Driven - Volvo V40's safe and sexy

By Minesh Bhagaloo Time of article published Jun 28, 2012

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Verona, Italy - Volvo is bringing sexy back. It’s called the V40, was first shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year, and though strictly speaking it replaces the S40 in the carmaker’s lineup it’s really an all-new premium hatch with some interesting design and safety features, including the world’s first pedestrian airbag.

The five-door V40, which is the first new Volvo since Chinese carmaker Geely took ownership of the Scandinavian brand, gets a fresh and athletic look, with a derrière that certainly raises the eyebrow.

A product of Volvo’s new “Designed Around You” strategy, the front of the V40 gets a low and wide grille with daytime running lights in the lower corners. There’s a distinctive shoulder line which stretches to the rear doors – Volvo calls this the hooked shoulder line and is an inspiration from the famous P1800 Volvo of the 1960s. The hexagonal tailgate was first shown on the C30 which Volvo reckons is a signature design.

The inside is also quite frisky with a wide instrument panel, frameless rear-view mirror, comfy seats, a racy dashboard and centre cluster with slim centre stack, and chrome finishes throughout.

Highlights include the mood lighting (which amongst other settings can go from red to blue dependent on climate control), the transparent gearlever with LED illumination, and the split luggage floor with its innovative cover (which can be locked in various positions).

THREE THEMES

The personalised instrument cluster is also quite cool. It offers three themes (Elegance, Eco and Performance) with each displaying graphics and colours suited to the mode. None of the modes change anything in terms of the car’s performance or setup, it’s more of a visual guide: Elegance being your traditional clocks; Eco goes green with economy measurement tools; Performance is red with speed shown digitally and a power meter showing throttle inputs.

And there’s even a Volvo mobile app for your smartphone which lets you stay in touch with your V40, checking on things like location and fuel levels.

But as we know Volvo prides itself on safety, and the V40’s trump card is Pedestrian Detection with full auto brake, which will detect if a pedestrian steps in front of the car, automatically activate the brakes, and should the worst happen the rear end of the bonnet will be released and elevated for the deployment of an airbag. The technology works through a camera fitted in front of the rearview mirror, which will detect pedestrians at least 80cm tall and through the auto brake function avoid a pedestrian collision at speeds up to 35km/h.

CROSS TRAFFIC ALERT

Quite clever too is Cross Traffic Alert, which through sensors at the rear will alert you of crossing traffic (up to 30 metres away, including bikes and pedestrians) when reversing out of your parking bay.

Other notable safety nets (some optional) include Park Assist Pilot (for automatic parallel parking), Lane Keeping Aid (warns and self-corrects when you wander out of your lane), enhanced Blind Spot Information System (will not only check blind spots but also warn of vehicles approaching your blind spot), Road Sign Information (will display key signs in the instrument cluster), Active High Beam (will control your brights for you), Adaptive Cruise Control (will maintain a following distance for you, even in traffic), Driver Alert Control (will warn you if it thinks you’re falling asleep behind the wheel), and improved City Safety (now active at up to 50km/h, will brake for you when sensing an impending head-on collision).

The engines are all existing Volvo units – at launch in South Africa in November we can expect the T3 (110kw) and T4 (132kW) turbo petrols in manual guise, and a D2 turbodiesel (84kW) mated to a geartronic ‘box. Early next year we’ll be getting the T5 (187kW) in geartronic and the D3 (110kW) in manual and geartronic. Additional gearboxes for models launched this year will become available in January. Three tim levels – Essential, Excel and Elite – will be on offer, and pricing will be in the sub-R300k to sub-R400k range.

At Verona

we got to sample entry and mid-range diesels and petrols and first impressions are good. There’s a very solid and well-built feel to this hatch.

Interestingly, the steering, though electrically assisted, has three settings you can choose from. There’s Low, Medium and High to counter that sense of over-assistance, and at higher speeds you notice these settings working, but you can’t switch between them when driving – which can be annoying.

The V40 felt dynamic through the passes (there’s an optional Sport Chassis setup for customers wanting a sportier ride) with enough steering feedback and performance (even from the entry-level diesel) to satisfy the younger market the car aims to attract.

If you’re looking at the BMW 1 Series or Audi A3, it may be wise to wait. I reckon we have a Car of the Year finalist here. -Star Motoring

Follow me on Twitter: @mineshbhagaloo

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