Review: 2013 Volvo V40 XC T5

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The Volvo brand sits in a strange, sparsely populated hollow in the automotive landscape. It doesn’t bay for attention like the German big three in the falsely dubbed “Premium” sector, yet it doesn’t quite fit in with the accepted mass-market names of Ford, Opel, Peugeot etc. It’s a brand that, for the most part, just sits there quietly, getting on with its own life, not making trouble, looking after those who have shown interest in the past, and continuing to attract repeat investment from them year after year, after year. Having recently passed through a bit of a sticky patch, they deserve this repeat business immensely.

Volvo doesn’t really carry a stigma about them, either, these days. Far from being associated with leather elbow-patched Geography teachers, status-hungry antique dealers and septuagenarian collectors of old stuff en masse, todays’ Malmo Missile is all about round-the-world yachting, scrabbling up mountainsides with brightly coloured nylon ropes and maybe a quick game of squash before lunch. A Volvo manages to avoid being lumped in with the coarsely aspirational Germans, yet somehow still convey a moneyed, knowledgeable aura.

Volvo of The Now are represented amply by this one.

Were you to sit this car next to a 245DL, the Volvo of today hardly seems related to the Volvo of then, save for some deliberately inertial styling treatments. If you changed the grille and lighting, this could pass muster as a well-turned out, sharply styled machine from any forward-thinking manufacturer you could mention. Yet, somehow, that shape makes perfect sense in Volvological terms.

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With this car there comes further evidence that Volvo want us to grasp that they don’t just evolve to suit prevailing market demands, as perhaps they might have done in the past. No, Volvo want to straddle that narrow wasteland that exists between how things once were, and how things might be in the near future. On the one hand the safety, robustness and practicality that equally dogged and blessed the perpendicular machines of yesterday, in the other hand some of that performance and image “demanded” by today’s leaseholders, and eyes fixed firmly on a horizon of environmental responsibility.

To me, this car look vastly bigger than it actually is. In terms of market positioning, the V40 has all guns aimed at the 1-Series, A3 battlefield; not a safe place to fight unless your strategy is extremely finely honed. Part of that sense of scale is probably partly down to the very considerable overhangs front and rear, and no doubt augmented by that fairly heavy CROSS COUNTRY Outfit Of The Day, running as far as butch metallic rocker-panel protectors and a purposeful looking rear diffuser that robs a fair bit of ground clearance.

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Don’t worry about the size or what it means, if anything, about you and how much money you have and where you and your Volvo fit in the hierarchy of men and things. The V40 is car-sized. It’s as big as it needs to be to do the job it does; the job of being a car. In fact, that job is one that the V70 is rather good at.

Key in place and the dashboard performs a little pre-mission ritual where you see the outline of the V70 being artfully etched on the central LCD, I saw it once and it mesmerised me slightly but no matter what I did I couldn’t make it do it again.

Press Start and the engine fires in a moment. Your brain suddenly recalls a few of the things about Volvos that you like. If you’ve ever driven an old 850 T5-R, and you really, really should have done, that offbeat 5-cylinder warble will be immediately familiar. Of course, with the engine being governed by millions of miles of microprocessor track and the various magical devices that ensure that the emissions are no more dangerous than a fart from somebody who only eats ice cubes, the song that the V40’s B525 motor sings is to the same tune as the old 850 but with updated lyrics. It still sounds interesting, though, and a good deal more engaging than the average four on initial audition.

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And the noise gets better and better with every millimetre of accelerator travel, which is doubly good because that pedal is something you will want to manipulate at every possible opportunity. Doing so causes marvellous things to happen, like suddenly being matter-transported to 60mph in six seconds dead. Yeah, it’s fast. Very fast, and fast over a set of increments that are actually useful. Top end has been pegged in the 140’s, which is plenty, meaning that all the power can be summoned up when it’s really useful. This, incidentally, is ALWAYS. Whenever there’s an excuse, however trivial.

Of course, every Hooniverse stomach will churn, acids will rise throatwards and bits of internal carrot will make themselves ready to be enjoyed from a second direction the moment I mention that this engine is only available with an Automatic Gearbox. Geartronic, they call it, and it isn’t particularly memorable. This, though, is probably worth celebrating. If it doesn’t stand out from the experience as being horrible, maybe we can overlook it. Or, better still, maybe we can tip the balance and declare it A Good Thing.

