Loaded with looks and class

The new Volvo takes on Audi in the battle of the lifestyle estates. By John Simister

This is a Volvo like you've never seen before, intended to draw style-conscious buyers to a marque that's re-inventing itself. The V40 rivals the German `lifestyle estates', but costs considerably less...

An all new Volvo is always a big event for students of motoring sociology. Few marques make a stronger statement, read by most people as one of rationality, affluence and maturity. There could just be a trace of arrogance too.

But Volvos are changing, and the best new ones have moved ahead of popular perception. The Volvo 850 looks square, but is anything but square to drive. Now we have the next stage of Volvo's coming-out process, the Mondeo-sized S40 and V40. These are dynamic-looking cars, wedge-profiled with the corners filed off, yet still recognisably Volvo. Volvo's design chief, Northumberland-born Peter Horbury, wants to make Volvos sleek and sexy, but he realises he can't rewrite history. The new pair, he says, are an intermediate stage.

Of the two, the V40 is the more intriguing. It's a cross between a conventional estate and a five-door hatchback. The V denotes "versatility', so while its rounded roofline and rear loading lip won't appeal to the antiques trade (that most cliched of Volvo-driving stereotypes), the V40 can take its place among the growing breed of "lifestyle estates" such as the BMW 3-series Touring and Audi A4 Avant.

A lot of care and original thought has gone into this car. Most versions have the simplest-to-use trip computer and information display I've ever encountered, contained within a segmented dial; all have a terrific throughput of air through the heating and ventilation system, an increasingly rare commodity. What I was less prepared for was how good the V40 I tested, a 2.0-litre SE with optional "sports" suspension and six-spoke alloy wheels, would be to drive. The engine was smooth and sweet enough not to intrude, yet still able to deliver a strong pull and easy cruising with disciplined, reassuring handling and none of the harshness over bumps you might expect.

The V40 range begins at pounds 14,300 for a 1.8-litre engine, pounds 500 more with a 2.0. To this you can add SE or posher CD packs, or choose from several smaller packs to tailor the car to your needs.

Specifications: Price: pounds 16,050. Engine: 1948cc, four cylinders, 16-valves, 137bhp at 6,1OOrpm. Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed: 131mph, 0-60 in 9.1sec (manual). Fuel consumption: 27-32mpg.

For people who like the idea of an estate car, but don't really need the space, Audi's A4 Avant has been the smart solution. But the new Volvo changes the game...

There's a stack of upmarket load carriers to line up against the Volvo V40, three of which are German and none of which has quite the voluminous roadability of a Mondeo estate or, soon to be announced, a Vauxhall Vectra estate. So the V40 is in good company.

But as long as they are capacious enough to justify their shape and their existence, this doesn't really matter. And if you're going down this particular load-lugging road, the car most likely to tempt you away from the new Volvo is Audi's A4 Avant. In 1.8-litre, 125bhp, basic-trim form, which equates most neatly with the V40 featured here, it costs pounds 18,513. So already the Volvo is looking good value. But what you get with the Audi is a sense of sculpted solidity and durability that even the Volvo can't quite equal.

The Audi is a good-looking car with delightful detailing but it can't match the cabin space of the Swedish-badged, Dutch-built car, with less rear legroom and a higher boot floor. Against that, the Avant's tailgate extends lower down, so there's no loading lip, and you get a removable safety net to stop objects piled high from hurtling forwards under braking.

To drive, the Audi proves less lively than the Volvo, but its five-valves- per-cylinder engine is smooth and uses less fuel. Roadholding is similarly tenacious, while the suspension cushions road bumps effectively. The brakes, however, are less pleasing, with an over-sensitive response which makes it difficult to stop smoothly.

Specification: Price: pounds l8,513. Engine: 1781cc, four cylinders, 20 valves, 125bhp at 5,800rpm. Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed: 125mph, 0-60 in 10.3sec (manual). Fuel consumption: 31-36mpg.

THE VERDICT

The Volvo looks good, is fun and fuss-free to drive, has more room than its German rivals and is laden with practical niceties. Ultimately the Audi, best of the Germans, might cut more of a dash, but the V40 owner has the pleasure of a larger residual bank balance. It is also the best- looking Volvo for a long time. The best of the lifestyle estates, the V40 is an Audi alternative for Mondeo money. Sounds like a winner to me.

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

    £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

    QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

    £35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

    Property Finance Partner

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

    Agile Tester

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on