Not so long ago I was smitten by a Volvo. It came as something of a surprise but I found the charms of the C30 T5 Polestar hard to resist. The combination of a powerful 2.5 litre engine, warbling 5 cylinder exhaust note and sleek coupe styling really won me over. It remains a favourite here at Driving Spirit.
Now the C30 is gone, consigned to that great showroom in the sky. In its place sits the new V40 T5, a practical five-door hatchback that’s been endowed with a more powerful version of the same engine. Can this sensible successor replace the C30 in my affections?
We’ve tested the V40 before in D2 trim. It’s the polar opposite of the T5 and sacrifices performance for diesel economy and low emissions. Nevertheless, we found it to be a great car – comfortable, refined, surprisingly good on the twisty stuff and packed full of technology to keep you, your passengers and the Volvo in one piece.
So the T5 is off to a good start and things improve when you clap eyes on it. It inherits the R-Design bodykit that adds large twin exhausts, bolder LED lights and lovely 17-inch Ixion wheels (optional 18s are fitted here). Rebel Blue paint finishes off the eye-catching exterior but don’t be fooled into thinking this look is unique to the T5 – you can order a visually identical D2.
The high quality cabin is largely the same but your backside is treated to an upgrade with R-Design embossed leather seats. They’re typically Volvo – comfortable and supportive in all the right places. You can literally spend hours in them and feel fresh as a daisy when you climb out.
Apart from a flash of silver on the centre console the only other notable change is to the wonderful LCD instruments. What was brown is replaced by a much smarter blue to fit with the R-Design theme (it’s just coincidence that it’s the same colour as the paintwork). The crystal clear display remains the best such system in this class, with the bright red ‘sport’ mode a particular favourite – the big digital speedo is very handy.
Press the starter button (keyless is an option) and the T5 bursts into life with a busy idle. It gives a sense of the turbocharged goodness nestling under the bonnet but quickly subsides into a smooth and muted rumble.
That engine lies at the heart of the T5’s appeal. Thanks to the odd cylinder count it sounds superb, with a delicious howl at high revs that gives bystanders a bit of a treat as the bright blue Volvo streaks by. The trouble is, from inside the cabin you don’t get to enjoy the sounds to the same extent. What passes for superb sound-proofing in the standard V40 robs you of some of the sounds you want to hear from the T5. A good aftermarket exhaust might be enough to sort out this problem.
Even with 1,500kg to haul around the T5 is no slouch and the rich seam of torque means that silly speeds are just an ankle flex away. The T5 is seriously fast, faster than you might realise thanks to that quiet cabin.
With high speed comes a need for control. The brakes are strong and showed no signs of wilting on the road while the steering, if a little numb, allows you to place the V40’s nose with confidence and accuracy.
As is traditional for a modern Volvo the V40 is setup for understeer. Overcook entry into a corner and you’ll be lifting off in a hurry as the front wheels scrub wide. Taking the ‘slow in, fast out’ approach pays dividends, as this is where you can take advantage of the four-wheel traction to pull you out of the corner.
At no point does the V40 feel as incisive as, say, a Renaultsport Megane, and it won’t dance from apex to apex like the Frenchman. If the Megane is wearing ballet shoes the V40 is wearing studded rugby boots. Not delicate but great for grip and applying power on a wet and slippery surface. That’s where the V40’s strength lies, in conditions that would leave front-wheel drivers struggling to put their power down.
The optional Sports pack brings a lower chassis setup with slightly stiffer springs than standard V40s. There is a noticeable difference in the ride and handling, feeling slightly sharper but not so much that it ruins the ride quality. It’s a good compromise for those who aren’t on first name terms with their chiropractor.
It can also cosset you like no other hot hatch. If you’re not in the mood just switch the adaptive cruise on, turn up the Dolby Pro Logic hi-fi and just steer the car. You don’t even need to worry about gear changes thanks to the automatic transmission.
Which brings us neatly to the V40’s weak point. For reasons I don’t understand Volvo only offer the V40 with a 6-speed auto. It’s not even a slick dual-clutch box, just an acceleration and economy-sapping torque converter. It’s not that it’s a bad gearbox but it simply does not belong in a car like this. The C30 T5 had a six-speed manual that suited the car perfectly. Why not the V40?
Even the sport mode fails to make up for the dulling of the performance and the manual override doesn’t feel right without a set of paddles on the wheel. You eventually learn to live with the ‘box and it does kick down quickly but the T5 could have been so much better with a manual.
Despite being more powerful the updated T5 is more economical and has lower CO2 emissions. It’s officially rated at 38mpg but I struggled to get 30mpg. After 340 miles I coaxed it up to 28.5mpg but when you’re stretching the T5’s legs don’t expect much more than 20mpg.
The T5 is priced at just over £32k, pushing it uncomfortably close to the all-conquering BMW M135i. The BMW easily wins the performance fight but the V40 would be the easier car to live with so it’s not a clear win for the German.
The price will inevitably go up once you look at the options list. This particular T5 was nudging £39k but stick to the Driver Support, Sports and Winter packs and you only need to add £3k.
The Final Reckoning
So is the V40 T5 better than the C30? In most tangible ways yes, it is. It’s better built, has far more safety gear, is more practical, more economical and almost as good to look at. It can soothe when you need it, go like the clappers when you want, and is perfectly suited for safely carrying your family around.
Sadly that automatic gearbox and the muted engine mean that it’s lacking the C30’s soul. Stick a manual ‘box on the options list, get Polestar to add a slightly louder exhaust and knock a couple of grand off the list price and the T5 would be almost irresistible.
As it is the Volvo V40 T5 is a wonderful creation and I could almost see myself buying one – almost. The difference with the C30 was that I really, really wanted to buy one.
Volvo V40 T5 Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Fabulous engine, just a shame about the gearbox||9|
|HANDLING||Tidy, predictable, lots of grip and traction||8|
|AFFORDABILITY||Expensive to buy and run but has that premium feel||6|
|DESIRABILITY||V40 is a highly desirable car, T5 makes it more so||9|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||It’s good, but it could be better||8|
Volvo V40 T5 Specifications
|Engine:||2,497cc 5-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Transmission:||Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive|
|0-62 mph:||6.1 seconds|
|Top Speed:||155 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||185g/km (Band I)|
*Prices taken from Volvo website, November 2013