returned to the road, it’s going to be back on photography and commuting duties. In the hands of my colleagues the fuel economy has inched a little lower, but the feedback continues to be positive.
Red means stop; just as it felt like all the fun drives and enjoyment had stopped for 2018’s bitter awakening, everything gracing my driveway between February and April was a heavy deep blue. It’s a source of amusement that the Parkers school run of test SUVs (yes, the collective noun for SUVs is a school run) are all deep metallic blues.
Not even a variety of deep metallic blues. Their uniform conformity means that CX-5, Q5, Kodiaq or Evoque, only the highlights captured by rare sunlight and the shape of their DRLs provide much identity externally.
Meanwhile, the Passion red Volvo languished, cracked, until the careful attentions of one skilled with handling broken fragile things brought it back to life.
Apt, as it happens - 26 years ago, red meant go for me. Tearing up the L-plates and taking to the road on my own, the colour means a surprising amount personally, and still reminds me of freedom and adventures. Having the V40 back is surprisingly reassuring.
As seasons change, so do routines
Heavy over the midlands, a leaden sky hangs
Supported on unleaded fumes and NOxious emissions
Omissions from the 1990s push for environmental responsibility.
Breaking the cloud, like fingers tearing our daily bread
Gods' rays pick out the lanes of the M42/M6/M6 Toll interchange
Beams of fate absolving all responsibility.
Little car basking in in the golden glow of predetermined direction
I scan the horizon and above for a sign, some indication of my destination.
As if bidden by an unseen hand, it flickers into life.
‘M42, Long Delays, J6 - J5’
My commute has altered somewhat, now frequently involving trips between the theoretical home-turf of our Evoque in Solihull and the open-plan Parkers offices - in Bauer Media’s creative mill of Peterborough, a run of no less than 81 miles of relentless motorway and dual carriageway inhabited by what appears to be millions of belligerent, aggressive or solipsistic drivers hell-bent on destroying my Volvo for occupying 8 square metres of road.
How does the Volvo V40 cope with a tough commute?
Or, more charitably, thousands of like-minded individuals all accepting the nature of 21st century life where this machine - that we often commit to spend around a third of our wages on, to get to work, to earn those wages - is now more essential than ever as our wages are rarely a third of the price of a house near work.
We’re left trying to eke out pleasures in the time we have, and any delay is stolen opportunity drifting away; smoke from the exhaust of another HGV.
In this monochromatic sea, the red Volvo stands out; a target for those four-ringed warriors that neither know or care what ‘D4 R-Design’ means, and a feeling of happiness when glancing across the Costa car park and immediately spotting my faithful companion.
Not just the 190hp – which once you’re doing 70mph, is as useful as 90hp for Britain’s traffic – or the shelter of the black interior. Familiarity has revealed the generally accurate ETA of the sat nav with good traffic routing, the ease of navigating a 25,000-song music library on my iPod via the number pad’s Nokia-esque 1ABC alphanumeric entry, and the predictable nature of the adaptive cruise control; despite being in car with manual transmission it makes the inevitable 50mph average speed torment of the M6 entirely tolerable.
Red Rain – Volvo V40 goes Peter Gabriel
The colour of the car is illuminated, again, by another Solihull sunrise - a pattern of raindrops refracting across the bonnet like the cover of Peter Gabriel’s eponymous debut solo album. You'll have to imagine the artist and the rain, though some clouds provided a helpful stand-in.
No hipgnotically-shaded Lancia Flavia, though. Album cover artist Hipgnosis' founder, Norwegian-descended Storm Thorgerson, might have chuckled at the Scandinavian V40’s ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED day running lights within the headlights - conflating Norway and Sweden is a cultural crime akin to mistaking Canadians for Americans.
When your car has a Chinese parent company and is based on a global platform sharing elements of European, Japanese and American technology the point is a little muddy anyway.
Red paint, spring air, raindrops and hangovers – of the prog-band, solo artist variety – bring back some powerful images of my first car; passing my test in May, this time of year and early morning dew on the windows really is like a little time machine when there’s so much vibrant bodywork as a canvas.
