16:04 Friday 18 January 2013

Volvo's finest hour?

Written byBy Gareth Butterfield

IT TAKES a bold manufacturer to do battle with the hectic and cut-throat premium hatchback sector, which is dominated by some of the biggest and most popular names in the business.

The V40 is a sensational car, possibly the best ever produced by Volvo
The V40, priced from £19,995, is a sensational car, possibly the best ever produced by Volvo

Volvo, a name previously synonymous with safe load-luggers that boast all the style of a set of corduroy slacks, thinks its incredibly important newcomer, the V40, might just have what it takes to topple the leviathans and it’s surprisingly good.

In fact, Volvo’s first foray into the hatchback sector since the thoroughly forgettable 440 is quite possibly its finest hour.

The V40 is better in every way than the capable but dull previous V40, a small estate car from which it has confusingly borrowed its name, and it's possibly better than every other Volvo that has gone before it.

The current style direction that's helping the Swedish firm produce some of its best looking cars to date works beautifully on the new, more compact bodyshell.

It does look a bit awkward from the back, and the huge D pillars make for fairly poor visibilty, but generally the V40 stands out from the crowd without being too ostentatious - the same neat trick pulled off by its bigger brother, the V60.

The interior will be familiar to any modern Volvo driver, with the usual floating dash and many buttons and switches carried away from other models, but there are some neat details if you look closely.

There's a panoramic roof for a start, and a framless rear view mirror. The clear plastic gear knob looks a bit out of place and cheap and I wish it had a footrest by the clutch but the driver's seat is a lovely place to sit.

Both front passengers and rear passengers will find plenty of space, the boot is a good size and there's loads of clever storage options. Opt for a high-spec model and you'll get toys you'd normally expect on a car twice its price - but ticking boxes can make the V40 expensive, even when compared to BMW and Audi rivals.

But, dynamically, it's worth every penny. The V40 handles superbly, and the suspension is firm but fair and, as you might expect with a new Volvo, it has broken safety records in some of its tests.

So it might have some tough opposition and it might be perfect but this is the first Volvo that genuinely makes some of its rivals look boring.

It's a fantastic effort and if you've never considered Volvo ownership before, now might be a good time to start.

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