As with most things in life, the best products take what seems a complicated bunch of requirements and reduce them to something very simple and elegant. The improved, facelifted Volvo V40 is just such a car. The Swedish company has built a premium five-door family hatch that looks great, drives well, makes sense on the balance sheet and which has an amazing amount of safety equipment built into it. It really is as good as it looks, especially with a set of highly efficient 'Drive-E' engines beneath the bonnet.
Here's a hatch clearly developed by people who care about driving and it delivers a very good compromise indeed of absorbent ride and assured handling composure. So much so that I've begun to question the 'less is more' mantra I tend to apply to the brand's other models when it comes to engine output. There's not much point in having loads of power in a car that handles like a pudding. This one though, can cope with a bit more, which is why it's worth opting for the fastest of the three diesel engines on offer, the 190bhp D4. Rest to 62mph here takes 7.4s en route to 143mph. All the diesel units available are now from the brand's frugal 'Drive-E' family of engines, all 2.0-litre units. The D3 develops 150bhp, while the entry-level D2 manages 120bhp.
Low mileage buyers need to factor in the possibility of petrol power too, especially if they don't like the rather clattery diesel noise you get on start-up. This option is particularly worth considering now that Volvo has extended its 'Drive-E' engine family down into lower-powered models. Manual gearbox T2, T3 and T4 variants use this technology allied with 2.0-litre power, generating either 122, 152 or 190bhp. Rather curiously, if you opt for either the T3 or T4 derivatives with an automatic gearbox, you get a completely different 1.5-litre engine, though it's still just as powerful and efficient. At the top of the range, the T5 variant already had 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre technology, in this case allied only with an 8-speed automatic gearbox and putting out a lusty 245bhp. Go for the 'Cross Country' model and there's the option of AWD traction for this variant too.
This facelifted V40 gets a smarter front end, courtesy of the addition of revised LED headlamps that feature the so-called 'Thor's Hammer' style that's already been seen in the brand's larger XC90, S90 and V90 series models. A smarter grille mesh completes the more confident look. As before, the V40 has a relatively low and sleek bonnet line: that's because courtesy of a unique under-bonnet airbag, it doesn't have to leave an under-bonnet void to meet pedestrian impact legislation. So, the 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.
Pleasantly different then, an observation equally applicable in the cabin. Of course, it needs to be good if sales are to be stolen from rival German prestige-badged contenders, a tough assignment tackled with an unpretentious 'Designed Around You' philosophy epitomised by a beautifully positioned infotainment screen that, once you've figured out its complicated menus, enables you to deal with audio, navigation, 'phone and other functions almost without taking your eyes off the road. The idea is that, like IKEA furniture, this cabin should be typically Scandinavian, comfortable, simple, intuitive and visually pleasing. And broadly it is. Cabin space is fine and there's a 335-litre boot.
With the V40, Volvo has brought its brand up to date - and continues to do so. More fashionable styling clothes some serious safety in a very assured piece of design further improved by Volvo's own 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines. Gothenburg has taken on the Germans before - but never like this. In the premium compact hatch segment, only BMW's 1 Series can out-handle this car - and that's only because of its rear wheel drive, a layout Volvo thinks is better suited to Silverstone than Surbiton. In any case, careful development of this car's dynamic Focus-inspired underpinnings has left us with a car an enthusiast might still enjoy.
Which is a surprise. But then, much about this car is. Efficient yet characterful, stylish yet sensible, it ought to appeal far beyond Volvo's core customer base. It ought to, but it may not. BMW, Audi, Mercedes - even Alfa Romeo customers: they're all pretty parochial. They shouldn't be. A drive in one of these would blow away quite a few prejudices. Whoever would have thought itClick here to find out more about our Volvo V40 range