Rather than the almost shaking twist of the key in a crude lock as the foreplay to that first solo project of my own, driving out into the Scottish Borders unaccompanied in a carmine-red Chevette, the Volvo greets with a remote detachment, a clunk of locks and mirrors rising to attention.
We’ve come a long way, baby
Still reading? There’s a point to this, I promise. It’s been touched on before – but perhaps not all of it would be felt if the car were storm grey, or suspense silver, or abyss blue. Because my first car was red, that shade alone carries with it a load of emotions no manufacturer can guarantee to capture, but are very important. Your colours may be different, but when looking at many vehicles’ palettes and options it’s clear how little choice the buyer has even now,
Volvo is wise to offer some sky blues, browns and this striking red; more to the point the rest of the V40 plays up to the intangibles, too. It’s an accomplished artwork, capable of stirring emotions and building some new ones of its own, rather than a numb appliance.
On a long, tedious commute, the V40 D4 R-Design at least has enough kit to take the harsh edge off, without taking away the joy of fast A-roads. Inevitably, there's some economy with the truth about the relevance of the power available too.
There’s a certain pleasure to be had in that sprint up to the legal limit, when your unassuming little hatchback can set the pace for the bigger fish to try and match; youthful bravado in a relentlessly adult era.
Since getting the V40 back after its windscreen was replaced, there’s been a conscious decision to reject the temptations of test cars and stick to this car; while this means less time in the newest and shiniest cars at the Parkers office, the quality time behind the wheel of the Volvo gives a deeper understanding of real-world use.
The previous update covers the intangibles of ownership – pride, affection, happiness; those qualities that, in an era of crushingly competent and well-equipped vehicles, are all that is left to sway your purchasing choices – well, that, and the money. We’ve already touched on the financial appeal of a good brand-new deal versus the cost of the V40 at a year old via the Volvo Selekt approved used programme, but the fact remains that despite its age as a design, this Volvo is hugely appealing.
This week, however, the little red hatchback has been taken out of daydreams and nostalgia, and thrust into the pressure of a fashion shoot. Tight deadlines and bank holiday traffic combined with the need to carry, in total:
- Three professional Fuji cameras
- Five lenses
- Two tripods
- Two full Elinchrom studio lighting sets, with large softboxes
- A three-piece reflector (Tri-flector – an invention of a friend in the industry, Stu Williamson)
- Two compact reflectors
- Four lighting stands
- A folding chair, a laptop, and a bag of cables and spare batteries
It also had to carry an assistant and have the potential to take models, should their transport fall through.
Volvo V40 is a great photographer’s workhorse – within reason
When setting out the gear, I’d anticipated having to fold the back seats, but the sensibly-designed boot space is remarkably deep. Yes, it lacks a flat floor with the seats down because the optional concealed area isn’t on this car – instead, it’s just all useful space. A substantial roller kit bag goes in with the longest side against the wheelarch, leaving room for both Quadra flash kit cases to go beside. Enough space to drop stands against the loading lip, and stack other accessories, and the boot still shut with the parcel shelf in place.
Photographers often seek larger vehicles – both for practicality and status reasons, making an impression with clients and projecting a confident image before they’ve seen any images – but experience has taught me that such things often add stress. Finding a parking space, or room to open doors to unload, makes the choice of a high-end crossover one of style over utility.
It may look small, but the V40 is fairly spacious inside. It’s also easy to park, nimble and economical; okay, it won’t take a 9ft background roll, but fewer photographers work that way these days – and neither will an Evoque, or Qashqai. This Volvo took two photographers, and kit for them both to shoot with full studio lighting on location, with the back seat entirely free – that’s impressive.
Keeping cool thanks to the Volvo V40
After weeks of poor weather, it’s almost inevitable that we had the hottest day of the year so far during such an intense shoot; five outfit changes (for the models – we photographers tend to just wear black to minimise reflections), four rooms in a former guest house, and a schedule leaving roughly five hours to complete it all in.