Yeah, that’s like saying that Racisim is right on, and that Hitler was, deep down, just misunderstood. But here’s the rub; Geartronic leaves you with absolutely nothing to think about, so you can get on with driving. Quickly, if you want; which you will. 254 horsepower are there, waiting, saddled, expecting your spurs to dig into their belly, and every one of them is available for immediate deployment, thanks to the four-wheel drive.

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Even if you didn’t know it, you could guess that all four wheels were driven thanks to the way it all feels so neutral. It isn’t, of course. Pressed seriously hard, it’ll understeer. But the limits are high, much higher that anybody who isn’t the Stig to be bothered buy. And it’s all very easy, too. Use my favoured technique of left foot brake, right foot throttle, treat the car as a giant Go-Kart and never take your hands from the wheel, going very fast is childsplay. On Millbrook’s somewhat threatening Hill Course, the T5 adds to your confidence and goads you on. When he grows older and begins to see the appeal of the easy life, this is what an Impreza WRX driver might end up with.

It’s not a sports car; don’t think I’m under any illusion that it is. The body roll is well contained but still present, the turn-in not quite razor sharp (it would be difficult for it TO be while retaining any element of beaten-track capability), you may miss the interactivity of a manual ‘box, and there’s not a great deal of information being transmitted at you through the wheel, either. But who cares, really? What arcade racer ever offered any more realism? You used to queue up to play Sega Rally and that had no feedback whatsoever. And most people who played driving games would leave it in Auto anyway.

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Volvo press image; yeah, I forgot to take one.

It seats five, four very comfortably. The rear bench cushion is split 45/10/45 to provide maximum accommodation for two yet still allowing for a fifth occupant if there’s no avoiding it. The front seats grip well and the driving position is comfortable even for me with my surreal, almost cubist proportions. The dashboard is a paragon of order and clarity, and the general layout is ergonomically beyond criticism. True, minor controls can tend towards the fiddly, but once initiated it should be easy enough to walk your fingers around them. I offer my applause in Volvos direction for still managing to avoid anything resembling iDrive or MMI. And the now familiar “floating” centre stack still looks cool.

This is probably the most surprising car I’ve driven this year. I mean, I expected it to be good, I kind of knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but I didn’t expect to like it this much. Were we to carry on with comparisons against the Germans, treated as outright drivers’ cars the equivalent (or as close as possible) Audi or BMW would very probably, subjectively, score much higher marks than this Gothenburg GT. But sometimes subjective evaluation doesn’t give fair representation.

Treat the V40XC T5 as a (very) high-speed all-weather transportation solution and it’s bloody effective. Fill it full of pitons, carabineers and rope, maybe an outboard motor or a ski-pole, and you can be in any recreation destination of your choosing far more quickly or easily than you might imagine. Alternatively you could hit every antiques-fair in your tri-state area and fill the back with old, musty wooden artefacts and be home in time for meatballs and herring.

Volvo are an interesting brand, and on the strength of this car it would appear that they’re becoming increasingly so with the passing of time.

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

24 Comments

  1. This car has most of the C30's semi-practicality and compromised hatchness, a cheaper version of the S60's nose (though oddly with a Venza rear end), and basically the decent handling of the V50 it replaced. If only it had the V50's practicality, the C30's rear end, and the S60's handling, it would be a winner.
    Actually, I think I'll just take a V50 and be done with it.

    1. oh and ps, re: the Volvo stigma having gone away, sadly true. As an honest-to-God pipe-smoking former geography professor, I no longer drive Volvos. My DD these days is an NG900 Saab.

        1. touche! I was actually only a lecturer of geography back then, and drove a Volvo 164, so it may simply be that lecturers drive better cars than professors do.

      1. I got my NG900 from an architect, to whom I was referred by another Saab-driving architect (one Mr. Sarockin). Perhaps the fellows on Top Gear have a point.

        1. Got mine from an architect too, and recently when I needed some work done, was referred to a specialist by one of my bosses, also an architect.

