The law of Jante is a Swedish idea that discourages individuality and showing off. Literally it means: “Don’t think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us”. It’s a fascinating idea because it’s contrary to the concept of a premium car, which by its very nature means “I deserve the best”.
This puts Volvo in a very interesting position. Its latest V40 model has been designed to be a premium car yet not be too flash, which is something of a contradiction. Volvo anticipates selling the car to people moving up to a premium brand and people looking for something a little different or more understated, compared to rivals. To Volvo, its introduction is so important, the Swedish company is calling the V40 its most important car for 20 years.
And who am I to disagree? It certainly looks and feels like a fresh start. So many people are forecast to move into smaller premium cars that Volvo has replaced not one but two larger models – the Volvo S40 saloon and V50 estate – with its smaller V40 hatchback.
Like the Mercedes A-Class, Volvo has gone for a low, sleek and quite elegant look for the V40. The V40’s interior is proof that the Swedes are a conservative bunch. It is, however, practical, functional, well laid out and well put together and its leather sculptured seats are comfortable.
Its fanciest feature is its driver instrumentation which has gone digital. Traditional analogue instruments have been replaced with a TCT display that can be reconfigured depending on your mood or driving style. In practice this means you can choose a green “eco”, blue “elegance” or red “performance” theme which sees the car prioritising the information displayed differently. Combined with the astonishing amount of safety features, it gives the V40 a trustworthy character.
Safety of course remains Volvo’s raison d’etre. The amount of safety kit available on the V40 is mind-numbing and makes for a very unique car. This is the first car of its kind to have a low-speed automatic braking system as standard, which will automatically brake the car at speeds of up to 31mph if it senses an impact is about to happen. Meanwhile, a pedestrian detection system can sense somebody in front of the car, which will warn you audibly and then apply the brakes if you don’t.
And if the car hits someone, it has the world’s first pedestrian airbag which deploys from under the rear of the bonnet (at the base of the windscreen) to cushion a pedestrian from the A-pillars. At the same time, the bonnet pops up to keep their soft wobbly bits from hitting the hard points of the car’s engine. Also, the car has optional cross traffic alert technology which can warn you if a car is coming across your rear (i.e. when reversing out of the car park).
Such social responsibility should be applauded. And this is just the start because Volvo has publicly stated that by 2020 its aim is to engineer cars that won’t kill or seriously injure anyone.
The car will be sold with three petrol and three diesel engines, priced from £19,745. We drove three of them through the quite bleak-looking rain-sodden drama of Snowdonia National Park. The 2.0-litre 177bhp D4 diesel manual in SE Lux trim was our favourite, although we also drove the quicker 1.6-litre 180bhp T4 petrol and the less expensive D2 diesel which will almost certainly be the bestselling model in the UK. Though the D4 doesn’t quite offer the mileage of the D2 (65.7mpg as opposed to 78.5mpg), its mileage and emissions are low enough to be extremely attractive, while still offering near hot hatch levels of performance.
We found the Volvo V40 to be quick, refined and quiet. It is surprisingly agile, though the ride could sometimes be a bit twitchy, ducking and diving rather more than I would have liked.
So is the new V40 worth buying? Absolutely. Just remember: the car may be special but you’re not. Show-offs shop elsewhere.
THE FACTS: VOLVO V40 D4 SE NAV
TOP SPEED: 137mph
CO2 G/KM: 114g/km
MPG COMBINED: 65.7mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****