Airbag in the bonnet as Volvo puts safety first for pedestrians
Swedes take on the Germans with their new hatchback. Frederic Manby is impressed but doubts the mpg claims.
VOLVO takes another tilt at the Germans this autumn with the V40, a decent looking five-door hatchback.
See it in showrooms now, with first deliveries from September. By then Volvo’s efforts to push our yachters to Olympic glory will be known: the Swedish marque is a major sponsor of British sailing team and counts Ben Ainslie among is ambassadors. It also sponsors young sailors and the epic Volvo Ocean racing series.
V40 has a big task to do, too. It replaces both the S40 saloon and its V50 estate version and is some six inches shorter – which has an impact on luggage space. Its premium sector rivals are the BMW 1 series, Audi A3 (both new this year) and from December the new Mercedes-Benz A-class.
I tip the Mercedes to be a big success, with a starting point of £18,995 and the rest from just over £20,000. It ticks all the boxes for prestige, quality, economy, safety systems and driving pleasure.
A more favourable hunting ground for Volvo is the underclass of the Ford Focus, VW Golf (a brand new one is on the way), Vauxhall Astra, Toyota Auris and so on. They are to some extent vulnerable to the perceived swisher image of a Volvo, though the brand has yet to match the leap achieved by Audi to rival Mercedes and BMW.
Prices for the V40 begin at £19,745 for the ES with the 1.6 litre D2 115hp diesel engine. There are 2-litre, five cylinder 150hp D3 and 177hp D4 diesels, taking the price to £26,795. Petrol models are the 1.6 litre 150hp T3 from £20,380 and the 180hp T4, taking the price up to £26,680. All have stop-start ignition. The gearboxes are six-speed or the option of a six-speed automatic change with the D3 and D4 engines for an additional £1,500.
Coming soon is a fivecylinder 2.5 litre petrol T5 with automatic gears, a 0-60 time of six seconds and 185g CO2. The four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines are aluminium and made by Volvo’s former owner, Ford, in Britain. The aluminium five-cylinder motors are from Volvo in Sweden.
All versions have Volvo’s autonomous city safety emergency braking which will automatically stop the car from speeds as high as 31mph if it detects a potential collision. There is the world’s first standard-fit front airbag near the windscreen to protect pedestrians. There are 16in alloys and leather cladding for the steering, gearshift and parking brake. The SE adds cruise control, push-button ignition, automatic wipers and rear armrest. The SE Lux gains 17in wheels, leather upholstery,
This fine engine is made by Ford in Dagenham. It proved to be a smooth and quiet unit.
LED daytime lamps and active xenon headlights.
Volvo expects the D2 SE to be the best seller. It is rated at 94g/km of CO2 and 78 miles a gallon with the 16in wheels and 99g/km and 74.3mpg with 17in wheels. Both versions are free of annual road tax and the London congestion zone charges.
This fine engine is made by Ford in Dagenham. It proved to be a smooth and quiet unit. It gives the V40 a 0-60mph time of 11.7 seconds (0-62mph in 12.3 seconds). I tried the D2 SE, the one rated at 94g/km. Its official urban mpg is 70.6 and extra urban is 83.1mpg. A motorway and dual carriageway drive from Manchester airport to the launch location near Conway was mostly in top gear and gave a reading of 48 miles a gallon – well below the Volvo target. A later drive in the D4 automatic on mostly rural routes with some hills showed 40 miles a gallon. The automatic shift was slightly edgy when picking up from coasting and (unlike some rivals) takes a huge CO2 hit – 136g/km – affecting annual road tax and incurring a £120 first-year fee. The D4 (114g/ km) with a manual shift was a nicer drive and showed 43mpg. Finally, the petrol T4 which, like the petrol T3, has lower torque than any of the diesels – and you could feel the lack of flexibility. The run back to Manchester returned 30mpg which was well short of its 51mpg combined average and even 10mpg shy of its official urban figure.
On the plus side, all have Bluetooth connection because many employers demand it to obviate the risk of an employee using a handheld mobile phone.
The V40 is Volvo’s first fivedoor hatchback since the 440 (made in the Netherlands from1987-97). In those days Volvo UK was selling 80,000 cars a year. When the 440 series was dropped it sales fell to 40,000 a year. Last year they did not reach 33,000.
Volvo has promoted safety since its first car in 1927. In Europe, 14 per cent of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians. In China (home of Volvo’s owners), the rate is more than 25 per cent – hence the safer front on the V40. Seven sensors in the bumper detect contact between V40 and a pedestrian. The rear of the bonnet is released and elevated by an airbag underneath. The inflated airbag covers the hard areas under the raised bonnet and approximately one third of the windscreen area and the lower part of the A-pillar.
The raised bonnet is made from softer metal and helps to absorb the impact, while the airbag helps to cushion the pedestrian from the windscreen and A-pillars. It works between 12 and 31 mph where ninety per cent of pedestrian accidents happen, says Volvo.
All V40s have front wheel drive. Volvo says it gives safer and more predictable handling than rear-wheel drive and of its rivals only the BMW has rear-wheel drive.
Verdict: Smart move and worth a test drive. An antidote to Germanic supremacy. Not as roomy in the rear as the V50 or many rivals. The boot floor is short with rear door apertures compromised by the wheel arch – watch your hips. Value for money is keen, though, and all models have climate control, alloys, pedestrian protection.
Choice: D2 SE at £21,345. Add £1,200 for navigation but it is slow to programme.
More: 08457 564636.
The new Volvo hatchback is a safe and stylish good-looker but faces fierce competition from its German rivals.