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There was a time when Volvo cars were driven by aging men in tweed jackets, who usually owned more than one long haired dog, and for whom vehicular practicality far outweighed any notion of style. Their favourite weapon of choice was, of course, their trusty station wagon.
Thankfully someone lit a fire under Volvoâ€™s design team recently and Iâ€™m fairly sure should Mr Tweed cast a bespectacled eye over the current Volvo range…well, letâ€™s just hope heâ€™s sitting down.
So offending our grandparents and parents is part of the plan at Volvo?
Well, yes and no. Of course Volvo doesnâ€™t want to offend the old faithful to the point that they shun their favourite Swedish manufacturer. However, what it does want is to appeal to a more youthful market — young professionals and startup families perhaps.
In this regard Volvo has managed to hit a sweet spot between â€œIt still looks like a Volvo sonny-Jim!â€ and â€œWOW! Is that really a Volvo?!â€
And what better way to bust open the younger vibes than with a C-Segment-busting hatchback?
Meet the Volvo V40
For those who donâ€™t study cars, the C-Segment is defined as a â€˜compact carâ€™ or â€˜small family carâ€™ and is comprised mainly of hatchbacks (think Golf, Focus and Astra), small sedans and station wagons are also included in this category â€“ yup, station wagons â€“ a Swedish way of life.
Yes I do. All of this brings us neatly to what Iâ€™ve been driving recently. Itâ€™s called the V40 Cross Country T5 AWD and anyone with a critical eye you wouldâ€™ve already noticed a few station wagon-esque-cum-crossover additions not seen on regular V40 hatchbacks. Building on what is a very stylish package in the regular V40, the Cross Country adds larger wheels, chromed kick-plates side and rear, roof rails and black mesh grille insert and revised front bumper apron which includes LED daytime running lights.
Compared to rivals in this segment the V40 certainly cuts a unique profile â€“ Iâ€™d go so far as to say it is the best looking hatchback on sale today. Add the more aggressive crossover elements of the Cross Country and you have one good looking vehicle. Itâ€™s puzzling as to why there arenâ€™t more of them on our roads and I would imagine the biggest stumbling block is that Volvoâ€™s arenâ€™t German. South
Africaâ€™s penchant for Germanic automotives is a pity because the V40 like many others in the modern Volvo range is a solid, beautifully crafted machine which deserves success.
So itâ€™s one third hatch, one third station wagon and one third crossover. But can it match the competition for quality and refinement?
Indeed it can. The unique and sleek exterior is carried over to the interior which is both minimalistic and sophisticated. Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Merc drivers will feel at home in terms of quality and while it might not shout â€œUltra-modernâ€ like some of its rivals, the V40 is a very comfortable place to spend time in.
What really is refreshing compared its rivals is the uncomplicated and minimal interior and dashboard arrangement. Unlike many other cars, which seem to have separate buttons for almost every function â€“ Volvo makes use of very few.
There is no â€˜sportâ€™ button, no buttons for chassis setup or damper settings etcetera etcetera. Take the climate control functions which features a button arrangement in the shape of a sitting person. Select the head for air directed your head, and the torso for…you get the picture. So simple. And while because of this you might assume the V40 is low on tech, this is not the case (more on this later).
The all-wheel drive version of the Cross Country is only available in range topping T5 engine specification, lesser specced models make do with front-wheel drive only. Yup, the â€˜Tâ€™ stands for Turbo and the â€˜5â€™ for five cylinders and those in the know will remember this engine well, doing duty in the Volvo range for a long time, but perhaps more well known for powering the previous generation Ford Focus ST.
In this application it puts out 187kW and 360Nm (400Nm on overboost) of torque making it effortlessly fast and supremely tractable in everyday driving conditions. Automatic Start/Stop and brake energy regeneration is also employed to help curb fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and if youâ€™re careful with your right foot the T5 engine can be surprisingly frugal.
Plant the loud pedal and the 6-speed Geartronic automatic gearbox, while sluggish by todayâ€™s double-clutchers, is definitely quick enough at accepting commands. A twang of the off-beat 5 cylinder engine note can be heard when you hurry it along in the upper rev range, but it is muted at best. With a slippery exterior and comfortable and quiet interior the V40 Cross Country makes for effortless highway cruiser, only slightly upset on very harsh roads â€“ the large 18 inch wheels no doubt contributing to that.
Slip the gearlever to the left engages sport mode which allows for manual gear selection and adds a sense of urgency to shifts and throttle response. I find the forward for down and backwards for up of manually selecting gears unintuitive though and those with a sporty inclination might yearn for steering wheel shift paddles which are conspicuous by their absence in the V40, considering their popularity.
But in the V40, their absence contributes to the minimal and simplistic nature of the car and I for one found the start-and-go-no-fuss character of the car quite refreshing in a sea of mass personalisation and preference selectable rivals.
Howâ€™s the specification?
The top of the range T5 AWD Cross Country comes standard with a pretty impressive amount of kit such as:
- Electrically powered driverâ€™s seat with memory function
- Full leather upholstery
- Dual zone climate control
- 7 inch screen with MY CAR functionality (allowing access to some optional extras like City Safety, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian Detection, Driver Alert Control, Lane Keeping Aid, Radar Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), Road Sign Information (RSI), lights, door mirrors, climate, central locking, audio and phone. The multimedia audio systems with 7-inch screen will also display the Road Traffic Information (RTI) navigation system, park assist camera, DVD, digital TV etc. Controlled via the centre console or steering wheel controls)
- Active High Beam assist
- Rear park assist
- Power folding mirrors with puddle lights
- Auto rear view mirror dimmer
- USB/iPod/Phone/Aux input with steering wheel controls
- City Safety (Laser-based technology that can sense an impending collision at speeds of up to 50km/h. It prepares the brakes so that they respond faster when you press the pedal, and should you fail to brake, will apply the brakes for you and switch off the throttle to lessen the effects of a collision)
- Auto headlights and windscreen wipers
- Hill decent control
Of course there are few options that you might want to consider should you wish to personalise your V40 Cross Country even further
Techno Pack adds:
- Keyless entry and go
Premium Packs adds to that:
- A premium sound and Multimedia system
And Advanced Pack adds further to that with:
- Blind Spot Information System
- Driver Alert System
- Collision Warning and Auto Braking
- Park Assist Pilot
Okay, letâ€™s wrap this up
The Volvo V40 T5 AWD is the dark horse in the race for the hatchback champion and puts forward a formidable argument. However in the premium hatch class there is some very stiff competition with the likes of the Audi A3 1.8T Quattro (R404 000), BMW 125 5-Door M Sport (R397 980), Mercedes Benz A-Class 250 Sport (R453 773). Unlike its rivals here the Volvo does mix hatchback practicality with crossover/station wagon desirability and flexibility and with all-wheel drive is as safe as ever on the road.
For a manufacturer that not too long ago was making staid station wagons for your grandfather, the V40 is a revelation. Good looks, superior quality and refreshing minimalistic start and go temperament combined with hot-hatch like performance, the V40 T5 AWD is a hard act to knock. It does come at a price though, quite a hefty one at R428 600, especially considering the competition mentioned above.
My advice would be to opt for a â€˜lesserâ€™ model in the range, perhaps the T4 Elite Auto for R373 300, what you sacrifice in power and all-wheel drive handling you retain with fantastic styling, quality and hunk of cash in your back pocket.
- Interior quality and comfort
- Engine, gearbox combination and all-wheel drive safety
- Small boot
- Brand equity compared to rivals