The Swedish brand has a history of building premium compact models that dates all the way back to their PV51 model of 1936 and in this case, they’ve rejuvenated what has become a very strong contender in this segment thanks to the installation of powerfully efficient ‘Drive-E’ engine technology.
Volvo’s improved V40 Cross Country model makes a play for the growing Qashqai-class Crossover market – an alternative perhaps, to that Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA or BMW X1 you might have been thinking about. Though the changes over a standard V40 may be slight, you do get a premium feel, class-leading efficiency – and the option of 4WD at the top of the range.
Thanks to its Ford Focus-derived underpinnings, the V40 drives better than you might expect a Volvo to – which is important given that buyers in the premium compact hatch class tend to hold great store in driving dynamics. The steering isn’t especially feelsome, but the ‘Dynamic’ chassis and suspension set-up – standard on most models – offers a decent blend of well-controlled bodyroll and rough road suppleness.
The key changes made to this car in recent times have come beneath the bonnet, where Volvo has completed the installation of its efficient ‘Drive-E’ engine technology across the range. The units in question are nearly all 2. 0-litre petrol and diesel powerplants. Most will want one of the diesels – there are three, the 120bhp D2, the 150bhp D3 or the 190bhp D4. The D2 is class-leadingly efficient, in manual form managing up to 84. 1mpg on the combined cycle and 89g/km of CO2. If you prefer the idea of petrol power, there’s again a three-way choice of units, the 122bhp T2, the 152bhp T3 or the rare 245bhp T5. That T5 offers an AWD option if you choose the ‘Cross Country’ bodystyle, but there’s no ride height increase for this variant, so light field tracks will be about its limit when it comes to off road excursions.
The safer a car is, the safer will be its approach to exterior design. That was once true of small Volvos – but it isn’t any more. In fact, it’s precisely because the V40 is good in an accident that it looks so smart. We’ll explain. Almost all cars have relatively high bonnet lines, so as to leave an under-bonnet void to meet pedestrian impact legislation. But, thanks to a unique under-bonnet airbag, this car doesn’t need to allow for that, so its bonnet line can be much lower, part of a lean, wide coupe-like stance in a shape very slightly longer and wider than rival BMW 1 Series or Audi A3 models.
In short, it’s all pleasantly different, an observation equally applicable in the cabin. The inside of the car needs to be good if sales are to be stolen from the likes of the Mercedes A-Class and the Audi A3, a tough assignment tackled with an unpretentious ‘Designed Around You’ philosophy. The idea is that, like IKEA furniture, the cabin should be typically Scandinavian, comfortable, simple, intuitive and visually pleasing. And broadly it is.
Courtesy of a curve on the doorsill, access into the back isn’t quite as easy as with some rivals, but once you’re inside, leg, shoulder and kneeroom are quite good for two adults, courtesy of the way that the seats have been angled slightly inwards to give rear occupants more space and a better view forward.
And luggage room? Overall, the total space provided is significantly more than you’d get in a Ford Focus, about the same as you’d get in a more comparable Mercedes A-Class and about 10% less than you’d get in rivals like Audi’s A3 and BMW’s 1 Series.
Should you need to regularly accommodate something really long - say a surfboard or a bike - you can even specify your car with a fold-forward front passenger seat.
Time then, to take a fresh look at the Volvo V40. Not because of the more recent exterior changes – those are pretty minor. No, what matters here is what lies beneath the bonnet. With ‘Drive-E’ engine technology installed across the range, this Swedish contender can now properly meet the best of its premium rivals head-on.
A drive in one of these would blow away quite a few prejudices. Whoever would have thought it?
Volvo customers who might perhaps be a touch disappointed that the brand doesn’t have a purpose-designed Qashqai-class compact Crossover model may well be satisfied by the improved V40 Cross Country. It looks the part and is classy enough to compete with the smarter German brands.
It’s no off-roading tool of course, even if you do specify the 4WD version – but then no car in this class really is. Of more interest to most potential owners will be the class-leadingly efficient Drive-E petrol and diesel engines that can be specified beneath the bonnet.
They characterise the car’s more pragmatic approach to Crossover motoring. If that appeals to you, then you might well agree with Volvo that what we have here is a lifestyle-orientated family hatchback worth getting cross about.