Rapid progress: Volvo V40 D4 driven

1 March 2015

Volvo V40 D4 front view

Volvo V40 D4
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Good: very quick, very frugal, very comfortable
Bad: clunky satnav, not as agile as a Golf GTD
Price: from £24,770
When Volvo’s V40 hatchback arrived in 2012, its most frugal variant was the D2, which provided an admirable CO2 rating of 94g/km on its standard 16-inch alloys, rising to only 99g/km when kitted out with snazzier 17-inch wheels. These tax friendly figures quickly made the D2 the best selling variant of the V40, which also sold on its handsome looks, inviting interior and first-class safety kit. The V40 was easily my favourite car of 2012, fully deserving a five-star review at the time.

The only drawback was a lingering lack of pace. The 115bhp D2 diesel engine was never going to make the 1.4-tonne V40 feel like a feather, even with a healthy 270Nm of torque to call upon. The result was a humdrum 12.3-seconds dash to 62mph and the need to pre-arrange overtaking manoeuvres by post.

Upgrading to a D3 or D4 engine, never mind petrol power, meant landing firmly on the far side of 100g/km, however.

Volvo V40 D4 side view

Fast forward to today, and it’s plain that Volvo has been busy. Bringing engines up to speed has been a big focus in Gothenburg over the past few years, and the results are simple to see. The D2 now dips as low as 88g/km, has shed a little weight, and can now scrabble to 62mph in 11.9 seconds.

As welcome as that incremental improvement may be, it’s a small shuffle compared to the giant leap that has taken place under the bonnet of the D2’s brawnier brother, the D4.

Volvo V40 D4 rear view

Now fitted with one of Volvo’s new generation Drive-E engines, the D4 provides 190 horsepower, a road-rippling 400Nm of torque, and can reach 62mph in 7.4 seconds. And if these figures in the abstract feel hard to fathom, picture instead a shiny red Golf GTD, Volkswagen’s athletic diesel-powered hot hatch. The Swede beats the German in all three of the above figures.

Which makes it all the more surprising that the Volvo V40 D4 turns in a CO2 score of just 99g/km, which is about 10% better than the 109g/km of the already impressive GTD. And as a further eye-widener, at £24,770 the V40 is also almost £2,000 cheaper than the Volkswagen.

Volvo V40 D4 interior

Don’t imagine it will go around corners like a Golf GTD, however. If the hot VW can be compared to an eager, apex-sniffing terrier, then the V40 feels more like a belligerent cat. Quick-witted, for sure, but not exactly inclined to go where it’s told.

The Volvo feels happiest when asked to deliver relaxed, refined and long-legged pace, with bursts of adrenaline for overtaking. There is some absence of urge at low revs, but give the throttle a nudge and the two turbochargers very rapidly spin into action and chuck you at the horizon.

Volvo V40 D4 front view

This 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine is much the same as the one I raved about in the larger V60 estate last year, possessed of light weight, low friction, prodigious power and unfathomable cleverness. The main difference being that in the smaller, lighter V40 the engine has been reprogrammed to summon up a little more power. No doubt the wick has been carefully adjusted in both cars to provide as much power as possible while still scoring exactly 99g/km on the official tests.

Euro-6 level cleanliness and a combined cycle rating of 74.3mpg are both similarly welcome, and my relatively brief turn at the wheel suggests high-50s miles per gallon should be easily achievable, unless you buy your boots from a blacksmith.

Volvo V40 D4 driver's view

The passage of a couple of years has taken a little gloss off my fondness for the V40. Just a little. Some niggles are familiar – the thick-rimmed steering wheel isn’t quite circular and is trimmed in a papery leather than feels as if it might rip if you get too wheelsmithy. And the perplexing controls for the centre screen and satnav lag well behind the curve carved out by BMW. I’ve also decided I’d quite like an electronic handbrake, as long as it works as well as the one in the Golf.

But the Swede’s seats remain as welcoming as my sofa, the V40’s frameless rear-view mirror still delights, and there’s a solidity to the interior trim that makes the smallest Volvo feel big and built to last. And I like that the D4 is astonishingly quick when you want it to be, quiet and composed when munching miles, frugal as long as you’re careful, and never feels frantic or juvenile. Even when roused and snarling.

It feels like a rounded, confident, powerful and grown up car, this latest V40 D4. And I like it.

Volvo V40 D4 boot badge

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