First drive: 2013 Volvo V40 T5 Cross Country in Qatar
Premium hatchbacks are a uniquely European concept and one that I’m sure causes a lot of confusion in the GCC. Why would you spend 4×4-level money for a small hatchback? However, if you look at it from the European point of view, they make a lot of sense. The cost of buying and running a new car in Europe can be staggeringly high due to taxes on the car, annual taxes to renew the road licence, regular road tolls and the cost of fuel. In that environment, a smaller car makes a lot of sense. However, many drivers don’t want to give up the prestige and comfort features of a luxury car, which is where the premium hatchback comes in. While the German manufactures are on their second or even third iterations of their premium hatches, Volvo is only now offering their second model with the all-new 5-door V40, having just cancelled the 3-door C30.
Having lived in London before coming to Qatar, I’ve always been a fan of hatchbacks for their versatility, size and the resulting agility that makes them fun to drive. I had a BMW 130i in London and own a VW Scirocco in Qatar (albeit as a second car because 3 doors isn’t that practical with a family). Despite the wealth of choice available in this region when it comes to types of cars, I’ve still gravitated towards hatchbacks for some reason. Massive overweight sedans or SUVs that handle like supertankers just don’t appeal to me, no matter how big the engine up front. With this in mind, when my local Volvo dealer asked me if I wanted to borrow a new top-of-the-range V40 T5 Cross Country, I jumped at the chance.
Before going any further, I should probably point out that I already own a Volvo XC60, and it is in fact my second one since coming to Qatar 3 years ago. You can make of this what you will (I can hear some of you decrying me as a Volvo fanboy already) but I want to be upfront from the start.
The 2013 V40 is an all-new car even though it is still based on the older Ford C1 platform used by the last Ford Focus. At the moment, it is only available as a 5-door hatchback and pricing in Qatar is estimated to start at around QR120,000 for the T4 1.6 Turbo with 180 hp and rise all the way up to QR179,000 for the fully-loaded T5 Cross Country that I drove. I can hear the collective intake of breath from the readership on hearing the price, but I’ll come back to the issue of pricing later on.
In a sector where the German competition all opt for handsome but relatively-conservative designs, the V40 is much more daring with a very sleek design that faithfully follows the Volvo design ethos as espoused by its other recent cars. It looks good from pretty much every angle, although the front of the car can look a little slab sided when viewed from the side. The Cross Country model has a slightly raised suspension and black plastic cladding on the lower body. However, the car I drove was dark grey in colour and as such didn’t really show off this lower body cladding much. The contrast shows much better in white, as seen in this showroom display car.
The interior is one of, if not the best, part of the V40. To put it simply, it feels every bit like a Scandinavian luxury car should. Every surface your hand goes near is either a very soft-touch plastic or covered in leather, while the centre console was a very nice brushed-metal finish. The cabin is very well-isolated with the engine being virtually silent at cruise and only heard when accelerating. It felt more upmarket than my XC60 and is almost certainly the best interior in the Volvo range. My personal opinion is that it compares very favourably with any of the German competition.
The dials are a particular delight. Rather than traditional dials, you get an LCD which allows you to customise the look of the dials. There are three themes available (Eco, Elegance & Sport), and for each theme you can pick a few more styles. The dials were completely visible in the midday sun even with sunglasses, while I never noticed any problem with responsiveness at all.
The one significant black mark against the V40 is the boot. Put simply, it’s too shallow compared to the VW Golf’s boot. As an example, I was unable to fit my daughter’s pram in the boot without dropping one of the rear split-folding seats.
The V40 I drove came with pretty much every option, such as Collision Warning to detect imminent accidents, Lane Keeping Aid with vibration in the steering wheel, Driver Alert to warn you of tiredness, Road Sign Information that reads signs to display the speed limit on the dials, City Safety that brakes automatically if it thinks you’ll hit the car in front or a pedestrian, BLIS that gives the driver a warning light when a car is in their blind spot, and Park Assist Pilot that steers the car while parallel parking.
I left the Collision Warning and Lane Keeping Aid disabled, while Driver Alert and City Safety didn’t flash up any alerts so I presume it was satisfied with my driving. BLIS was as useless as it was on my XC60. Often, it will light up for a car being in my blind spot when I can see the car in the mirror. Road Sign Information was surprisingly good, although its accuracy did drop at night. I wanted to try Park Assist Pilot but couldn’t get it to work due to not reading the instructions.
Other than that, the car had all the usual options: sat nav, premium audio with USB, bluetooth with streaming, electric memory seats, dual zone climate control with the a/c being satisfyingly strong, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera, automatic head lights/wipers and finally the panoramic sunroof, a QR10,000 option by itself.
For this region, the T5 variants get a 210 hp 2.0-litre turbocharged 5-cylinder with a 6-speed auto, as opposed to the 254 hp 2.5-litre turbo 5-cylinder turbo offered in Europe. Initially I was disappointed at the lower-powered engine given to this region but in practice, the V40 T5 has ample power. Compared to the 2.0-litre turbo in my Scirocco, there is a touch more lag — the Scirocco’s turbo kicks in at just over 2000 rpm while the V40’s kicks in around 2800 rpm. However, while the Scirocco feels out of puff by 4000-4500 rpm, the V40’s power band extends much further up the rev range.
Out on the road, there isn’t much between the V40 and the Scirocco upto 120 kph. Above 120 kph however, the V40 easily leaves the Scirocco behind. The noise the 5-cylinder makes is nicer than any 4-cylinder. It sounds more like a V6 with a refined snarl to it — it was thoroughly enjoyable to rev the engine out just to hear the noise as the car accelerated.
The Cross Country model I drove has all-wheel-drive, as opposed to the rest of the V40 range which is front-wheel-drive. This means the car sends its 300 Nm to the road with no torque-steer at all. In fact, despite my best efforts to provoke the system, I couldn’t even feel power being transferred to the rear, so the all-wheel-drive system seems to be set up very well.
The Cross Country V40’s get a 10 mm ride-height bump over the rest of the V40 range. This results in a superb ride with any imperfections in the road surface being well-isolated but just enough information is still fed through to the driver to let him know about the road conditions. No doubt the relatively high profile of the 225/45 R18 tyres help with the impressive ride.
As a result of the slightly-higher ride height, there is a bit of body roll when cornering but it is well-controlled with the car never feeling like it’s wallowing. You simply get some body lean and then the car settles down to give you confidence. The steering is light and accurate but not overly full of feel. Nonetheless, the car can be thrown around a bit like any hatchback and it never feels like it’s out of its depth.
Overall, the ride-handling balance is biased a little more towards comfort than sportiness. It can’t quite match the agility of the Scirocco, but it compensates with a much better ride.
The elephant in the room is value. As I said in the introduction, the V40 I drove has a list price of QR179,000. Granted this is for a fully loaded car with every option, but it is still a lot of money for a hatchback without sporting pretensions. For comparison, my nearly fully-loaded XC60 only costs QR10,000 more. As I drove off with the V40 at the start of my time with it, I did wonder if this car could possibly justify its price tag. Yet, by the time I returned it, my doubts had lessened considerably. The simple truth is that it always felt like a luxury car first and a hatchback second. The great cabin, the superb ride and overall ambience were what I would expect from any luxury car — they just came in a much smaller, although no less expensive, package.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my brief time with the V40 T5 Cross Country. The V40 offers a compelling case of good looks, performance, premium interior and ride for anyone looking for a luxury hatchback. However, I do feel that the best value in the V40 range is probably to be found in the less expensive models. They should have all the same features that I enjoyed so much without the premium for all the safety tech and all-wheel-drive.
Photos by Omar Mohatarem