Volvo V40 R-Design review: A safe take on the hot hatch

Can it compete against established European rivals?

Volvo V40 T5 R-Design
  • Volvo V40 T5 R-Design
  • Volvo V40 T5 R-Design
  • Volvo V40 T5 R-Design
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5


  • Among the best looking hot hatches
  • Well upholstered interior
  • Strong range of safety features
  • Good infotainment system


  • Near no exhaust note
  • Drive is not involving
  • Large turning circle

Would you buy this?

The R-Design variant of Volvo's V40 T5 aims to tick all of the responsible boxes parents would hold in high regard, and then still leave them smiling come weekend road trips. The T5 R-Design reviewed by Good Gear Guide has a manufacturers list price of $50,400.

Styling sets Volvo’s V40 apart from the slew of European hot-hatches from BMW, Mercedes and Audi. A long bonnet swears the car is a classic sedan, though its behind wears the rounded curves of a hatchback. The resulting marriage is marked by an interior common to a mid-sized car and the kind of aesthetic that makes passers-by notice.

The actual shape is simple. A single line starts from the front grille and works its way to the rear end of the car’s side, only to return to a place adjacent to its start. It’s such an eloquent shape, styled down so that it will continue to look good over time. The most intriguing design traits are left for the rear, which has vertical taillights and tailgate that is black.

Volvo dresses up the shape with sporty paraphernalia. The 18-inch R-Design wheels are grooved and coloured in black. The mirrors are finished in silver and they match the daytime running LED lights. The back has two exhausts and a diffuser for increased down force. Topping it all off is a shade of blue that stands out.

These changes are skin-deep and don’t detract much from the car’s civility; this still is a sedan for the family. If this car were an outfit, it would be the responsible suit, only with colourful, rebellious socks.

Five people comfortably sit in a two tone interior. People six foot and over will have a hard time in the back as the slant of the roof taxes headspace. Go over a speed hump fast enough and they could get a soft knock.

Opt for the panoramic roof — a $2650 extra — and, at the ease of pressing a button, the light outside can bathe the interior. The glass is tinted to prevent sun glare from blinding drivers and the retracting roof lining works its way from the front to the back. This makes it possible to have light wash over the rear seats while keeping the front seats sheltered.

The interior echoes the sentiment of the exterior by not being as sporty as advertised. Comfort and civility take precedence here. The quality feel of aluminium has been used liberally to accent the centre console, the air conditioning vents, the door handles and the steering wheel. Its cut and finish adds a nice touch, though it isn’t the lightest of materials.

Some manufacturers use technology to make cars go faster. The R-Design might be from Volvo’s performance stable, but it isn’t one of these cars. The technology here is intended to keep the car safe.

Sitting atop the dashboard is a small camera that is tasked with scanning speed signs. Drivers can glance at the electronic speedometer and always know what the limit is. Exceed the speed limit by more than 5km/h and the display will patiently pulse.

The R-Design version of the V40 comes with ‘city braking’; a feature that applies the brakes for an emergency stop when travelling at 50km/h or slower. The ‘driver support pack’, which is a $5000 optional extra, adds a suite of sensors designed to warn drivers of traffic and potential collisions.

A 7-inch screen and an eight speaker system form the basis of this car’s infotainment system. Dials, buttons and an alphanumeric keypad are used to navigate through the software. The inclusion of a keypad makes entering text easier, though quicker computing hardware could make it faster still.

Drivers can access the infotainment system without having to take their hands off the steering wheel. Voice control is also present, though a lack of contextual awareness limits how well it works. Calling a contact requires the menu be set to ‘telephone’ first, for instance.

Generously kitting the V40 with luxuries has made it heavier than some of its rivals; its 1468kg curb weight is almost 100kgs more than the equivalent VW GTi.

Long motorway drives are handled in comfort. The ride is smooth and the car runs quiet. Everyday roads are less forgiving due to the 10mm lower ride and the little give from the large 18-inch alloys. Disc brakes 16.5-inches large do well to stop the car at speed.

City dwellers will find the V40 a hard car to drive in tight spaces. An 11.2 metre turning circle makes maneuvering in tight spaces that much more difficult. Three point turns are commonplace and driving in shopping centre car parks often feels precarious.

Under the long, blue hood is a 2-litre, 4-cylinder engine that has been turbocharged to produce 180kW. Max torque takes place between 1500- and 4800rpm and it’ll hit the redline at 6400rpm.

Accelerating off the line to 100km/h takes 6.3 seconds. Taking off so quickly overwhelms the front wheels as they struggle to put the power down. The ensuing torque steer requires little correction and adds a sense of excitement to the otherwise restrained car.

Power comes in a wave once the turbo kicks in. The engine note is most prominent at the top end of the rev range. Most of the time, it is overwhelmed by the spooling turbo, and a weak exhaust note leaves us wanting for more drama. The result is an engine that feels torn between being a comfortable cruiser and being a laugh.

Cornering in the R-Design is unusual. The Michelin tyres do well to grip in the bends and the steering is quick to respond, but the V40 never feels sporty on account of a high ride height. Driving it hard on winding tarmac isn’t involving enough to make it fun.

Volvo claims the V40 T5 R-Design’s petrol consumption averages out to 6.1-litres over 100 kilometres. We tested the car for a week, driving on motorways, rural roads and in dense suburbia for 750 kilometres. Our average petrol consumption was much higher at 10.8 litres for every 100 kilometres. The stop-start engine feature stayed on throughout our testing period.

Final thought

The Volvo V40 R-Design looks great, is packed with safety features and has an interior that is well upholstered. This is a car for the whole family more than it is a car for the driver, and it shows in the way it accelerates and handles. There is a hot performance streak about it, but it’s the kind that comes out to play once every blue moon.

Volvo V40 T5 R-Design gallery (18 photos)

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