TEST DRIVE: Volvo V40 T5 Cross Country 2.0 - Probably the most refined premium hatchback in the market

Volvo cars have a long history in Malaysian motoring. They were one of the first European cars warmly embraced by the Malaysian car buying public. In the 1970s, 1980s and up to the 1990s you could see many of them plying our cities, towns and even villages. People who could afford a large sedan bought them for their size and safety. They were box shaped cars that many of those born in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s would remember as the car that their father, uncle, grandfather had and those were sweet memories of being in something safe and secure.

Of course, somewhere along the way all of this changed. Volvo got confused and wanted to change the perception of Volvo cars. Aside from safety, they now wanted to be sexy and prestigious too. Scandinavian sexy was basically clean shapely understated lines and not the ostentatious bling that many associated with what you see on most premium priced European cars out there. They liked designing clean IKEA type of styling. The front grille got smaller and smaller and if you compared the Volvo 240 to the second generation Volvo S40, you'd have to squint to find the grille and Volvo badge on the front. And the safety, whilst still there got played down a little if I remember correctly. And being bought over by Ford did not do them wonders also.

Anyway, the game has changed. New owners Geely from China have actually left space to the blokes in Gottenburg and by 2012, the first of the new breed of Volvo cars appeared. Sexy looks, more prominent badging, more luxury inside and the safety aspect were now back. It basically started with the smallest car Volvo produced, the V40. This is what I got to try recently, but in the Malaysian top of the line spec, the Volvo V40 T5 Cross Country.

The Volvo V40 is essentially Volvo's smallest car. It is a compact family hatchback or C Segment sized car. It is based on a shared Volvo/ Ford platform called the Global C platform by Volvo. This is a good thing as it is a very good base to build a car on. But if you're not really paying much attention, it does look a little like the current Ford Focus from afar.

The V40 was first launched in Malaysia sometime August 2013 and I am actually surprised there aren't many of them around. Take this V40 T5 Cross Country (let's call it the V40 CC in short) for instance. When you first approach the car you know that it is essentially a V40 with extra body panels, large 17inch alloy wheels with 225/50 series tyres and a slightly taller ride height for that crossover look. Oh, and you get the words 'Cross Country' on the rear  But it isn't a real high riding SUV. Just something slightly taller than the usual hatchback. Very slightly as you can see from the pics herein. The V40 styling is already a nice wedge shaped hatchback with a lot of character lines which make the car quite distinctive. There's that unique turn up like that turns up into the quarter glass in the rear door. I also like the front grille with conveys enough road presence when you're bombing down the highway at speed.

And if you're bombing down the highway, it is actually good to know that the V40 CC has enough Oomph to really tear up the tarmac. It is equipped with a 2.0liter 5 cylinder turbocharged engine that pumps out 213hp and 300Nm torque. And you gotta love anything with more than four cylinders. The engine is so much smoother than a four cylinder and close to what a V6 would offer in terms of mechanical refinement. It also has that nice five cylinder warble that begs this V40 CC to have a more open exhaust system. Now it only sounds when you give it some welly. It is extremely quiet and refined when you're taking it easy. This five cylinder engine is coupled to a fantastically smooth six speed automatic transmission which sends the drive through the front wheels. It actually works very well with the engine. We'll get to the drive details in a while....

So when you step in you are greeted with the familiar floating center console that most Volvo cars have since the last generation V40 and its then S40 sedan sibling (no more V40 versions with this current model). The controls and instruments are a testament of Swedish logic. Everything is cleanly laid out in a logical manner and everything is also nice to hold, fondle or touch. This top of the range V40 CC gets some nice two tone leather seats in really premium leather (not the plasticky stuff you even get in osme of the larger Japanese sedans sold here) and you also get the center console in a rose gold-like colour as well as aluminium trimming at the vents and the door sills. All of this makes this interior look extremely vibrant. It does feel good too. Like you're in something really premium.

As for driver toys, I mean driver aids you get a whole lot of stuff and gizmos. The infotainment system with a large enough screen has a whole lot of stuff that would keep you or your passenger occupied even before you push off. There is even internet connectivity if you want by pairing it with your internet via wifi or bluetooth (but I don't recommend using it as it actually quite slow when I tested it. No, make that really slow). The V40 CC has everything you actually need. There is a adaptive instrument display that lets you set the look of the instrument cluster into Elegance, Eco or Dynamic modes (to suit the mood of your drive or to assist you to get the best out of the car's economy or performance – but it doesn't really change any performance parameters. The only change is via the Sport shift position on the gearshifter which adjusts the gearbox's shift points). Parking aids, auto lights & wiper, lots of airbags, pre-collision sensors that would activate the brakes & tighten up the seatbelts if a crash was imminent, other warning sensors and what I like the most is Volvo's BLIS or blind spot sensor which warns you if there is a car or a bike in your blind spot.

Let's get to the driving bit.

The V40 CC starts with a push of a button. These top of the range cars nowadays usually have a push start button. I do like the large traditional handbrake that this car has as a mechanically operated park brake allows you to do indulge in some handbrake turns. Yup, seriously. On the safety aspect it allows you to do extremely fast J turns if you need to do one.

Around town the V40 CC is very refined. At low speeds the ride is on the firm but you do not really hear any of the bumps and thumps. Most road surfaces are dealt with aplomb and that extra ride height actually helps in ground clearance and also extra suspension travel. At city speeds the engine is a distant hum and the gearbox slurs its gears quietly. I think that this engine and drivetrain combo is the smoothest I have experience in a compact premium hatchback or sedan. At the price offered, RM198,888+, nothing is more refined than this. This is including those offered by the Germans.

