Volvo V40 R-Design First Drive

When I was growing up, diesels were universally hated. Slow, noisy, smelly and polluting, no one in their right mind would have ever chosen a diesel over its four-star counterpart. Fast forward 25 years and I find myself in the somewhat surprising position of considering a bottom of the range diesel as a better buy than the top of the range five-cylinder petrol turbo performance version. How times have changed.

The V40 hit the market in the UK in August 2012 and has been selling well ever since. This month Volvo launched two new style variants, the R-Design and the Cross Country. Reinterpreted by Volvo’s Special Vehicles Team in Gothenburg, each model has a striking and distinctive look, one sporty and dynamic, the other tough and rugged.

The first thing you’ll notice about the R-Design is its striking ‘Rebel Blue’ paintwork (six other colours are available should you choose). The front bumper is more aggressive and incorporates a lower chin spoiler and new vertical DRLs,  whilst the grille is framed with high gloss silk-metal and features an R-Design logo. The mirror caps have the same silk-metal finish and the side window trim is chrome.

At the back, the rear bumper incorporates an ironstone diffuser with chrome surround and twin chrome tailpipes, which is identical on all models, and 17” diamond cut Ixion alloys are fitted as standard and can be upgraded to 18” if required. New seats, faced either in Nubuck and leather or all leather are embroidered with an R-Design logo and the leather sports steering wheel is also R-Design badged. The instruments display the logo when locking/unlocking the car, and are backed with a blue glow. There are several other minor details including sports pedals, giving an overall far more sporty feel than the standard model. Mechanically the R-Design is fitted with the V40’s dynamic chassis as standard, with the sports chassis available as an option. The car looks fantastic, and the design tweaks complement the original while offering it a truly sporty facelift.

The V40 is fitted with a veritable arsenal of safety equipment, headlined by the world's first pedestrian airbag. Seven different sensors detect whether it should be deployed, and if so the back of the bonnet is released and the airbag inflates. It pushes up the bonnet and protects the rear end and the lower third of the windscreen from edge to edge. Combined with the soft metal bonnet this acts as valuable cushioning for the fortunate pedestrian during an impact.

City Safety helps to prevent rear impacts by monitoring the road in front of the car with a laser. If it detects a potential collision it will apply the brakes and restrict the throttle to help avoid a crash. Pedestrian Detection uses a radar and a camera to detect possible collisions with pedestrians. Drawing on a database of thousands of pedestrian profiles, this predicts movement and can stop the car if a collision is imminent. Collision Warning uses the same technology to help prevent higher speed collisions as does Adaptive Cruise Control which helps to maintain a safe distance from the car in front.

Lane Keeping Aid uses the camera to monitor the road markings and applies torque to the steering wheel to help bring the car back into the lane if it begins to drift. If it leaves the lane, haptic feedback through the steering wheel warns the driver. Blind Spot Information System uses rear-facing radars to monitor the car's blind spots and warn the driver via a light by the mirror that a car is currently there. If the indicators are on, the warning light flashes to further alert the driver. The same radars are used for Cross Traffic Alert which alerts the driver of passing cars when reversing out of a space.

Driver Alert Control warns the driver of random or uncontrolled changes in their driving pattern.

Active High Beam dips main beam automatically when cars are approaching and Active Bending Xenon Lights use motors to swivel the headlights by up to 15 degrees in either direction when rounding corners. Road Sign Information uses the forward facing camera to detect road signs such as local speed limits and to display them on the dashboard as an extra aide memoire for the driver. Finally Park Assist uses ultrasonic sensors to control the steering while the driver parks for perfect parallel parking, every time.

Volvo have recently repurposed their monikers - in the good old days, 'C' stood for 'Coupe', S was 'Saloon', 'V' meant 'Estate' and 'XC' was 'Cross Country'. Now 'C' means 'Individualism', S is 'Elegance', 'V' is 'Elegance w/ Functionality' (sic) and 'XC' is 'Refined Strength'. One can only imagine that these are Chinese reinventions…

Entering the R-Design one is immediately struck by the quality of the car. Materials are well chosen and build is excellent. The new seats are welcoming and extremely supportive and the dashboard is simple, aesthetic and functional, especially considering the plethora of technology available. The gearstick is illuminated, perhaps a touch tacky, but it will likely impress more people than it'll put off. The only real complaint is the three massive washer jets on the bonnet which interfere significantly with one's field of vision.

The cleanest model available is the 115bhp D2. Available only in a 6 speed transmission, it’s hardly possible to believe this is only a 1.6, it feels exactly like a two litre engine. It really is a remarkable car; it pulls, accelerates and drives beautifully. There are moments when it might not have quite as much power as one would like, and its 0-60 time is very nearly twice that of the T5 but it can be more than forgiven when you see the figures: a combined mpg of 78.5. In real life this would equate to well over 60mpg.

That a car in this class with a 1.6 litre diesel engine can look, drive, handle and pull so well is surprising enough, but the fact it has a carbon output of just 4g/km more than the most frugal Fiat 500 is frankly astonishing. The only minor drawbacks are the occasional lack of power and the reduced servicing intervals (12,500 compared to 18,000 for all other models). If you're looking for a new C-Segment car which is stylish, robust well-built and classy, at this price point you'd be hard-pushed to find anything better. This really is one green... blue... green car.

Volvo V40 D2 R-Design

Engine: 1560cc 4-cyl diesel Power: 115bhp Top Speed: 118mph 0-60mph: 11.2s Economy: 78.5mpg combined Emissions: 94g/km CO2 Price: £22,295

Photos by Mark Raybone

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