Safety has always been a Volvo hallmark. Style and panache… perhaps not so much. But the Swedes have managed to combine the sensible and the sensational in their slinky new V40 hatchback. Previously regarded as more of a station
wagon version of the S40, the new V40 has been conceived as a sibling to the company’s compact C30 hatchback, in five-door five-seater confi guration. Styling cues evoke the C30 and further back, the classic P1800ES: that “hook” at the top of the rear door, for instance, and the hexagonal tailgate.
Born out of what Volvo calls its “Designed Around You” concept, the sporty-looking V40 exhibits the human touch in such features as instrument display themes (Eco, Elegance and Performance – although these are all purely visual), seven different mood lighting settings and even a V40 smartphone app. The interior design and styling are very much in line with market expectations in this segment: curvy surfaces, lashings of brightwork, a transparent lit-up gearknob and frameless rear-view mirror to match your iPhone.
Of course, that human-centric approach incorporates some groundbreaking safety tech – a world-first pedestrian airbag, for instance – in a package clearly aimed at the likes of BMW’s trendy 1 Series in the premium hatchback sector.
For the world launch of the new vehicle we travelled to Verona, Italy, the setting for the tragic tale of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. But forget Romeo, there was more interest in roadholding. And the V40 coped superbly with the sinuous switchbacks and precipitous mountain passes threading the high-lying areas around the town. It also revealed that it has more than a hint of sportiness in its makeup, too. There’s a reassuring feeling of stability and solidity about this car.
The V40 has two different chassis setups: Dynamic chassis as standard, and an optional Sport chassis that is 10 mm lower, with firmer suspension settings. The electrically assisted steering has 3-level boosting: low for low-speed manoeuvring, medium for everyday driving and high for performanceoriented driving. Being electrical, it is easily integrated with vehicle systems such as Lane Keeping Aid and Park Assist Pilot.
The entry level manual-shift D2 diesel pulls vigorously, but betrays a trace of nose-heaviness in really tight corners and
lacks just a little low-down urge. The more powerful petrol-engined model feels raring to go. Paradoxically, the automatic transmission fitted to the T4 petrol model we drove seemed to be less well suited to brisk driving; finding and remaining in the right gear didn’t always happen as expected, and often the ‘box would upshift, robbing the car of forward momentum. But although we might quibble about the balance between engine and transmission, there’s no
question that the car’s chassis is superbly balanced and responsive.
For techno-geeks, the big news is the car’s safety systems. Here’s a quick rundown:
Sensors in the front bumper register the physical contact between the car and the pedestrian, releasing the rear end of the bonnet, which is lifted by the deploying airbag. The inflated airbag covers the area under the raised bonnet plus about one-third of the windscreen area and the lower part of the A-pillar.
Lane Keeping Aid
A camera monitors the left and right lane markings, detects if the car seems to be drifting out of the lane, and applies extra steering torque to the steering column when the car gets close to a lane marking and is about to leave the lane. The system is active at speeds between 65 km/h and 200 km/h. If the car leaves the lane, a haptic vibration in the steering wheel provides a warning. Using the indicator overrides this function.
Road Sign Information
A forward-looking camera can detect speed limit signs as well as “no overtaking” signs and displays these in the instrument cluster.
Enhanced Blind Spot Information System
The V40 features an enhanced version of Volvo’s radar-based BLIS, which is now able to spot a vehicle approaching in the rear blind spot up to 70 metres away, using sensors located in the rear corners of the car, behind the bumper cover.
Cross Traffic Alert
Cross Traffic Alert uses the radar sensors at the rear of the car to alert the driver to crossing traffic from the sides when
reversing out of a parking space. It’s able to warn of traffic up to 30 metres from the car – even smaller objects such as
bicycles and pedestrians.
Active High Beam
A forward-facing camera monitors other vehicles and their front and rear lights. Advanced image processing software
analyses this data and provides information about their position and direction. The calculation serves as the basis for
automatic switching between low and high beam.
Park Assist Pilot
To take the pain out of parking, Park Assist Pilot operates the steering wheel while the driver handles the gearbox and
controls the car’s speed. The parking manoeuvre is based on front, rear and side-facing ultrasonic sensors. When a parking slot measuring a minimum of 1,2 times the car’s length is detected, the driver is notified by an audible signal and
advised to stop via a message in the instrument cluster.
The display guides the driver step by step via texts and animations in the instrument cluster until the car is correctly parked.
Imagery from a radar unit integrated into the car’s grille and a camera fitted in front of the interior rear-view mirror is analysed to determine if, and how far, a pedestrian or vehicle is in front of the car. Even pedestrians about to step into the roadway can be detected early on. The system uses visual and audible warnings and can apply the brakes – as much as full braking to standstill at up to 35 km/h.
Volvo’s upgraded City Safety anti-collision system gets its first outing in the V40; previously active up to 30 km/h, it is now able to brake the vehicle automatically up from speeds up to 50 km/h, using a laser sensor to detect if the V40 is approaching a stationary vehicle too fast.
Driver Alert Control
Using the onboard camera, sensors and a control unit, the system continuously registers the car’s movements and is able to assess whether the driver risks losing control of the vehicle. If the risk is assessed as high, the driver is alerted via audible or visual signals.
* When the V40 hits South Africa towards the end of this year, the likely engines are manual-shift turbocharged petrols of 110 kW (T3) and 132 kW (T4) plus the auto-shift 84 kW D2 turbodiesel. The 187 kW T5 petrol and 110 kW D3 diesel will follow next year. Incidentally,all engine versions have start-stop and braking energy regeneration.
Official prices will be announced closer to the launch date, but expect pricing to range from about R300 000 to R400 000.