The all-rounder that Volvo used to woo people away from premium brands can now be had from just £3k

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Amazon, P1800, 960, 850 T5-R… Sweden knows how to make a cult hero. But with the Volvo V40, the firm could have been accused of mislaying the recipe, even though the Cross Country version did make an appearance in cult TV detective series Midsomer Murders.

Okay, you’re not convinced, but get this: today, the V40 has a surprisingly large and loyal following among those who, we assume, are attracted by its sleek looks, deep quality and, crucially, unshowy – read: ‘not German’ – heritage.

Volvo's expected sales target for the V40 is 800,000 units

On that last point, why else would someone forgo the superior driving experience and practicality of something such as the Audi A3 Sportback? Price, perhaps?

True, a V40 is slightly cheaper by around £1000 and comes with a little bit more kit. In these costly times that might swing it, but we prefer to imagine Volvo’s less assertive image is responsible, too.

The V40 had a job on its hands when it landed a little over 10 years ago. Under the stewardship of new company owner Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, Volvo was finding its feet.

Bosses wanted the V40 to make its mark on the premium end of the family hatchback market. Being based on the Ford Focus was a good start, and until 2015 the V40 also shared that model’s petrol and diesel engines, including, in the T5 version, the five-cylinder 2.5 from the Focus ST.

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From 2015, Volvo began fitting its own engines. The T5, for example, gained a new, 2.0-litre four-pot, albeit one still making around the same 245bhp.

Ensuring the V40 had all the bases covered was the aforementioned crossover version, the V40 Cross Country. Riding 40mm higher and tted with decorative body mouldings, it looked the part but is no off-roader.

Only the T5 version got four-wheel drive. It’s easy to mock crossovers like it, but just look how much positive attention a Volkswagen Polo Dune or even a Rover Streetwise attracts today.

A 2016 facelift brought a redesigned grille, Volvo’s new ‘Thor’-shaped daytime-running lights from the XC90 and some new wheel styles and colours, but the tweaks weren’t enough to keep much-improved rivals, the A3 and the Mercedes A-Class, off its back, and it did solid but quiet business until production ceased in 2019.

The popular the V40 was with private as well as company buyers is that there are almost as many used petrols on the market as there are diesels. Hurry and you might just be able to bag a used V40 under Volvo’s Selekt approved used programme (for cars up to ve years old).

At the time of writing, it also included two years’ free servicing and warranty cover. As a sensible Jaguar X-Type- and Rover 75-driving copper, that’s something of which Midsomer Murders’ Tom Barnaby would certainly approve.

Volvo V40 2012-2019 common problems

Engine: Poor running and increased fuel consumption on the 2.0-litre D4 diesel may point to a faulty EGR valve. Servicing is every 18,000 miles or 12 months, with the exception of the D2, which is 12,500 miles/12 months. All engines have a timing belt that requires scheduled changing.

Transmission: Some later six-speed manual ’boxes exhibited clutch issues. Also, listen out for the clutch pedal creaking. The earlier Ford Powershift autos attract criticism (for hesitant changes), but not so the later Aisin ’box. Suspension and wheels: The lacquer on diamond-cut alloys fitted to R-Design models is prone to peeling and is expensive to put right.

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Brakes: In common with most cars, fluid changes are every two years. Check they have been carried out.

Body: Rear door locks can be troublesome on pre-2015 cars. Electric mirrors can refuse to fold. Like many cars, the paint chips easily. LED headlights from 2016 are a big improvement.

Interior: Listen for rattles from the centre console; dealers have a fix. Rear visibility isn’t great, so be sure the car has rear parking sensors or a camera.


Volvo V40 interior

If you’re drawn to the V40 by Volvo’s reputation for practical, comfortable transport, you’ll probably be quietly impressed by what you find. That it didn't lead the class on space is perhaps a slight shame, but it’s not a major surprise, given the car’s average outward dimensions.

The V40 offers passenger accommodation levels and usable boot space that’s as generous as the most practical hatchbacks of the day, but no better.

But the air of simplicity and unpretentiousness that characterises the cabin is much more appealing than its sheer size. This is a car entirely devoted to everyday use. The driver’s seat is mounted a little higher than we would have liked, but it’s where it is to grant excellent all-round visibility.

The outer rear seats are mounted slightly further inboard than the hatchback norm, providing a better view forwards and more shoulder and elbow room for occupants three and four. The fifth seat is slightly compromised, but how often do you actually carry five?

In the front, the primary ergonomics are excellent and the materials solid but entirely unostentatious. Liquid crystal instruments provide excellent legibility in any light.

And although we’re not sure about the usefulness of the ‘eco guide’ economy meter, which simply reminds you how much throttle you’re using most of the time, the set-up reeks of good sense.

We like the full-length glass roof, optional at the time, and practical touches like the drained ice scraper recess in the driver’s door. We also like the generous cupholders. This is unquestionably one of the most usable hatchbacks for your money.

There are four trim levels to choose from - Momentum, Inscription, R-Design and R-Design Pro, while there are two trim levels for the more rugged V40 Cross Country.

Opt for the entry-level Momentum trim, you'll find LED headlights, 16in alloy wheels, rear spoiler, numerous Volvo safety systems, while inside occupants get climate control, lumbar support for the front passengers and a 5.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with DAB radio and Bluetooth.

Upgrade to the Inscription trim and you get a leather upholstery, 17in alloys, cruise control, parking sensors and a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav, while the R-Design models get numerous sporty exterior and interior details, bigger alloys and low profile tyres.