I suppose I have to add that the whole drive experience of this Volvo V40 T5 Cross Country is based around the 2.0liter five cylinder engine. The reason Volvo went for five instead of six is for front wheel drive packaging purposes. A five is obviously more compact than a six yet it offers as much refinement as a V6 engine. This is the trump card that the V40 CC has over its competitors in terms of mechanical refinement. It purrs and it warbles its characterful self whilst having more than ample performance to push the car to a 0-100kmh time of about 7.5seconds and a top speed in excess of 200kmh.

And on the same subject of refinement, you can still have a decent conversation with your passenger even if you are barreling down the road at over 160kmh. It is quiet. But there is a slightly issue if you're looking for ultimate high speed refinement. The car rides choppily at speeds above 150kmh. I suppose this is a compromise for trying to engineer lots of grip and stability on a car that is taller than the standard variants. You have to put up with a choppy ride if the road is not that smooth. I could translate this to being a 'sporty' ride but no. The V40 CC is actually a premium hatchback that isn't an all out 'GTI'. It is a grown up hatchback without the boy racer image for it to have such a choppy ride at speed. Of course, the sporty ride allows for safe handling for a very confident high speed cruise at over 180kmh if you can manage it. I suppose I can live with this aspect if this were my own car.

In the turns, corners and bends the V40 CC performs quite well. It is taller than the average V40. This would automatically mean that it has a higher center of gravity. But the firm suspension counters this a little. There is not much body roll (and the seats are supportive) in corners but again, the five cylinder engine affects the drive experience. You see, whilst the extra cylinder helps the refinement of the car, by making this the most refined hatchback you can buy it adds an extra cylinder worth of weight. The front end with push wide if you are really attacking a corner. Upon hitting the brakes and lining up the car for the corner everything is nice as the weight transfers to the front wheels. There is no unnerving tail wagging (a good thing) but once you add a lot of power, and 300Nm is more than enough to spin the front wheels and cause some torque steer, it also pushes the nose of the car wide if you apply too much of it. A very nose led experience due to the weight in the front of the car. But still, once you get used to the car and play within its limits, it can be rewarding.

It is rewarding when you drive the V40 CC when you know how it handles. In some ways it reminds me of driving an older Audi A4 (B7 and below) which has its engine hung in front of its front axles. You know there's a huge weight over the front wheels and you have to adapt to this character flaw. But what a character this car is with that warbling five cylinder. I don't really care about this front heavy cornering issue as if you're looking for a daily driver or something super refined to use on long distance highway trips this is the most refined hatchback you can get. Just don't corner like you think this is a Golf GTI. It isn't. It is something to arrive whilst feeling unflustered after a long drive. And the seats. They are so bloody good to sit on.

At under RM200,000 the Volvo V40 T5 Cross Country with this 2.0liter five cylinder engine is actually refined as hell. Aside from Subaru doing their flat-fours there are no other unique engines that are used in cars below 2.0liters these days. I can't think of any with something unique and characterful as this. It is somewhat of a shame that this would be the last five cylinder that Volvo cars will put in their cars for quite sometime. Downsizing is the case these days. So do buy this whilst it lasts.

Pros: Refinement, nice noise from the engine, quiet, fantastic seats, high equipment levels, looks, good ergonomics, smooth gearbox, lots of useful space for passengers, plush interior, exterior styling is good to an extent...

Cons: ...and the extent is that some may think you've bought a Ford Focus (it does share the same basic platform), five cylinder engine makes it slightly nose heavy which affects ultimate handling, choppy ride above 150kmh, not much else,

This is no longer the Volvo of old. This could be the most characterful and refined (up to 150kmh) premium compact hatch you can buy at the moment. All because of that different five cylinder engine. Great for the daily commute to work and back because it is super smooth and refined. As quiet as some of the larger German sedans out there. It is as fast as a stock Golf GTI, but does not handle like one as it is actually somewhat of a cross over vehicle – hence the Cross Country moniker. The added ground clearance actually makes it handy on bad roads and good for use on dirt tracks. This would also be a good car for the wife as it is actually a premium car yet it looks understated enough to avoid unnecessary attention from bad elements. Highly recommended.

Volvo V40 T5 Cross Country 2.0

Price as tested: RM198,888++


Engine: 2.0liter Five-cylinder direct injection turbo petrol engine with start/stop technology

Transmission: Front Wheel Drive, 6 speed automatic transmission with tiptronic sport mode (no paddle shifters)

Power: 213hp / 300Nm torque

Weight 1580kg


0-100kmh: 7.5seconds (tested)

Max Speed: slightly over 210kmh .

Electric front seats with memory function for driver
automatic climate control,
auto wipers,
auto lights
premium sound/infotainment system with a seven-inch colour screen – USB, Bluetooth, wifi connectivity
false boot floor,
fold-flat rear seats
keyless entry
Park Assist Pilot (auto park)
Cruise Control
BLIS – blind spot warning (very useful)
Cross Traffic Alert
City Safety which works up to 50 kmh
Dynamic Stability and Traction Control
Torque Vectoring
Active Bending Lights
Seven airbags
complete the safety kit.

Warranty and Service packages:
Five-year free servicing, inclusive of parts
five-year factory warranty plus Volvo On-Call service for the same period

False floor can hide stuff or increase boot space when needed

..and underneath that is a space saver spare.

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