Even at 8am, as we set out along the curiously deserted A34 through Birmingham – Volvo’s Sensus navigation having decided this was quicker than taking the M42 – the car was warm inside and out. At almost 20,000 miles the climate control might lack the icy blast of a brand-new system, but it worked well and without deafening fan noise. Accelerating up the slip road onto the A38 and M6, the first irritation comes from the sat nav; unclear directions mean taking the wrong exit and a short detour. No delay, but for anyone less familiar with Birmingham’s delightful A38 centre route it would cause some stress.
Halfway to the venue, the hands-free system rings – despite the best efforts of Apple’s iPhone 7 to avoid such things as ‘being a phone’ or ‘having a signal’, the V40’s relatively basic Bluetooth connection allows a panicked call. One model has failed to show up – we discuss a plan while the adaptive cruise control keeps the M6 tamed.
Not that it’s particularly important, but the Volvo got some positive comments from the clients and models too – particularly when they saw the array of equipment emerging from a small hatchback.
Because the Volvo V40 was so relaxing for the drive up, coping with the heat well and carrying everything with ease, I was ready to take on the work fully energised. This is a huge thing – the fatigue from a bad drive, or worse, a bad car, can take so much energy that keeping a positive outlook during any job is exhausting. As it was, the whole day passed in a blur of activity without disasters or stress.
Once the shoot was done, the V40 was loaded up and the air-conditioning switched on. From Stafford to Solihull, only one other red V40 was spotted, underlining the relatively distinctive quality of a car that exists in a saturated and fairly unexciting genre of vehicles.
Better yet, the average economy has been lifted to 52.8mpg. Given the amount of fast country road driving the car has undertaken, and city congestion where yes, it does have stop-start but it rarely gets used, that’s very impressive.
The Volvo V40 reaches a milestone, but is distance just a number?
You watch the dial like a hawk, the numbers rotating and shifting behind their little aperture cut into the dashboard. Behind, a single cable of twisted wires has spun rapidly with every mile covered, transmitting that information from wheel, to gearbox, to speedometer, to odometer.
A crooked smile straightening, the instant when those teeth aligned on an old car somehow carried the message of longevity, an achievement of machinery. When you watched four zeroes pass, there was a sense of accomplishment. Somehow, all these diverse bits of metal and plastic had stayed intact, travelled a significant distance, and were still going.
It’s different now – an ever-vigilant counter, tripping transistors to the beat of an electronic pulse; accurate, light and simple. And taken for granted, like the rest of the technology in a modern vehicle.
Does mileage mean anything on a modern car?
Take a look around you at the world we’ve come to know, and you’ll see countless 2004, 2005 cars – 14 years old – looking contemporary in style and offering similar refinement and quality to 2018’s mainstream offerings. Yes, of course there are improvements in this brave new world of car design - if anything normal hatchbacks and saloons are regressing to a lighter, more efficient ethos, and the technology has advanced massively – but you don’t feel like you’re in some sort of obsolete relic when driving a car from the previous decade.
And why should you. Car designs are lasting longer on the market, better made and finished to a high standard when built, and despite our disposable culture and pressure for scrappage schemes, both usable and respectable.
Society is gradually losing the preconception that a 7 year old car lacks status, just in time for a generation of millennials who aren’t eagerly awaiting their 17th birthday and a licence for freedom, but instead seem to be dreading the inevitability of having to meet the costs and drudgery of driving as a necessity.
Yet as the Volvo’s digital display – neat, efficient and concealed most of the time in favour of one of three dashboard themes – approaches 20,000 miles, I can’t help but glance down with building anticipation. Counting the tenths and mentally mapping the road ahead, can I find a layby, will I be driving slowly, staring at another DIRFT-bound HGV, or focused on the next hedgerow looking for hazards on a fast bend? It clicks just as there’s a neat, wide farm entrance to pull into.
Captured for posterity, I take a moment to reflect on past milestones, and the near 6,000 miles I’ve covered in this car myself…
Where’s the wear?
This is not the first car I’ve taken past 20,000 miles. Crucially, the ones I have owned at such low mileages have been mine from new, and they haven’t all been plain sailing. A Citroen C6, the most expensive car I’ve ever owned and a dream fulfilled, showed significant issues by 15,000 miles, and by 20,000 had rattling front suspension, failing infotainment and the beginnings of wear on the steering wheel controls.
