- Polestar kit looks incredible
- Rapid but efficient diesel
- Luxurious, comfortable interior
- Fairly punishing ride
- Wide turning circle
- It's tight in the back
Want a stylish and luxurious European runabout? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to buy German. The Swedes will sell you something much more unique – and in our eyes, even more appealing. It’s the 2017 Volvo V40, and this year it’s come in for a facelift and some interesting new engine options – including the closest thing we've seen to a Volvo V40 Polestar.
Our Denim Blue V40 might have started life as a mid-range diesel Inscription model, but an additional $10,000 spend meant it was delivered with the optional Polestar Performance Kit that transforms the character of the car.
First, it’s meaner – the snowflake Polestar wheels and fierce rear-end exhaust and diffuser treatment takes care of that.
Second, it’s meatier. The Polestar pack isn’t just visual – it takes this two-litre D4’s outputs to 147kW of power – up 5% on stock, and the torque to 440Nm – a substantial 10% boost.
Performance diesels are a rarity in Australia, and this “Polestar diesel” immediately conjures up memories of the now-gone Volkswagen Golf GTD. Come to think of it, the V40 with Polestar Kit would be a compelling upgrade for GTD owners lamenting Volkswagen’s decision to kill the fast diesel here.
It’s well established at Chasing Cars that we like the V40. It’s an antidote to the A-Class, 1 Series and A3 that seem to be everywhere. With new turbo engines, a great cabin and handsome looks, the smallest Volvo has already gained our trust.
But the new question is whether a steep $10,000 Polestar upgrade on a $45,000 car is money well spent. Over ten days with the car, this question was at the heart of our testing.
Five engines are offered in the V40 – two diesel, three petrol. These range from a 112kW petrol T3, to the 180kW T5 hot hatch.
However, only the top petrol – the T5 – and this twin-turbo D4 diesel can be fitted with the software tune to modestly up their power and torque – a $1,859 upgrade that takes half an hour at a Volvo dealer.
But you’re also able to add mechanical Polestar parts – our Denim Blue test car had them all. If you tick all these boxes, the cost comes to $9,983.
The full kit is expensive but comprehensive. Aside from the software power and torque boosts (5% and 10%, respectively), there are a variety of other performance modifications.
These include larger, stainless steel exhausts; an aggressive rear diffuser and spoiler; a sports air filter; Polestar coil springs and shock absorbers, and Polestar’s trademark 19-inch lightweight alloy wheels.
Taken as a whole, the Polestar kit makes an obvious difference – they make the V40 feel many degrees more focussed than the stock car.
But while the stronger outputs can be felt in the punchier mid-range – like when you’re overtaking on the highway – most of the time the D4 engine feels normal.
That’s not a problem because with two turbochargers, the V40 D4 was already one of the best Euro diesel hatches, mostly free of lag and paired to a slick eight-speed automatic gearbox that picks its ratios intelligently.
The gearbox tuning is a bit more eager with the Polestar kit, but it’s not a massive difference.
Pace-wise, the Polestar kit doesn’t make the V40 D4 a manic diesel. Instead, it makes a strong cruiser even more effortless at high speed.
Where the Polestar bits are most noticeable is in the handling department. To say that it feels stiffer and more highly-strung would be an understatement. The combination of large wheels, performance shock absorbers and Polestar coil springs has given the V40 a racecar-like ride.
That’s quite alright when the roads are smooth, but factor in potholed New South Wales roads and you’ll be questioning your sanity in ticking every Polestar box.
The beautiful 19-inch wheels find every imperfection and send them straight into the cabin, with too little rubber and those unforgiving shocks unwilling to cosset the occupants.
Slightly artificial steering feels more natural the harder you press it, but as the V40 isn’t the sportiest car in its class – the BMW 1 Series much more engaging – the Polestar kit can end up feeling like a chocolate cake that is just too rich.
Aesthetically, the kit looks great, but functionally, it makes the car uncomfortable.
There are two more intelligent choices if you’re after a quick V40.
The first is to buy the T5 turbo petrol in stock form. It makes 180kW and 350Nm and feels fast out of the box, with a six-second-ish 0-100km/h time.
The second would be to buy either the T5 or D4 and selectively add Polestar bits. Don’t add the whole thing – you don’t need the coil springs or the shocks, and even those wheels have to go – they’re just too firm.
Buying the power and torque boosts, and perhaps the exhaust and diffuser separately, would make plenty of sense.
Safety-wise, the Volvo is available with most modern adaptive safety features – but most are optional across the range, and they’re not cheap.
The Driver Support Pack is $4,000, and adds active cruise control, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, road sign detection, blind spot assistance and full auto brake. Autonomous emergency braking is standard fit.
In order to properly rate the V40’s comfort, I’m going to put aside the harsh ride of our Denim Blue baby and tell you what it’s like if you forego the firm stuff.
The V40 has one of the best interiors in the Euro five-door class – not the most modern or technologically-advanced, but one of the best nonetheless.
In here, it’s very comfortable and quality levels are very high. Plus, with a decent navigation system and excellent stereo, the V40 has more than enough distractions to tide you over until a touchscreen-based model arrives in a few years.
The V40 gets virtually the same seats as the Most Comfortable Car In The World That Ordinary People Can Buy – that’s our term for the larger Volvo S60 and V60.
Trimmed in soft leather and heated in our car ($550), the V40’s chairs are among the most supportive in the world – and that isn’t an exaggeration.
You could sit in them all day. We have. They make every drive relaxing.
Most surfaces are trimmed in leather or soft plastics. Though the steering wheel is too large, the way the buttons on it interact deeply with the navigation system make total sense once you’ve taken the time to learn it.
