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.

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - ROAD TEST -

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.

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