The V40 T5 R-Design packs a punch with Volvo's new four-cylinder turbocharged Drive-E engine. Powerful and loaded with safety technology, its an interesting alternative to its traditional hot-hatch competitors.
For most, the Volvo V40 T5 R-Design probably isn't the first premium hot-hatch that springs to mind.
That's because it goes up against German prestige stalwarts including the Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport and BMW 125i M Sport, as well as offerings such as the Volkswagen Golf R and GTI, and the uncompromising Renault Megane RS265.
But sometimes, left of centre is a positive.
The T5 R-Design is the V40 flagship and promises dynamic, sporty performance coupled with Volvo's renowned safety technology. Its most recent update was MY14 that brought with it the introduction of what the company calls a Drive-E engine.
Its been a couple of years since we tested the previous V40 T5 R-Design, and for this particular spec the manufacturer's list price has increased by $410. The T5 R-Design is therefore $50,400 before on-road costs, but our test car has a few added extras.
Heated front seats ($375), panoramic tinted glass roof ($2650), driver support pack with blind-spot information system and cross traffic alert ($5000), driver alert system, adaptive cruise control with collision warning with full auto brake, park assist pilot are all fitted, making the asking price before on-road costs of the car we tested $58,425.
If you don't want the extras, there's still plenty of bang for your buck to be had here. The new engine is down 7kW and 10Nm on its five-cylinder predecessor, but the turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain still pumps out 180kW and 350Nm - a little more punch than most of its competitors.
The 125i kicks off at $48,000 before you add the $5460 M Sport pack, and it pushes out 160kW/310Nm - almost the same grunt as the Mercedes A250 Sport (155kW/350Nm), which costs $51,000. Audi doesn't offer a model that slots in to this pack, only the dearer S3 ($63,400).
In terms of its styling the Volvo is a bit of a square peg in a round hole here, too - the Scandinavian and distinct Volvo style is polarising and, in this writer's opinion, not particularly as sporty or as flashy as a hot-hatch should be.
The exception is this fantastic Rebel Blue that is a trademark of Polestar and exclusive to the T5 R-Design in the V40 range. It would be my pick of the available colours that include the classics - white, silver, grey and black - as well as Passion Red.
To differentiate it from the regular V40 models, the T5 R-Design has LED daytime running lights, bi-xenon active bending lights, 18-inch diamond cut/black alloy wheels, puddle lights, R-Design body styling kit front and rear, double exhaust pipes and a rear spoiler.
It a bit of a pocket rocket in disguise and for those willing to pay extra for added safety features it actually may have a broader appeal than expected.
The new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine has an eight-speed automatic transmission, and as well as the extra two gears, peak torque is available over a broader rev range - all 350Nm hits between 1500-4800rpm, while peak power of 180kW hits at 5500rpm.
When it comes to acceleration, the four-cylinder T5 is 0.2 seconds slower than the five-pot, with a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.3sec - and while a manual gearbox is not an option, the paddleshifters and sports mode allow for a bit of fun when desired.
On the environmental side of things, fuel use is claimed to have dropped to 6.1 litres per 100km - a full 2L/100km less than the five-cylinder model - and as such emissions are down from 189g/km to 142g/km - quite an improvement. During our time with the car we covered 450km of mainly urban driving, and used an average of 9.6 litres/100km.
On that topic, through corners the V40 feels a bit heavy, and the steering not as sharp as you'd want at this end of the range. It feels solid and reliable, but lacks the excitement, point-and-shoot handling and sporty confidence of something like the Renault Megane RS.
The ride is somewhat oversensitive to undulations on the road surface, and the sports chassis with MacPerson strut front suspension and multi-link independent rear suspension split opinion in the office. Some thought the suspension tuning was a little stiff, however I quite enjoyed the firmness and feel of it.
Inside, the R-Design is quite stylish and comfortable - there are perforated leather sports seats with R-Design inlays, a leather-lined steering wheel, and sports pedals, all of which are of a high quality and the attention to detail is evident in the finishes.
Added to that there are chrome accents around the 7.0-inch colour screen, instrument cluster and centre console, not to mention soft touch plastics over the dash and touches of blue to give it a pop of colour and a bit of character.
The thing that still annoys me about Volvo cars is the nod to the 1990s Nokia phone that takes centre stage under the screen. Having to tap through the letters to enter a destination in the satellite navigation system feels old-school, though it is easier to do on the fly then some of the dial based systems in its competitors. Voice control (which it has) is a far more efficient way to enter a destination, or how about a touchscreen, please!
The amount of information accessible in the infotainment system is impressive. The entire owners manual is programmed in, plus tips that are common sense for some, but for others the eco-driving guide and instructions on how to optimise tyre life, accelerate efficiently and use eco-friendly climate settings will rock their world.
More helpful is the service and repair guide, that provides the time in months and kilometres until the next service is due. The Volvo also has USB, AUX, iPod connectivity, internet connectivity and in-car web apps, as well.
Through the multimedia system you can also access the driver support system and adjust the settings for things like road sign recognition, speed alert, lane keeping aid, collision warning and more. And because safety is Volvo's middle name, the reverse-view camera with zoom and parking sensors are present and accounted for.
The list of standard safety features is impressive and includes City Safety that will brake for you at up to 50km/h, and Volvo's pedestrian airbag system.
It scores electric seats for both driver and front passenger, with driver's side memory settings, and the storage nook behind the centre console is brilliant for tucking miscellaneous items out of the way. There's also a cooled glovebox.
It has twin cup holders in front of the centre console bin as well as USB and 12V points, and the sliding centre armrest can be adjusted to accommodate your preferred driving position.
In the back there is decent leg and head room, and there are seat-back pockets, map lights and room for water bottles in the doors. There are storage trays at the side of the seat base which seem a bit superfluous - sitting three across in the back of a small car can be cramped at the best of times, so why not extend the seat base? The lack of rear air-vents is also puzzling.
The Volvo's boot is smaller than average at 335 litres including under floor storage with the rear seats up, and 615L with them folded down in a 60:40 fashion.
The boot has a 12-volt outlet, four cargo hooks and takeaway hooks on both sides. The loading lip was at my mid-thigh, to put that in context I'm 5'8", which was an ideal height for loading and unloading for me, though there is a bit of a drop to the boot floor so lifting out heavy items could be hard work for some.
In terms of ownership, the V40 comes with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty which is on par with its German rivals. Volvo doesn't offer capped-price servicing.
There's a lot to like about the T5 R-Design if you're in the market for something with more guts and character than the rest of the Volvo V40 range. It may not be able to match the Germans for driving enjoyment, but it has an impressive list of standard technology, and a number of other quality safety and comfort features - provided you're willing to pay for them.