The driver looks at a set of digital gauges which have some wow factor, though it’s disappointing that they can’t display the name of your current song.
the doors are heavy and close with a deep thunk. The metalwork inside feels expensive. Everything feels firm and hefty. It’s like a little tank, and at 1.5 tonnes – 300kg more than a Golf, it really should.
Because Volvo have essentially crammed in the same seats and console from the V60 here, the cabin does feel a bit tight, and storage spaces are at a premium.
In the back, the black headliner makes it feel claustrophobic, but the optional panoramic roof ($2,200) would fix that.
The back seats are sculpted a bit like those up front, and you can get away with two adults back there, but it’s two smaller kids that will be truly happy – before they get older, and you upgrade to a V60, or XC60, or XC90.
With its long and low roofline, the V40 looks like it might be quite practical, but the reality doesn’t quite match the expectation.
The boot is on the small side. Behind the back seats, there are 335 litres of space – that’s the same as a Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which is lamented for a small boot. However, the Volvo’s better, because it has a nice, wide opening to get your stuff through.
Two medium suitcases will fit side-by-side and you can cram it much fuller – just mind the sloping tailgate that eats into the available space.
You can drop the back seats for more than 1,000 litres, but the boot isn’t that clever – shopping bag hooks are absent.
The back seat is tight and really, this car is a 2+2; the third seat isn’t very usable and the seat base is home to cupholders, for passengers 3 and 4. Rear air vents are also missing in action, which pets, or pet kids, will lament on an Australian summer day.
Even though storage spaces are limited, Volvo have done what they could. Up front, door bins are more generous than they look. There is a small but deep central cubby. And the cupholders can fit an American cup of coffee.
The hidden, rubberised storage behind the centre console is cool and good for stashing keys or coins to feed Clover’s parking meters.
The V40 can tow 1,500kg of baked trailer, or 700kg unbraked.
All V40 models have a large, sharp standard reversing camera, making for safer backing up.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
In the bad old days – when Volvo was owned by Ford – reliability was a problem. Now, Volvo are owned by the Chinese firm Geely, and quality has shot up.
The V40 is in its fifth year of production – it was a car developed under the Geely auspices. Initial trouble with Ford-sourced engines is no longer a problem as Volvo have moved to using their own line of Drive-E branded engines, built in house.
Volvo still wavers in JD Power quality surveys, though the V40 isn’t sold there – and a trawl of online forums indicates that V40 owners are generally happy with their cars.
Though the brand is Swedish, the V40 is actually built in Volvo’s plant in Ghent, Belgium. The Ghent factory also produces the XC60 and S60. Quality across all three lines is high – no test car we have ever had has produced rattles or squeaks. This car’s gaps were tight and build quality was excellent.
You’re able to purchase servicing packs up-front for the V40, which end up saving money down the track – the basic SmartCare and the more comprehensive SmartCare Plus. Over three years, these cost $2,115 and $2,790 respectively – working out to $705 or $930 for each annual service – not exactly pocket change.
The other major running cost is fuel. The D4 claims spectacular economy – 4L/100km in mixed driving. In reality – with the Polestar pack egging us on – the D4 returned 7L/100km mostly in town, which is a good result.
Volvo offers a fairly generous unlimited kilometre warranty covering 3 years of ownership. In the premium space, only the Lexus 4 year warranty is better.
Predicted V40 depreciation is better than most rivals. After three years and 42,000km—the average—Glass’s Guide indicates that the V40 D4 will retain about 59% of its value. That’s better than the Mercedes-Benz A200d at 54%, and the Audi A3 2.0 TDI at 56%.
VALUE FOR MONEY
There are five turbo four-cylinder engines in the V40 range, and each of them pairs to a particular trim level – the stronger the engine, the more luxurious the car.
At the basic level, the Momentum model comes with either a 112kW T3 petrol ($36,500) or an 88kW D2 diesel ($37,800).
The Momentum trim includes LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, automated parking, the punchy 8-speaker stereo and an electric driver’s seat with memory – but those seats are fabric, and there’s no navigation – though it can be added for $2,500.
The mid-spec Inscription trim can be had with either a 140kW T4 petrol ($43,500) or the 140kW D4 diesel ($44,990).
Going for the Inscription bumps up the luxury, bundling leather seats, navigation and a larger screen, electric passenger seat adjustment and 17-inch wheels.
The high-spec R-Design is paired exclusively to the 180kW T5 petrol ($48,990) – the main event is the fast engine, but the R-Design also adds adjustable steering weighting, nubuck and leather seats, black headlining and more aggressive wheels.
Metallic paint is $1,150 across the range – and a powerful Harmon-Kardon stereo is $1,500 – though the stock audio standard on each V40 is more than good enough.
Our Volvo V40 recommendation
The turbo petrol Inscription is well-equipped for the money – but our recommendation lies with the high-spec T5, which has the pace to match its looks and is genuinely fun to drive.
Whether or not you add the Polestar tune, or Polestar mechanicals, is up to personal preference because the stock car is already accomplished.
There are a number of good premium small cars, so the V40 faces plenty of competition. Though the German models sell in greater numbers, the Volvo holds its own month-to-month, and the 2017 update will help sales.
Test driving at least a few from the list below will help you to work out which car will be the best fit for your lifestyle.
In particular, it’s important to drive the German trio from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz but the Volvo is just as good, if not better, than these cars in several areas – namely comfort.
But try the Golf – for many people, it’s more than enough car.
This field is based on the 2017 Volvo V40 D4 Inscription ($44,900).
|Power||147kW between 1,500rpm and 3,000rpm|
|Torque||440Nm between 1,750rpm and 2,500rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||99kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||4.2L/100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Front wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||335L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||1032L|