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First drive: Volvo's V40 hatch

2012-06-25 09:02
VERONA, Italy - Volvo’s gone not only the extra mile but several kilometres with its latest baby, the awesome V40 just launched internationally here in northern Italy.

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While this is a country with a badge for being where families really care for one another Volvo must also deserve a medal for how it “went to the people” to find out what they wanted from the automaker’s latest new model.


But first let it be clear: the V40 isn’t really a V-car. Sure, V used to stand for “vagen”, but this car is not only a four-door hatch but also the smallest car Volvo has produced in many years.

It’s based, essentially, on the existing coupe-like C30 two-door hatch that’s been around in South Africa since 2007 and was face-lifted early in 2010 and there are many styling similarities but the stunning little performer just released (and due to go on sale in SA in November 2012) is variously packed (depending on model) with accident prevention and mitigation equipment, driving aids and comfort stuff not seen until now on four wheels.

Volvo sees the car as a competitor for BMW’s 1 Series and Audi’s A3. Both brands should take the V40 very, very seriously – especially as the Polestar high-performance version models will eventually be available too.

The Swedes were clever to have chosen Verona to show off the cars – delivered variously over the two days of driving in D4, T3 and T4 models – because the limestone mountains there, through which the 450km-long River Adige feeds the colossal Lake Garda, have some of the best tarred and twisty mountain roads in the world.


Certainly the V40 is a driver’s car: the exemplary handling (lowered sport suspension is an even better-handling option) and brakes and a three-mode steering system could have been designed especially for these amazing mountain roads.

They are, however, just part of Volvo’s declared ambition to create a car (the V40) designed not so much with challenging its competition but, says Volvo’s Lennart Odhner who’s been working on the car for three-and-a-half years, around the wishes of members of the public involved with “extreme customer clinics”.

“This car is designed around with you trend-setting design and myriad personal preference settings available. Its driving dynamics are first in its class and it’s the safest in its class.”

Volvo calls it “a humanistic approach”.

The V40 D2 diesel model also claims outstanding fuel consumption: 3.6 litres/100km with a CO2 output of only 94g/km – way below the South African pollution tax threshold of 120g/km.


The car’s looks, on which Volvo’s Sven-Olof Persson focused during a car walkaround outside the Byblos Art Hotel, HQ for the world launch, are lengthened by three “lines” along its sides, muscular haunches and a roof made almost entirely of glass. There are, of course, four doors instead of the C30’s two, but each shares the same tail hatch.

The seats, Persson added, are improved versions of those in the older car (the rear bench is split 40/60 to cargo or various lengths and sizes and the ample boot has a hanging load net) and the whole cabin had been “made to feel richer, more crafted, with sculptured surfaces”.

Among the V40’s special (and variously available) talents are a crash bag that will inflate from under and then lift the bonnet adjacent to the windscreen, which it will mostly cover, to cushion the impact of a pedestrian should the car’s “city safety” system not have already identified the human ahead and automatically emergency-braked itself.

There’s also “park pilot” to automatically identify and then reverse into a suitable kerbside parking slot, a driver’s knee protection bag and “cross-traffic alert” which scans for approaching vehicles (unfortunately not including bicycles!) if the car is being driven (for instance) out of a narrow side-street or parking garage exit.


Radar will maintain a set following distance and the camera assembly between the driving mirror and the windscreen can also read road signs (and show them on the instrument panel), scan lane lines and warn of speed limits and their exceedance. The instrument display (depending on model) can be driver-tailored to suit current circumstances – the list is too long to describe here!

There’s also a smart-phone app which could be a deal-clincher.

South African buyers will have the option of a Sport Pack (R5000-21 000 depending on model base) which includes an information module with a 20cm TFT liquid-crystal display, daytime running lights, lowered chassis, headlight washers, high-end sound system with 18” colour info screen, rear parking radar, “active” bi-xenon headlights, leather steering-wheel 18” alloy rims, selectable-response steering and (wow!) an illuminated gearshift knob.

A Techno Pack (R16 000 to R35 000 depending on base model) includes the info module, DRL’s, headlight washers, rear radar, multimedia sound system, bi-xenon lights and 18” alloys mentioned above but adds satnav and a personal security communicator.

A Premium Pack (R19 000-R37 000) also variously adds the same equipment as the Sport and Techno packs and while Volvo’s R-Design equipment and styling is common to all models, R-Design Plus adds power adjustment to the driver’s seat, lights washers, locking wheel nuts, rain sensor, parking radar bi-xenon lights, high-end multimedia sound and the variable steering system.


The V40 range for South Africa in a choice of Essential, Excel and Elite trim levels will start in November 2012 with the petrol-engined T4 1.6-litre, four-cylinder (132kW/240Nm) and T3 1.6, four-cylinder (110kW/240Nm) manual models. Auto versions will arrive in late January 2013.

One diesel, the D2 1.6-litre, four-cylinder (84kW/270Nm) auto will also be available in November 2012 with the auto version coming in January along with the T5 five-cylinder, 2.5-litre (187kW/360Nm) and the D3 two-litre, five-cylinder diesel (110kW/350Nm).

Prices are not yet available, says Volvo SA, and exact equipment levels have not yet been set for local delivery but will be “from sub-R300 000 to sub-R400 000”. Optional extras, however, could add fairly substantially to this price range. Customers who choose to further personalise their purchase will need to allow 10 weeks for delivery.

All units will have a five-year or 100 000km warranty.

Watch Volvo's innovative bonnet airbag in action.


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