The range-topping R-Design Pro comes with leather bound sports seats, automatic wipers and lights, and an uprated stereo system, while the rugged Cross Country models received numerous exterior syling cues including a skid plate and under guard protection.


2.0-litre Volvo V40 diesel engine

If all diesel engines were created equal and could be measured solely on their figures, the 148bhp variant found in the Volvo V40 D3 would appear to be perfectly suited to the 21st century business of propelling a hatchback around promptly and economically.

A sub-9.0sec 0-60mph time and a 45.9mpg overall economy figure attest to that. The five-cylinder unit likes to warble but, at 68dB at 70mph, it is not intrusive or unpleasant.  

But there are issues, chiefly with the way the V40 delivers its power. The D3 may develop all of its 258lb ft of torque at just 1500rpm, but it idles at 720rpm and the six-speed manual gearbox has a habit of repeatedly stumbling on the 780rpm of lethargy in between.

Typically, this occurs when ambling slowly around residential street corners in second or third gear.

An impatient driver (or, indeed, anyone concerned with forward motion) will attempt to remedy the chronic lag with a more aggressive stab of the throttle, leading to a sudden rush of energy as the engine – or, more precisely, its turbocharger – catches up with your intentions.

Spend too much time turning in and out of tight junctions and the D3’s driving experience comes worryingly close to tiresome. 

Moreover, the other diesels seem afflicted by similar traits; the 325lb ft of the D4 arrives in a great stampede between 1750rpm and 2750rpm. Its gear ratios compounded the problem, often dropping the engine into its frustratingly unresponsive zone below 1500rpm. The 114bhp D2 model is also a reluctant performer at low revs.

The D3 is much improved once it has been unfurled out of town. Peak torque is tapped out by 2750rpm, but more often than not you’ll have been pulled promptly beyond the national speed limit before needing to sidle into the in-line five’s reverberant high revs.

It’s a strong performer on the motorway, too, where a long sixth gear chimes perfectly with all the available tug at cruising speeds. Just don’t try merging in top; 30-50mph takes an agonising 20.9sec.

A pair of 1596cc turbocharged fours made up the petrol engine line-up. The D3 develops 148bhp at 5700rpm and 177lb ft from 1600-4000rpm, while the 178bhp D4 sees the same amount of torque stretching to 5000rpm.

The results are a 0-62mph time of 8.8 and 7.7sec respectively, while top speeds are 130 and 140mph.


Volvo V40 cornering

One would think that building a hatchback on the carcass of Ford’s perennially well honed Ford Focus should practically guarantee a degree of dynamic finesse.

It’s clear with the V40 that within half a mile that Gothenburg’s chassis tuners have fettled a far finer product. 

Its electric power steering (shared with Ford, but retuned) moves through a slippery, wrinkle-free arc with persuasive ease. Opt for the variable system and there are three settings from which to choose, although none makes the car’s rack particularly communicative. 

Nevertheless, the weight and speed are precisely where you’d expect them to be, and that’s generally enough for a five-door family hatch. Through a familiar, synthesised haze, it also has just enough directness to provide a modicum of agility when covering ground quickly.

The V40 has been set up too sympathetically to make this seem wilfully sporty, but there’s sufficient enthusiasm on turn-in and adequate grip through medium-fast bends to make the Volvo feel obliging where older models would merely have tolerated attempts to push on.

The ride comfort, graced with Volvo’s own spring and damper settings, is on the same page, too, but at the time our test car suffered from the addition of the sports pack, which includes 17-inch wheels and a 10mm lower ride height.

Consequently, there’s a ponderousness in the way the D3 ebbs and flows. Although quietness, refinement and a competitive sense of comfort are all readily apparent, the hatchback’s wheels have a tendency to react to undulations with a heavy-handed studiousness.


Volvo V40

Whichever way you look at it, the case for the Volvo V40 is strong here.

Prices on the used market start from around £3000 for leggier examples, but tidy newer ones with less than 30,000 miles (and in top-spec trim) can be fetched from around £12,000. 

Economy is competitive, albeit not outstanding in the case of the D3. At the time, our test car averaged 45.9mpg, and its touring economy result (51.7mpg) was acceptable. It’s good enough, just, to prevent you from questioning the wisdom of putting a five-cylinder engine in a car like this.

The D4 model, which has a slug more power, matches the D3's official figure of 65.7mpg and 114g/km, but choosing the Geartronic automatic version of either model causes those numbers to look far less favourable.

More fiscally sensible is the D2, which is the only diesel to pack a more conventional four-cylinder configuration. Its 1560cc unit returned an official figure of 78.5mpg on the combined cycle, and emissions of 94g/km.

The turbocharged petrol engines both recorded 50mpg-plus on the combined cycle, and emissions of 125 and 129g/km are comparable with the D3 and D4 models.


Volvo V40 rear quarter

Stylish, practical, economical, refined, even classy… so much of the job here is done. Prick the surface and the V40 still bleeds the blue and yellow of Volvo’s idiosyncratic personality.

The D3’s interior is well conceived and at the premium end of durable. It canters to a five-pot bassline, hustles along with unswerving dependability and is as safe as the Riksbanken.

To the faithful, then, the V40 will push all the right buttons. But if you're looking on the classifieds for the equivalent Audi or BMW, it’s tricky to argue that Volvo has provided enough of a reason to contemplate a switch.

Especially since the Sport pack, a relatively popular addition, trims some of the much-needed absorbent fat from the hatchback’s figure.

Nevertheless, jettison that option, ignore the occasional lack of vigour and the V40 certainly rewards closer inspection.

Volvo V40 2012-2019 First drives