PSA also get the credit for the Peugeot 306 Cabriolet that by 20,000 miles had already had cracked brake discs replaced, a new roof mechanism, and just 10,000 miles later would have a gearbox that sounded on the verge of failure.
The Volvo V40, by comparison, feels like it’s just bedding in. There’s a little more tyre roar, and the sharp speedbumps that interrupt the smooth progress of British drivers everywhere elicit a faint, barely perceptible distant sound that suggests something has shifted – but this is a car that has encountered the potholed nightmares of the M6 ‘upgrades’ on a daily basis. No matter how well you learn the dance, there’s always going to be a surprise one lurking.
Inside, the seats are perfect, the controls look brand new. Windows open without a squeak, doors remain vault-like. Everything feels as tight and precise as the day we collected the car, and this bodes well for the next 20,000 miles. Even the replacement windscreen has done nothing to introduce rattles.
Old cars don’t last as long?
Head back to 1999, and Volvo enthusiasts will recall the little mileage achievement badges and pride of 240 owners who would regularly hit 250,000 miles in their tough estates. Similarly-aged Ford Sierras and Vauxhall Cavaliers would be sneered at by the private used-car buyer, deemed worthless once they cracked 70,000 miles.
Yet the truth is probably a little less clear. Although the bodies rusted earlier, and the parts were often weaker and less sophisticated, there’s another factor: Clocking a car’s mechanical or early electronic odometer – reducing the recorded mileage – in an era of paper MoTs and hand-stamped service books was ridiculously easy.
These days the mileage is stored distributed across various car systems, an inherent part. It’s recorded online with every MoT. Service records – with immense intervals – are also computerised; even if the display is tampered with the traces of history will soon show the reality.
Cars displaying their true mileage and strength must surely influence the acceptability and status of a secondhand model, as well as underlining the inherent quality of modern manufacturing and quality standards. The myth of a car that displayed 80,000 miles, but had covered 140,000, being unreliable is slowly being undone – and the value of a car with a realistically high number is getting stronger.
There’s no reason, therefore, to believe that this secondhand V40 would fail to last another 12 years of hard, everyday use. It won’t be at my hand, but the thought that this 2017 Volvo would be effortlessly, economically devouring Britain’s motorways in 2030 with a content owner at the wheel really is not that far-fetched.
What’s the reality of living with the Volvo V40? Naturally it’s competent; trying to buy a genuinely bad car in the 21st century requires real effort. It could be said that for modern cars, excellence has become the new mediocrity and to move the needle towards greatness is surprisingly hard.
Spoiler alert – objectively, the Volvo V40 is not moving that needle. It’s too cramped in the back as a family car, boot space suffers if you have the false floor installed (which is the only way to get a large, flat load floor) and rearward visibility is merely average.
The infotainment system is also dated, though cleverly implemented for the era, and crucially, the V40 is at the upper end of the price range for hatchbacks like this.
At least, in terms of list price. As a nearly new, discounted new (there are often good deals available – check Parkers Deal Watch) or used buy like our example, the Volvo V40 is rather good value for those who want a car of substance. If you want shiny things to impress the neighbours, look elsewhere in the range – the XC40 in particular attracts attention and comments from strangers.
Colouring my opinion here is the fact that we got a D4 R-Design, rather than, say, a T2 Momentum. Take away the power and the correspondingly well-controlled body and wide-tyred grip, and the equation may come out differently. Measure the screen sizes and the torque all you like though. That’s telling you what the V40 is, not what it’s like to live with.
Volvo V40 every day
Over the six months the V40 has remained in my care, life has changed. From a rural location, to a city, from working from home, to regular commutes, covering 160 miles, starting bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, ending sometimes facing an additional two hours due to traffic chaos. Anything can happen in that distance across five counties and, with the sheer volume of traffic, it’s a testament to the skill of most drivers and the technology in their cars that it usually doesn’t.
Throughout that, the Volvo has never added to the fatigue or stress. Touch points that become as familiar as your house keys, or the neck of a favourite guitar, are so thoroughly developed that you can interact with the car almost blind. The transition from textured console surface, to buttons, to rotary dials is well thought out. The thickness of the wheel is satisfying, shaped well enough for a light touch or confident grip and, as mentioned in an earlier update, all the controls are extremely well-weighted.
