Volvo V40 R-Design review
When frugal meets fast (looking).
Dave Humphreys
Dave Humphreys
Pics by Shane O' Donoghue

Published on October 1, 2013

Good: quality feel inside, decent looks.

Not so good: underpowered engine, un-involving handling.

Up until relatively recently, using the words 'sexy' and 'Volvo' in the same sentence generally revealed you as an uber car nerd, but lately the brand that pioneered car safety has been working hard to shake off that slightly beige image. The V40 is the fruit of this labour and in this range-topping trim level called R-Design it looks good. The designers haven't gone too over-the-top either, as this trim level is most easily recognised by the metallic finish on the door mirrors, which unintentionally ape those of Audi's sporting S models. Pure coincidence I'm sure...

Sadly much of the sportiness in this particular Volvo pretty much ends there. Under that extra safe bonnet (I'll come back to that) lurks a refreshed T2 petrol engine. Well, lurks is probably the wrong word as it gives an air of menace, which doesn't suit this engine. The 1.6-litre unit is far from setting anyone's world on fire from a performance perspective, but around town and on short trips it is a pleasant enough engine that is capable of delivering fuel economy figures that aren't a million miles away from what you'll get from a diesel engine. This, combined with the improved CO2 emissions that see it classed in tax Band B, serves to highlight the fact that more motorists here in Ireland should be buying petrol engines and not diesel, as has been engrained into the majority over the last few years.

The V40 may share a lot of hardware with the current Ford Focus, but don't think that this is simply just a repackaged Blue Oval product. The quality of the V40's ride on Irish roads is very good, combining a good degree of refinement from the suspension with impressive levels of noise insulation, making the Volvo easy to drive even on poorer roads. Uneven surfaces are soaked up by the suspension, although it remains a little on the soft side when it comes to more spirited motoring.

It's a similar situation in the steering department, which lacks offers a level of feedback that stops just short of numb. It is weighted enough to keep you involved, but overall it lacks the precise feeling offered by some of its rivals.

The interior design, particularly the materials used throughout, is excellent; where other manufacturers simply install swathes of faux-textured black plastic, the Volvo is furnished with soft-touch materials, which I'm sure are equally as hard wearing but give the cabin a much more upmarket feel. Like other Volvos the centre console is backless and in the case of the R-Design has a decent looking offset strip that looks like gnarled aluminium running down the length of it. Some of the controls on this panel aren't immediately intuitive to use, but no doubt living with it for longer will overcome this.

The LCD dash display is a standard feature on the R-Design and is easy to read while at the same time helps give the Volvo a modern feel. Another notable feature inside the cabin is the R-Design embossed seat design; they are part leather and it has to be said are rather comfortable - an area often omitted from car reviews but worthy of a mention here. The rear can carry three passengers but this comes at a squeeze. As you would come to expect from a brand like Volvo, there are two ISOFIX child seat anchors in the rear.

Naturally this Volvo comes packed with safety features too. That bonnet I mentioned earlier contains a pedestrian airbag that deploys around the top of the bonnet and windscreen in the event of hitting a pedestrian. And there's plenty of safety built in around the occupants too - with the V40 scoring a full five stars in Euro NCAP tests.

The V40 R-Design might not be quite what you would class as sexy, but what is now Volvo's smallest car in the range does come in a very attractive package. Those aching after some of the performance hinted at by the styling will need to look further up the chain as the T2 engine fails to deliver in that department. But what it lacks in outright performance it more than makes up in genuine real-world fuel economy.


Tech Specs

Model testedVolvo V40 T2 R-Design
Price as tested€30,354 (V40 starts at €26,195)
Engine1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmissionsix-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door hatchback
RivalsBMW 1 Series, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf
CO2 emissions124g/km (Band B1, €270 per annum)
Combined economy53.3mpg (5.3 litres/100km)
Top speed195km/h
0-100km/h9.9 seconds
Power120hp at 5,700rpm
Torque240Nm at 1,600- to 3,000rpm
Rivals to the V40 R-Design