Long term test: Volvo V40 D3

The gushing update

Today I’ll let you into another little secret of life – choose your travel companions wisely. What at first may seem like a quirky and interesting choice can sometimes turn into an annoying mistake or worse, an incessant bore. And if you’re a car enthusiast, that can also apply to your chosen mode of transport.

That fancy new car you’ve been eyeing – is it any good on the long road? Are there frustrating traits you didn’t pick up during your test drive? Believe it or not, these things also happen to motoring journalists… I once bought what I thought was a great little hot hatch and sold the irritating thing within a few months.

Not wanting to make the same mistake again, I rang up the caretakers of one my all-time favourite cars for a spot of unashamed begging. Guess what? A few months later, and to the utter delight of my equally smitten wife, we were handed the key fob to this powder blue Volvo V40 D3 Momentum Geartronic for the entire holiday season.

We’ve had plenty of Sweden’s finest on test and in between the lethargic diesel scrooge (D2) or rabid racers (T5 or T6) the mild D3 always impressed us. But that wasn’t the only reason we wanted to spend some quality time with this specimen – it’s the first V40 we’ve ever come across which has a light interior.

That’s right, all V40’s we reviewed before had dark and somber cabins. If you hit up your favourite used car website and look at pre-2016 models, it’s all anthracite this and charcoal that. Misery. As part of the V40’s recent update, Volvo now offers this fresh ‘n airy new cabin trim called “City Weave”.

Straight away I’ll admit that if you have small kids, big dogs and/or other filthy cohabitants, this jobby won’t last until next week. However; FJ38PD-GP’s combination of cream fabric and grey tweed-like inserts has played host to many journalists over the last few months and 12,000km with almost imperceptible signs of wear.

Swedish sensibility ensures that the dashboard and upper door cards are black; to minimize reflections. The practical darkness can also be found on most touch surfaces like the steering wheel rim and buttons, gear lever, control stalks, handbrake, cup holders and cubby hole. Carpets and boot lining? Yup, those are black too.

Before I start writing love poems to City Weave (which I might still do), rest assured that it passed our long-term test and proved to be more than just a passing infatuation. Unlike those with black leather, you can leave this car in the baking summer sun for hours, get in and sit down straight away. In shorts. No problem.

So – about that update I mentioned earlier. Car makers also call it “facelift” but the V40’s one was so minor that only true experts might notice. In a nutshell, the mid-2016 enhancements include new colours and interiors (like these here), Thor’s Hammer headlights, Polestar performance bits and more modular engines.

Modular engines? Yes, so Volvo is among the brands that use one-size-fits-all motorization. What seems lazy at first is actually good for cutting development time and costs, thus saving YOU money. The V40 comes with either a 2-litre turbo-diesel (D2 to D4) or 2-litre turbo-petrol engine (T2 to T5) with escalating outputs.

Added to that, you can also choose various trim levels (Designer, Kinetic, Momentum, Inscription and R-Design) to find the exact V40 your heart desires. Pricing ranges from N$352,100 to N$483,750 while this D3 Momentum Geartronic (six-speed automatic) starts at about N$450,000.

Another thing I love about Volvos is that their optional extras are very affordable so you can choose a cheaper model and spec’ it up to your liking. Metallic paint? That’ll be N$2,350. A full set of wheels is N$7,500 and a leather interior is N$12,000 – either may also be completely free, depending on your chosen model.

Heated front seats cost N$1,850 and so do the rear ones. I thought only S-Classes had heated rear seats? Anyway. Shift paddles are just N$1,850 and parking beepers (all four!) cost N$2,850. Digital instruments are a laughable N$4,350 and LED headlights start at N$7,500. That is considerably cheaper than any of its German rivals.

I know all of this because I spend a lot of time on Volvo’s online car configurator, a place where you’ll discover that most models offer wisely assembled packages of optional extras. For the V40, that would be the Base Pack, Sport Pack, Techno Pack, Premium Pack or Driver Pack. And incredibly, they offer even better value…

Trust me, I could keep waxing lyrical about this car and brand but to prove that this isn’t an embarrassing grovel piece, here are the negatives we noted in our few weeks with this V40. The D3 engine isn’t exactly perky, it needs forward planning for fast overtakes and is rudely loud at idle; especially when it’s still waking up.

We disliked the over-eager start/stop system and high-beam assist but at least they’re de/selectable. Average Diesel use gets nowhere near the maker’s claim (4L/100km) yet our best average of 6.4 would’ve meant 950km from the 62L tank. Happily, consumption didn’t tilt eight very often, even in slow city traffic.

Not so happily, we never figured out how the V40’s two trip meters work; or how they correspond with the infotainment screen’s fuel figures. We got three different values at any given time and it was jolly confusing. To finish nit-picking, the instruments can be reflective, rear visibility challenging and, um… the spare wheel is tiny.

Right, time for some more gushing. The V40, any V40, is an absolute joy to pilot. Their combination of ride, steering, handling, controls and power delivery are always pleasing; and I invite you to challenge our entire office’s verdict by taking one for a test-drive. I found these 18-inch wheels a tad hard but nobody else did. Oh well.

To finally tell you what we did with this Amazon Blue D3, over five weeks we clocked up 2,300km including a leisurely trip to De Rust in the Karoo. The baby blue V40 also visited Cape Town, our local shopping malls, office car parks and my in-laws’ rural roads a few times. It even transported our Christmas tree without fuss.

Every guest we invited into our Blonde ‘n Tweed haven bestowed it with praise; even if some of them were swayed by the pine scent for a while. Other crowd pleasers were the self-parking gimmick, easy flat-fold 60/40 rear seats, keyless start and un/locking (with touchy door handles) and the gigantic glass ceiling with retractable cover.

Near the end of our test I took the pale blue Volvo for a few runs with our Racelogic Performance Box. It managed a best 0-100km/h time of 8.73 seconds (claimed 8.4) and 400m in 16.28 seconds. A full-bore emergency stop from 100km/h was achieved in a dead-straight and astonishing 2.74 seconds or 38.08m.

Just as brilliant – literally – are the LED headlights. That floating central dashboard pod of buttons only takes a bit of practice to master. Volvo’s sound systems are fantastic, devoid of brash branding and again – affordable. The climate control is excellent, radio reception is outstanding, the rear-view mirror is sexy, bla, bla, fishpaste.

Am I saying all this because Volvo gave us the car? Not quite, remember that I requested this flat blue V40 to see if I would still love it after spending lots of time with it. The answer, if you’ve somehow skipped to this part, is a definite “yes”. In this colour, with this trim and my wife’s abundant approval – I’d buy one in a heartbeat.


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