Even the key, that curious fob that has to be plugged into the dash to use the car, is pleasing to hold and use, clicking in with just the right resistance to convey activating machinery, yet offering little effort to remove when required.
A wide band of torque and forgiving engine management allows less-focused driving in traffic without furiously rowing the six-speed gearbox along, and there’s no kangaroo hop or abrupt progress when the going gets hard.
Supported by the R-Design Alcantara and leather seat for a prime view of the two-hour reality show that is a long commute, the car becomes part of the surroundings, unobtrusive. Any car that can take the viscous, particulate laden flow of the Midland’s major routes and insulate the driver from that stress is already doing well. If it can do it and win the affection of the owner, that’s a little nudge on the needle above the tedious competence of modern hatchbacks.
Despite being equipped with a manual gearbox, the adaptive cruise control is remarkably good at keeping the driver relaxed in the unavoidable scourge of 50mph average camera stretches that blight the UK’s road network.
Volvo V40 D4 – serious fun
There are a couple of stretches on that commute that aren’t lined with traffic, central reservations or roadworks, however. Like unclipping the lead of a Labrador, the sheer enthusiasm and mid-range power of the D4 bounds across the landscape with an almost joyful energy.
This isn’t a nudge on the needle, it’s a kick – because too many manufacturers have micro-managed their trim and suspension to an obsessive degree, and insisted on pairing this kind of ability with proper hard-edged suspension and steering.
Learn where the best shift points are on the V40 and it’s immensely rewarding to drive quickly, without being bone-jarringly tied-down or uncomfortably bolstered. Again, there are all sorts of metrics you could throw at this but the most honest appraisal is that I, personally, have enjoyed driving this car at all paces, in all moods, in all conditions far more than any diesel hatchback before.
Essentially, like the hot hatches that defined the genre back in the 1980s, it’s comfortable day to day, but feels like it would be heroic on a track.
Life has a funny way of progressing, and as the Volvo neared the end of its time with Parkers, I found myself ending my time at a particular house, and finding another one rather further away.
Everyone on the Parkers team got the opportunity to drive the V40, as the required long wheelbase, high top vans did their duty for me - but due to timing and logistics when I returned to the office, the red V40 was gone; a new long-term Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross taking its place on my new driveway.
Apparently it went back into the dealer network via BCA auction, and given our job is testing cars, objectively, day in and day out - I'm caught unawares by a sadness at missing the chance to say goodbye and indeed, take one last drive in the V40. Spotting a similar car on the M42 engendered a little twinge behind the chest, an emotion that is often lacking with modern vehicles.
We can quanitify performance, economy and numbers - where the V40 performs well, but sometimes fails to represent the best value - yet we've so far failed to come up with a 'fondness' rating that can be consistently applied.
New Cars Editor, Adam Binnie summed up the V40 as 'the best third gear on the fleet', and that encapsulates how well matched the 190hp D4 engine, six-speed manual gearbox and R-Design chassis really are.
I'd add that still caring about a fairly mundane bodystyle of car six months on - and a couple of months after it's gone - is worth just as much.
For a sensible family car, from a sensible family marque, the Volvo V40 proves exceptionally good without resorting to gimmicks. I genuinely miss it.
by Richard Kilpatrick, Consumer Editor
The Parkers Verdict
So, after eight months and many thousands of miles, did we end up having the used-like-new ownership experiewnce that the Volvo Selekt programme promised? In a nutshell, yes...
Volvo's own PCP finance offered on this car was competitive, while the £19,500 price tag reflected the V40's strong residuals, and careful-one-owner status, it's a great way of getting into one of these cars for around 40% off.
The retail experience was excellent, with top quality dealer support, while the car was prepared to a very high standard indeed. And that goes some way to explaining why we didn't have even a hint of an issue with the car during our hard-driven tenure with it.
In conclusion, we'd happily recommend the Volvo Selekt programme in the basis of how we were treated during our time with our V40. But more than that, we also rate this old stager of a car very highly indeed – Volvo's going to find it difficult to replace and keep all of the character intact.