Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fire up the... Volvo V40

HERE'S a great petrolhead question to occupy an idle moment or two. What's the first car you ever travelled in?

For most people, it's whatever of chariot of choice is used to convey mother and baby back from the hospital, and even though my dad owned a Range Rover on that fateful day in March, 1986, it didn't fire up its V8 in anger that day. So my first ever automotive outing was in - drumroll please - a Volvo 340.

More than a quarter of a century later I've been promoted from back to front seat in the latest in a long line of Swedish family hatchbacks - Volvo's V40, which is about as far from its square-rigged ancestor as you can possibly imagine. In fact, if anything it looks like a Ford Focus with Scandinavian trimmings, which is apt because you if peel away that swoopy exterior that's near enough what it is. Which is no bad thing.

I've already written in these pages that the Focus is a fine family car contender, but the Volvo offers a similarly sized package with a more mature vibe, with the emphasis on style and quality. Perhaps £27,000 for the 1.6 diesel D2 version I tested is asking a little too much, but hunt a little further down the pecking order and you're getting something which looks and feels like a premium offering but also offers value for your money.

It's a given that it capitalises on Volvo's reputation for safety, coming not only with the practically compulsory five star rating from the gurus at Euro NCAP but a string of accident-conscious acronyms thrown in as standard too, but the great thing with the V40 is that the interior's one of the most stylish I've ever come across. The floating centre console, in particular, is a thing of beauty.

In fact, my only real gripe is that it's traded comfort for fun once you get behind the wheel - it handles as sweetly as its American cousin, but it'd much rather you settle down and relax than have a bit of fun. If you're looking for a car with the bunker-like qualities of the Golf but with a bit more style and vigour you're going to love the V40, but yoofs like me, if I'm being honest, will prefer the cheaper, cheerier Focus. The V40 hits the target for Volvo lovers, but not for me.

Perhaps, despite 26 years and my best efforts, I haven't grown up enough for this voluptuous Volvo.

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