  2. "… ensure that the emissions are no more dangerous than a fart from somebody who only eats ice cubes…"
    Classic writing there! Thanks for the informative and always entertaining review.

  3. Very well written! For now, I haven't tried the V40 yet, but I see that it is a popular car, and it is treated as quite the alternative to whatever German, Japanese or Korean cars it competes with. Lets not buy the marketing yackety-yak about everyone trying to be BMW, even though Volvo obviously aspires to be.
    I wonder if you have more to say about this part of a sentence: …looking after those who have shown interest in the past.
    Volvo doesn't really care much about their heritage, and is nowhere near the shining light that Mercedes is e.g. when it comes to parts availability. Many here would agree that an old Volvo didn't necessary supply cutting-edge technology, but a choice of meaningful, robust and reliable solutions. I am not sure modern Volvo's still follow that line.
    End of comment with a nice photo I found somewhere else:
    <img src="http://data.motor-talk.de/data/galleries/0/9/882/57479117/g-5035-4642312667830994054.jpg&quot; width="600">

    1. Oh man, those people on the sign are running away from the one in white, the old Volvo smell is not that bad, come on!

      1. Actually, the red border on the sign indicates that it is FORBIDDEN to run from the white Volvo to the grey Volvo. As it should be!

  4. Yet another excellent write up from olerusty. Thanks man and this olelongrooffan is actively searching for abandoned roadway construction sites around the Florida Everglades.

  5. It's not a long roof, it's a 5-door hatchback. Not that there's anything wrong with that, other than the market is flooded with them and the choices of true wagons in the US of A are very few.

  6. man. i gotta say.
    this car is super vanilla in every respect.
    i give props to volvo's modern lineup for having the extremely-classy S80 and the now-not-ancient and very pretty S60, but dropping the S40 / V50 hurt my feelings, and the C30 doesn't do it for me. not to mention the loss of the V70 in the usa.
    volvo has learned how to make the best-looking sedans, and in the process has forgotten how to make a sharp wagon.

  7. A FWD hatchback playing dressup as crossover? LAAAAAAAAAAAME. Like, even lamer than regular crossovers (didn't think that was possible).
    Other than that glaring oddity (remedied by either opting for AWD, or just getting the regular V40), this speaks to me.

      1. So, my reading comprehension was terrible last night, I don't know how, but I was under the impression you were testing the FWD model. AWD at least makes this mostly make sense. The regular V40 is a quite attractive car though, and I wish we had the option to buy it. I could skip the choice to pay more to make it look worse.

  8. This hurts a bit for me to write, but I have not actually driven a Volvo from this millennium. Maybe I should? Anyway, with the last auto T5 I drove, there was this hesitation after pressing the accelerator. Like that car was filtering the input, just to make sure that yes indeed you wanted to go faster, and then it would, but it would be stubborn about downshifting. I actually got to using the CC pretty much only to pass because it was quicker about it, like it actually believe you that you wanted to go faster when you fiddled with that stalk instead, and instantly so.
    I take it, that's no longer the case, good. Anyway, I still really liked that car, it had its charms, that made it easy to overlook the quirks. I take it that is still the case too, excellent.

    1. what year was it, if i could ask? the 99-02s had an electronic throttle module that tended to go funky every 100k miles or so. i think the one on my 99 is eating itself, and it often results in a boned shift if it doesn't pick up when you get back on it.

      1. It was a '98 C70, I got it when it had around 30K miles I think, so I don't think it was the same thing.

        1. o, delightful! i love those, wish there were more of them around. very handsome cars.

  9. I am as conflicted by this car as I am by this review. I'm a car-note holding Volvo-phile. I own one of the last V70's sold in the US. I understand every criticism stated and implied by the reviewer. The vague steering and the uninspiring transmission are present in my wagon. Maybe they taught the brakes to communicate and the throttle to listen. When he says the V40 would lose out to an Audi or BMW, I believe him. I know my V70 isn't as inspiring or invigorating as an A5 or 535 touring. And yet, I love my Volvo, and I don't think I could own a Beemer or Audi. It just wouldn't be right.

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