There hasn’t been much fanfare about the arrival of the new Volvo V40 T5. Unlike its main rival the Golf GTI, this 2.0-litre, 241bhp turbocharged petrol Volvo has sneaked in quietly through the back door with little of the heralding or heritage that most hot hatches bring to bear.
The hot V40 is front-drive-only, and fitted with an eight-speed auto as standard, so it has a tough job on its hands – and the on-paper statistics don’t give much confidence that it’s up to the task. Chiefly, this is because its performance puts it close to the GTi and Ford Focus ST, but its price puts it up against more potent rivals including the Golf R and BMW M135i.
The question is, does the V40 T5 do something spectacular on the road to make up for what seems like a rather optimistic pricing strategy?
What’s the 2014 Volvo V40 T5 like to drive?
Not bad, but it’s no firecracker. Plant your right foot and the front wheels scrabble, which often causes the steering wheel to writhe around in your hands, but as soon as it’s gained traction, it flings itself up the road gamely and without too much uneven surge in the engine's power delivery.
The auto gearbox is quite effective in a flat-out drag, too – stick it in Sport and, while it will hang onto revs a bit more than you might want, it shifts smartly and without too much of a pause. It’s less ideal in normal use, because it hunts around occasionally for the right gear, and shifts are quite lazy. Still, it’s easy enough to ignore what it’s doing, even though it isn't as intuitive and smooth as the dual-clutch auto in the Golf GTi and R, and doesn’t come close to the precision of the BMW M135i’s brilliant automatic.
The T5's is not the most inspiring of exhaust notes, either. Let the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine rev out and it emits a rather coarse, resonant wail that’s got little of the excitement or sportiness you’d get from its key rivals.
Handling is average at best. The steering has a weighty and consistent response, but there’s little feedback, and you don’t have to tackle a corner all that aggressively before you find the front tyres washing wide and losing grip.
It’s not that there’s no fun at all to be had. Good brake and throttle responses make it easy to drive smoothly and at a fair lick. It's also relatively refined, despite some fairly intrusive suspension noise around town and a constant rush of tyre noise on the motorway.
Ride comfort is decent, too. It deals very well with speed bumps and big undulations, and makes for a comfortable motorway cruiser, so it has excellent Q-car potential. However, the T5 is prone to jarring heavily over expansion joints and sharp-edged potholes, so while it’s comfortable a lot of the time, most journeys will also involve a few wince-inducing moments as the suspension thumps over a particularly big bump.
What’s the 2014 Volvo V40 T5 like inside?
The V40’s interior has always been a strong point, particularly in terms of the sense of solidity that pervades everything, and the comfortable, supportive seats.
The R-Design Lux Nav models - which is the only trim the T5 comes in - all get a 7.0-inch colour display as standard, complete with Bluetooth, USB-input, CD player, multifunction steering wheel, climate and cruise-controls, and – of course – sat nav.
Leather upholstery is also a standard feature – a pricey option on the VW rivals, although you do get leather on a BMW M135i. It’s just a shame that you have to pay extra for rear parking sensors.
While all that infotainment kit is one of the things that could sway you in favour of the well-equipped V40, it’s worth mentioning that the system is tricky to use, with all sorts of obtuse sub-menus that you sometimes have to go through to access everyday functions.
Practicality is unchanged in the T5 from any standard V40, so you get enough room to seat four adults comfortably, although access to the fairly narrow boot and the rear seats is not as good as in boxier rivals. Adding the optional panoramic roof will cut into headroom for those in the front and back, too, so isn’t a wise option for any tall drivers.
Safety is a real highlight with the V40, which gets emergency city braking, seven airbags in the cabin including a driver’s knee airbag, and even an external airbag that pops up from between the bonnet and windscreen to lessen any head injuries that pedestrians might suffer in an impact.
Should I buy one?
Probably not, no. It’s like Volvo forgot to make the T5 fun, which is a bit like making a cake and forgetting to make it taste nice.
Yes, it’s well-equipped, has excellent safety features, and great emissions and economy given the power. While we’ll be first to wave the pom-poms for better safety and efficiency in every class, if staying safe and saving money are your top priorities, you probably shouldn’t buy a hot hatch.
Not only that, but there’s such a brilliant array of competition, from the VW Golf R and BMW M135i through to the cheaper VW Golf GTI, Seat Leon Cupra and Renaultsport Megane. Whether you want it faster, better on track, better in poor conditions, more practical, cheaper, just more thrilling – rivals do it better than the V40 T5.
That, really, is game over.
What Car? says...
Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Lux Nav
Engine size 2.0 petrol turbocharged
Price from £31,900
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 6.3 seconds
Top speed 149mph
Fuel economy 47.9mpg