What is it?

This is Volvo’s ageing family hatchback. A new V40 is set to be announced later this year. So before it’s replaced, we figured we’d take a drive in this top-of-the-range model to see what the new car has to live up to.

Now, most of the time, Volvo competes with the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes but does away with sporting pretensions – you don’t need a million horsepower and nine different suspension settings, the company says, you need a car that’s been intelligently designed to offer a pleasant owning experience.

You might wonder, then, what came over Volvo when it signed off the V40 T5 R-Design. It’s a family-sized, four-door hatchback with a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, good for 245 bhp. That means that this sensible, small family runabout will do the 0-100 km/h dash in 6.4 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 240 km/h. That’s not sensible; that’s bonkers.

How does it drive?

The V40 T5 R-Design shares plenty of its components with the previous-gen Ford Focus ST. Ford used to use a Volvo five-cylinder engine in the Focus ST, and since then the two companies have been happy to sell parts to each other. That Focus ST was one of the most entertaining machines going, meaning that, if it shares the same components, the V40 should be pretty special, too. 

Press the start/stop button and the four-cylinder growls into life, its tone deep and menacing. It’s linked to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which you can change manually by pulling on one of the paddle shifters. We’ll get to how that works later.

First, though, let’s go into how the car feels in its normal mode. Find an open piece of road, and the T5 will simply devour it. The 0-100 km/h time doesn’t do justice to how the car feels when you’re actually accelerating. It’s savage. The front tyres tug at the steering wheel, compelling you to grip hard as if you’re hanging on for dear life atop a rodeo bull. The revs build incessantly, the gearbox smashing through larger and larger numbers. And the 350 Nm of torque propels you forward like a freight train at full speed.

Good thing, then, that the brakes are pretty serious. Even in normal mode, they take a little getting used to – because they slow the vehicle with such force, you only need a light touch at normal speeds.

So far, so sporty, and things only get better when you flick the gear lever towards the big ‘S’. In most cars, sport mode sharpens up the throttle response, makes the steering heavier, and firms up the suspension. And while you do get improved throttle response, sport mode often ruins the steering and ride. Not so in the V40, which certainly benefits from increased grunt in sport mode, but otherwise remains largely the same. This means that you get even more brutal acceleration, but the whole package is just so composed because the suspension and steering remain relatively soft.

Don’t think, though, that this means the V40 is a wallowy pudding through the corners. Take a bend at high speed, and you’ll note the absence of any body roll whatsoever. There’s also an astonishing amount of grip – you really have to be going very quickly to find even a hint of understeer. Push towards those limits, and you’ll eventually find yourself running wide around a corner, which is the car essentially telling you that you’re being an idiot. The steering, meanwhile, is light and accurate. The front wheels do tug at you when you put your foot down, but it’s totally manageable, adding to the excitement factor more than anything else.

And the noise is something to behold. It isn’t bad at all in normal mode, evoking an angry swarm of bees buzzing furiously around the engine bay. In sport, though, the swarm morphs into the growl of a great hound, teeth bared, ready to attack. There’s a little turbo whizz on the downshifts, and every now and then, the exhaust emits little crackles, which send shivers down the spine. It’s a bruiser, this thing.

The one thing letting down the T5’s sporting credentials is the gearbox. In automatic mode, it’s flawless – smooth, quick and easy – but flick it to manual, and things don’t go so well. Upshifts are slow and dim-witted – you’ll pull the right paddle and it’ll feel like an age before you’re in the next gear. It’s not a dealbreaker, because the automatic mode is so good, but if you like to be more involved in gear shifts, you’ll find it frustrating. And, sorry, a manual isn’t available. 

Interior quality and tech 

The seats are body-hugging R-Design sport seats, clad in nubuck leather. There are streaks of aluminum around the cabin, and R-Design logos pop out in various places. The steering wheel is chunky and sporty, with purposeful, tactile paddle-shifters nestled behind it. This car wants you to know that it’s a sporty car – don’t let the Volvo badge at the centre of the steering wheel fool you.

That said, there are plenty of nice Volvo touches to the interior that make it a really wonderful place to be. The ‘floating’ centre console is the party piece – it’s a single, flatscreen-thin panel containing all of the AC and radio controls. It looks fabulous, and there’s the added practicality of there being a little stowing area behind it. Likewise, the ergonomics of the entire cabin are extremely well thought-out. If you want to change anything about the cabin environment, from the position of your seat to the music on the radio, it’s extremely easy to work out how to do so.

The instrument cluster is entirely digital, displaying the R-Design logo when you climb in. You can set it to three different ‘themes’, which offer various takes on the designs and colour schemes of the read-outs. The themes also stretch to the screen nestled above the centre console, so everything matches up perfectly. If you want to get your boy-racer on, you’ll be opting for the ‘Performance’ theme, which serves up an enormous, red digital speedometer, just like the one on a Lamborghini Huracan, along with a gauge illustrating how much of the 245 bhp you’re using at any one time. We preferred ‘Elegance’, a classically styled theme that bathes the cabin in a relaxing, deep-blue hue.

The V40 is a reasonably practical car – there’s plenty of space in the back, which is able to accommodate two adults comfortably. The fabulous centre rear armrest adds a touch of class to the whole experience, too. The boot isn’t the deepest in the business, but given it’s quite long, you could fit two suitcases in there no problem. This is a Volvo, after all.

And though the V40 has been out for a while, the gadgets on board provide an extremely modern feel. You’ve got two-zone climate control, automatic wipers, automatic headlights, and an extremely good reversing camera with park assist. Pairing your phone to the car via Bluetooth is a cinch, and you can stream music wirelessly from your device. Really, everything you need is included.

Running costs

The V40 has proven to be a pretty popular car in the UAE, so we don’t reckon depreciation will be much of an issue. Prices start at around AED 110,000, and you’re looking at around AED 3,500 for a fully comprehensive policy. In terms of fuel economy, Volvo claims 5.9 l / 100 km. In real life, you’ll probably get around 7 l / 100 km. That means you’ll get a pretty respectable 850 km from the 62-litre tank, which’ll cost you around AED 130 to fill up.

Our verdict

Using the V40 R-Design as a daily driver for just under a week, we struggled to find many faults at all. It’s exactly what a hot hatchback should be – practical, comfortable, and, when the mood takes you, exciting. Forget what you think you know about Volvos – the V40 T5 delivers in spades on all counts. When it surfaces later this year, the new one has big shoes to fill.