Volvo has decent form when it comes to building premium small cars, with smart styling, classy interiors and low running costs all making them attractive purchases, with the V40 a strong case in point.
Our current favourite version, the efficient D2 model, emits just 88g/km of CO2 but also has a fairly puny 113bhp output and needs to be worked quite hard to keep up with other traffic on the motorway.
However, this new D4 model features one of the Swedish brand's latest Drive-E engines - a 2.0-litre diesel that promises to deliver hot hatch-rivalling performance with sub-100g/km CO2 emissions, at least in manual guise. The eight-speed automatic costs an extra £1550 and comes in at a less impressive 109g/km, but still reaches 62mph in just 7.2 seconds.
On the plus side, with prices starting at £24,570 for the manual SE versions, the standard V40 with this engine is £2200 cheaper than the Cross Country model we drove previously.
What's the 2014 Volvo V40 SE Lux D4 like to drive?
At first you could easily be forgiven for thinking the D4 was the same as any other diesel hatchback. It sounds a little gruff on start-up, pulls away cleanly and with little fuss, but never feels particularly urgent or sporty when you're just pootling around town and treading gently with your right foot.
Once the road opens out though, and you require a bit more speed, this new 2.0-litre diesel responds with the kind of shove that would embarrass plenty of seemingly more sporting hatches. The four-cylinder engine actually produces less torque than the warbly five-pot motor in the previous D4, but with 295lb ft it still feels seriously quick.
Despite the changes under the bonnet, all that power is still delivered in the same way as before. There's a large flat-spot below 1800rpm, before it all arrives in a sudden surge that takes you by surprise. It means the V40 feels less flexible than some of its less potent rivals, but as long as you keep the engine wound up then this D4 is a very effective overtaking tool.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox also does a fairly good job of keeping your progress smooth. It rifles up through the ratios quickly, keeping the revs low and engine noise well suppressed, but it's not as quick or responsive as the eight-speed 'box in one of its chief rivals, the BMW 120d. It gets caught out at low speeds too, and if you want paddles on the steering wheel for managing the shifts they're £150.
Standard D4s get a six-speed manual, which will be a better option for most buyers. Its fairly accurate, but has a longer throw than, say, a VW Golf GTD. It does feel flexible in-gear though, and despite the long ratios this engine never fails to pull you along briskly when required. Quick shifts are harder to execute though, so the V40 is better suited to a relaxed driving style.
On the plus side, the handling is very tidy; the standard V40 suffers less body roll and understeer than the jacked-up Cross Country version. It can still struggle for grip if you try to put too much power through the front wheels when driving out of corners, but turns-in to corners neatly, and is only let down by the rather slow, vague steering.
Ride comfort it pretty good on the motorway, and most imperfections are smoothed over with little fuss. At low speed, however, the V40 can feel a bit less supple, with sharp-edged ridges sending nasty thuds into the cabin. Suspension noise can be a bit intrusive around town too, and at higher speed the tyres rumble away loudly, so you may find yourself reaching for the volume on the stereo.
What's the 2014 Volvo V40 SE Lux D4 like inside?
The V40’s interior has always been a strong point, particularly in terms of the sense of solidity that pervades everything you touch, and the comfortable, supportive seats are great on longer journeys.
This D4 is available in four different trims. Standard SE models include a 5.0-inch colour screen display, DAB radio, Bluetooth, climate and cruise control and 16-inch alloy wheels.
If you want your V40 to look as fast as it drives then it might be worth spending £775 to step up to an R-Design model. Paying the extra adds an even smarter interior with some stylish aluminium trim pieces, chunky sports steering wheel, alloy pedals and a classy set of TFT digital instruments in the dash. Avoid the 'Lux' versions, which are prohibitively expensive.
The design of the centre console looks neat enough, but there are a lot of small and tricky-to-read buttons to negotiate, even to perform basic functions. There are also a needless number of confusing menus to navigate, and the infotainment system feels hopelessly complex compared to some of its rivals.
Another problem with the V40 is interior space. The brand is famed for its practicality, but in the V40 room in the cabin plays second fiddle to the sleek design, so those sitting in the back will feel pretty snug, with their heads brushing the roof lining and their knees pressed against the front seat backs. The middle seat is tiny too, so you can't carry five adults like you can in the Volkswagen Golf GTD.
The narrow rear window and thick pillars also mean the view out of the back is a bit restricted, so the V40 can be harder to reverse into a tight parking spot than its competitors, although parking sensors and even a reversing camera are both available as options.
Boot space is also not as generous as it could be. While the boot is cleverly designed, with an optional variable-height floor and a useful grab handle for pulling it up or down, the load bay itself is quite narrow, and not as deep or square as those of the best competitors.
Should I buy one?
The V40 already had a lot going for it - and this D4 engine delivers the kind of performance and CO2 figures that company car choosers normally dream about. It looks great, comes fairly well equipped and undercuts a few of its rivals, including the VW Golf GTD, but not the BMW 120d or Audi A3 Sportback.
On paper it's faster and cleaner than all of this premium competition, perhaps justifying the higher prices, but the V40 is unlikely to hold on to its value as well, especially compared with the Audi A3. The D4 also has less dynamic polish than the very best in class, despite the impressive straight-line speed.
The automatic version is not as efficient as the manual model - It also has a higher list price that means a low-rate taxpayer will have to shell out an extra £168 a year in company car tax. As a result we'd knock off a star and give it three our of five. On balance, the six-speed manual at £24,570, or £61 per month company car tax, represents better value, and is worth the extra star.
The firm ride and narrow cabin will also put off some buyers – but if you only need a compact hatch for the commute to and from work than this Volvo is as fast and frugal as they come, despite some niggles.
What Car? says...
Volvo V40 D4