Volvo has something of an image problem. Much like the skinny, geeky kid back in school who hit the gym to shape his body and hit university to shape his brain and now makes fortune out of one of those annoying concepts that everyone says “I could have thought of that!” but no-one ever does. Yet anyone who hasn’t seen him for bit still thinks of him as the weird nerd with constant nasal drip and mismatched socks.
Volvo suffers similar issue in that, for many, many years it was the quirky Euro brand that was defined by remarkable safety and distinct lack of interest in aerodynamics. In other words; they were square, safe and boring.
About decade ago Volvo decided that while safe was fine, square and boring were not, so set about re-inventing itself as maker of design-led, sleek and sexy cars. Over the course of that time Volvos have indeed become sleeker and sexier, but even today that old image haunts it, as recent market research from the marque’s local distributor shows; people still think of Volvo as square, safe and boring.
But stop reading this for one moment and take good look at the accompanying photograph on this page – can you see straight line? Other than the diagonal slash across the grille and the “T” in the “T5” badge on the rear, there really isn’t one.
The car you see in those photos is the Volvo V40 T5 R-Design and if there is ever car that completely demonstrates that Volvo is most certainly NOT square and boring, then this is it.
The V40 effectively acts as replacement for the C30 hatch, the S40 sedan and V50 wagon in the Volvo line up. That may seem lot to ask of small hatch, but the V40 is more than up to the task.
Being based on the Ford C1 platform is great start in life for the V40, as it is the same platform that sits under the excellent Ford Focus. While the V40 will be the last Volvo to sit on Ford platform (following Ford’s sale of the Swedish manufacturer to Geely), it is undoubtedly one of the best.
The “T5” badge on the rump of this V40 indicates that it is packing Volvo’s impressive 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine. Packing mighty impressive 187kW of power and 360Nm of torque the V40 T5, on paper at least, looks for all the world like it is direct competitor for the hottest of the hot hatches, such as the Renault Megane RS265 or Ford Focus ST.
But in reality, this proves not to be the case, because while it has all the power (and then some) of the aforementioned hot hatches, it has the grown-up demeanor, luxury feel and silky-smooth power delivery of mid-size performance executive express – think six-cylinder BMW 3 Series, for example.
The T5’s handling and performance is more on par with larger car like the 3 Series, with comfortable tune of suspension that also copes well with the demands of handling. The ride is impressively refined and cosseting, but with necessary hint of firmness that lets it attack corners with front-drive eagerness.
The nose dives into corners, while the rear end tracks faithfully with nothing in the way of protest or unsettled behaviour. While the steering feels tad artificial, the absolute precision of it more than makes up for this.
While it is more than capable of attacking corners, the T5 particularly shines as cosseting high-speed tourer, where corners are something you merely lift off for, rather than braking. Get good flow up on back road and the T5 rewards in spades.
The six-speed automatic transmission is an excellent partner for the muscular five-cylinder engine, both on the open road and around town. The big torque of the engine is available from as low as 1,800rpm, so it is virtually never caught in the wrong gear and, if by chance it is, is more than quick enough to get to the right one when needed.
All Volvo V40s come standard with full compliment of safety acronyms, seven airbags, pedestrian protection (with an external front pedestrian airbag), 17-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, Bluetooth phone connectivity, audio and phone controls on the steering wheel and dual zone climate, while the T5 R-Design adds control satellite navigation, specific R-Design interior (floor mats, gear shift knob, door and centre console inlays, an R-Design steering wheel, leather upholstery), 18-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon active headlights, rear parking camera and the “Sports” chassis, that offers sportier tune of suspension.
Overall, the quality of the V40 T5 is remarkable, with high quality materials used throughout and impeccable build quality. The engine is muscular and smooth in its power delivery, while the chassis is nicely compliant, yet necessarily sharp when required.
All up, the comfort of the ride and muscular power make for far more relaxed affair than the likes of Ford Focus ST or Renault Megane RS265, bringing us nicely back to the original assertion that it is far more reminiscent of mid-size six-cylinder car.
At $64,990, the V40 T5 R-Design is priced higher than other performance hatches in its segment, but the its quality and comfort is several notches above them as well. For someone downsizing from bigger six, then the V40 T5 is the perfect fit, while someone wanting hot hatch, but with far more grown-up attitude won’t go far wrong here either.
But if it is square and boring you are after, then you had better look somewhere else, because the Volvo V40 T5 doesn’t do that. Not at all. M