The new Volvo V40 is a premium five-door hatchback, designed to offer buyers something a little different from the usual suspects of the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and VW Golf.
Volvo reckons the V40 will also appeal to those wishing to make the step up from less glamorous cars such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.
The V40's job isn't made any easier by the huge void it has to fill in Volvo's portfolio. Effectively, it replaces the outgoing S40 saloon and V50 estate, as well as the three-door C30, which will be dropped in 2013.
What's the 2012 Volvo V40 like to drive?
Although it's a completely new model, the V40 retains many of Volvo's traditional driving characteristics.
As usual, the steering wheel offers very little resistance, so it's easy to pilot the car around congested city streets
True, the notchy, long-throw gearshift and spongy clutch pedal in the D4 diesel model take the shine off things, but the D3’s gearshift is lighter and smoother, if still rather long.
We'd stay away from the more powerful engines
Both models are further undermined by their limited steering lock, which means you'll struggle to find a road that's wide enough to let you turn around in one go.
In addition, while light steering is great in a city car, it's not something you want when you've got a surging 175bhp diesel engine like the D4's under the bonnet. Put down your foot hard and there's a pronounced delay as the engine spins up, followed by a huge wallop of power that causes the steering wheel to squirm.
The D3 has a similar character, although its power delivery is a little smoother.
In both, it's hard to know exactly where the front wheels are pointing in fast corners, which is a shame because – if you're prepared to trust it – the chassis is pretty well balanced.
The suspension contains vertical movements well, too, but it's a tad on the firm side when you're just cruising around town, and the car never truly settles on quick stretches of dual-carriageway.
Thankfully, salvation comes in the guise of the lighter, 113bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder D2 diesel, and not just because of its tax-friendly 94g/km CO2 emissions and average economy of 78.5mpg.
This engine's power delivery is far more progressive than the D4's, which helps the car feel more controlled, yet it still produces respectable acceleration along with a good deal less vibration.
Frequent gearchanges might be required if you spec the D2 engine
Just bear in mind that the tall gearing means it requires a downchange or two when you need a burst of overtaking power on the motorway.
While this less powerful diesel will dominate sales, the 148bhp T3 petrol is undoubtedly the sweetest engine in the range. It's smooth and happy to rev hard when you're in the mood for a bit of fun, and if you just want a relaxing drive you can short-shift through the gears letting the engine's strong torque reserves do the work.
All the engines are pretty smooth, but the V40 lets in quite a bit of wind and road noise at motorway speeds.
What's the 2012 Volvo V40 like inside?
Without doubt, the most impressive aspect of the V40 is its stylish interior, which features sumptuous trim, imaginative detailing – including some optional digital instruments – and some of the most supportive seats in motoring.
Those seats also boast a wide range of adjustment, so drivers of all shapes and sizes will have no problem getting comfortable.
The V40's interior is the most impressive aspect of the car
Front- and rear legroom are pretty much on a par with those in a BMW 1 Series.
The boot looks rather narrow, but it's available with a clever folding floor (for £100) that lets you divide the space or raise the floor. When this false floor is in its highest setting, the rear seats fold down to create a totally flat extended loadspace.
Entry-level ES cars come with Bluetooth, front and rear electric windows, alloy wheels and climate control. However, we'd be tempted to upgrade to the mid-range SE trim; this carries a £1600 premium and adds cruise control, wheel-mounted audio controls, keyless start and plusher interior trim.
As well as the usual array of airbags and electronic driver aids, the V40 has an updated version of Volvo's City Safety system (it now works at speeds of up to 31mph), which automatically applies the brakes if you get too close to the car in front.
Volvo has also stolen a march on every other manufacturer by fitting an airbag that pops out from under the bonnet to cover the windscreen and front pillars if sensors detect a collision with a pedestrian.
Impressive safety kit comes as standard
Should I buy one?
When judged purely from a driving perspective, the V40 isn't the car we were hoping for, but we have to give credit where it's due.
Even the range-topping D4 diesel averages more than 50mpg and qualifies for the 16% company car tax band, while the D2 manages nearly 80mpg and is taxed at just 13%. The gorgeous cabin is another strength, plus the V40 is well priced.
The baby Volvo is quite spec-dependent - we'd pretty much discount the D4, for example, leaving the more modest D2 diesel and, for a few buyers, the T3 petrol - but it feels a worthy entry to the class nonetheless. A group test against the forthcoming Audi A3 and even the current VW Golf will be interesting.
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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