Volvo aims upscale with the V40
VERONA, Italy -- The Volvo V40 highlights the Swedish automaker's attempted transformation into a high-volume premium brand. It is also will be the first product introduced since China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group bought Volvo in 2010.
And yet the V40 is also a reminder of Volvo's past, since the V40 is built on a platform supplied by Ford Motor Co., Volvo's former owner.
Can Volvo compete in a high-volume segment? The V40, a compact five-door hatchback, will have to compete with rivals such as the BMW 1 series and Audi A3.
The V40, which was introduced at the Geneva auto show in March, replaces the V50 station and S40 saloon. Up to now Volvo has used the letter "V" only for its wagons, but the company's marketing executives say the V designates the V40 hatchback's "versatility."
Like other hatchbacks, it has a 60/40 rear seat that can be folded down to create a flat cargo area for easy loading.
While that's typical for the segment, Volvo is counting on its safety technology to stand out.
Volvo's City Safety system uses a radar and camera to detect and avoid low-speed collisions with autos and pedestrians, and it will be the first vehicle to offer a pedestrian air bag.
The system can avoid or mitigate accidents at speeds up to 50 km/h —a significant improvement over the previous version, which worked at speeds up to 30 km/h.
The new pedestrian detection feature alerts the driver if someone steps in front of the vehicle. If the driver fails to respond, the car automatically brakes to prevent an accident at speeds up to 35 km/h.
If a collision is unavoidable, the rear of the bonnet is released and elevated by the air bag underneath, which covers about one-third of the windshield.
While Volvo has emphasized safety, the V40's road-handling is reasonably sporty. The V40 is built on the capable Ford Focus platform, with its multi-link independent rear suspension.
The V40's electric power steering has three possible settings: soft for city driving, plus medium and hard for high-speed driving.
Since the setting can be changed only when the car is parked, most motorists will opt for "medium."
Volvo offers a choice of three diesel and three petrol engines.
The gasoline lineup includes two four-cylinder, 1.6-liter Ford Ecoboost engines that produce 150 hp and 180 hp respectively. The top-of-the-line gasoline engine is a five-cylinder, 2.5-liter turbocharged unit that delivers 254 hp.
The diesel lineup includes a pair of 2.0-liter, five-cylinder turbodiesels that deliver 150 hp and 177 hp respectively. The best fuel economy is delivered by a four-cylinder, 1.6-liter turbodiesel that consumes only 3.6 liters per 100 km (65 U.S. mpg; 78 UK mpg).
The V40 went on sale in Europe this month. Next year, Volvo will launch the car in China, Australia and Brazil but not the United States. The company hopes to sell 90,000 units annually, with three quarters of those sales in Europe.
Target buyers: 35 to 55 years old, 70% male.
New technology: The City Safety system uses a radar and camera to avoid low-speed collisions with vehicles or pedestrians. The system is active up to 50 kph.
What's good: Nimble road handling, premium quality, active safety systems.
What's bad: Rear seat is cramped for three passengers; small boot; dual-shift gearbox lacks manual paddles on the steering wheel.
Launch date: July
Base price: 23,500 euros (Germany)
Platform: Compact Ford Focus platform
Where built: Ghent, Belgium
Annual sales forecast: 90,000
CO2 emissions: 94 g/km (D2 model)
Main rivals: BMW 1 series, Mercedes A class, Audi A3, VW Golf, Alfa Romeo Giulietta
You can reach Joaquim Oliveira at firstname.lastname@example.org.