After a rather long period of inactivity in Malaysia, Volvo is back in the new again with a brand new product in the form of the latest V40. A member of the ‘Versatile’ family line (Volvo originally wanted to use ‘F’ for ‘Family’ but Ferrari didn’t like it because it might be mistaken for the F40, so ‘V’ had to be used), the new V40 has received very positive response in Europe where it has also scored the full 5 stars in EuroNCAP’s testing.
The delay in its launch here has been partly because of local assembly which normally requires some extra time for localisation of certain parts. Also, SMA, the Volvo plant in Shah Alam, Selangor (the oldest assembly plant in Malaysia) had to upgrade its body shop to be able to do laser welding. This has never been done before at SMA and was a requirement by Volvo to ensure the quality is the same as that of the cars made in its own plant in Sweden.
In fact, the S60/V60 also require laser welding but because SMA was not ready with the upgrading, the bodyshells come in fully welded form from Sweden for further assembly work in Malaysia. Now that the new process and equipment are available here, the S60/V60 bodyshell can also be assembled here.
That would probably get Volvo some extra money from the Industrial Adjustment Fund (IAF) which rewards local assemblers for the amount of investment they put in locally to produce a model.
As with previous V40 generations, the new one has the theme of a stationwagon but with a sportier flair. It follows the DNA of the XC60 Concept that was introduced by former Volvo chief designer Steve Mattin and used in other models over the past decade. It is also the last model that was developed while Volvo was part of the Ford Group before being sold off to Geely.
Like the V60, the V40 has the same sleek profile and even though it is smaller, the proportions are just as attractive and striking too. There are three versions available, one of which is a Cross-Country and as the name implies, it has a more ‘rugged’ image. However, unlike the ruggedness of the previous XC70 Cross-Country with prominent cladding, the V40 Cross-Country doesn’t really have the same sort of image.
The available powertrains are pretty much like that of the V60 and the V40 will be the last model to use the engines which were developed together with Ford. The next generation of Drive-E engines has already been revealed and will be used in coming models.
The V40 T4 uses a 1.6-litre GTDi 4-cylinder engine with an output of 180 bhp/240 Nm while the T5 version is a 2-litre turbocharged 5-cylinder unit that produces 213 bhp/300 Nm. The T4 engine is mated to a 6-speed Powershift dual-clutch transmission but the more powerful T5 power delivery to the front wheels is via a torque-converter transmission, also with 6 speeds.
Safety is and has always been a pillar of Volvo’s brand image and the company still maintains leadership in the field. Radar–sensing has been exploited further for new safety systems which help the driver to avoid accidents. For instance, the Cross Traffic Alert system uses the radar to detect vehicles approaching from either side as the car is being reversed. That’s especially useful when the driver’s view may be obscured by other cars or buildings or even vegetation.
There’s also City Safety, which was introduced with the S60, and this system has been improved for the V40. It now operates up to a higher speed of 50 km/h, activating the brakes automatically if the computer determines that the car is approaching a vehicle ahead at a dangerously high speed (and the driver shows no sign of braking or slowing down). It’s a valuable feature that can save repair costs, especially in this age of people being distracted by their mobilephones while driving (it’s illegal to use the phone, of course, but…).
Little needs to be said about the passive safety of a Volvo; the company pioneered many structural features that are today found in most cars. For example, as far back as the early 1990s, with the 850, Volvo already had an effective structural concept called SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) which diverted impact forces under and over the cabin.
Driving dynamics are also impressive in today’s Volvos, a far cry from the days when their cars were regarded as tanks – and drove like tanks too! Actually Volvo engineers have not been incapable of developing high-performance cars (remember the 850R?) but the focus has been largely on safety so the high-performance aspect has usually been over-shadowed.
With the modern Volvos, it’s now possible to have high safety levels and also high performance and the new V40 promises that. The platform is actually not the same as the S40 sedan (now discontinued) and has received a lot of tuning to provide more dynamic performance that should satisfy the enthusiast.
The interior is pure Volvo, as anyone who knows the Swedish cars will immediately recognise. The dashboard area has evolved since the ‘floating’ centre console appeared in the second S40, being refined as usage patterns changed over the years. Today, with connectivity via USB and Bluetooth, the original bank of buttons that was inspired by a TV remote control layout has changed accordingly. But the good ergonomics remain and for those who never bother with the Owner’s Manual, most of the functions are intuitive.
The instrument panel is something brand new and different, with more centralised data display. This too follows the Intelligent Driver Information System (IDIS) that was derived from fighter aircraft technology. The idea is to manage the amount of information a driver is shown to minimize distraction. In the new V40, the way the information is presented can also be customized by the driver to focus on what’s most important to him or her.
There are three modes that can be chosen – Eco, Elegance or Performance. In Eco mode, the driver is kept informed of consumption and provided guidance to go further on each litre of fuel. The Performance mode dispenses with fuel consumption matters (as the driver will not care about them!) and tells the driver about how the engine is performing and even output characteristics. Elegance presents a clean display with the basic information.
A display screen on the middle of the dashboard shows other information that is less important pertaining to the multimedia system and other comfort features.
The Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) which Volvo was the first to introduce has been enhanced for the V40. It is now radar-based with sensors in the rear bodywork as well. There is monitoring of the area up to 70 metres behind and to the sides so the driver will be aware of approaching vehicles. While the driver is kept informed, the system is less intrusive than before; should the driver activate a turn signal and there is an approaching vehicle, then the system will send a more pronounced warning. Of course, that assumes the driver always signals first before turning… which may not be the case with all drivers in Malaysia.
As a stationwagon, the V40 has the flexible layout which extends boot space when necessary. The boot floor has a clever detachable panel which can be mounted vertically in different positions to hang things on – and yes, there is also a teh tarik hook (though people may not want to hang the packet in the boot).
The pricing of the V40 is fairly reasonable for a European premium product. The brand is still not strong enough to compete with the Germans but it nevertheless has a strong following. The new models have been attracting younger buyers which is important for any carmaker looking ahead. At one time, the average age of the Volvo buyer or owner was 50 but today, younger people are attracted to the brand and that’s not surprising.
In Malaysia, the brand needs more aggressive marketing and the new MD of Volvo Car Malaysia (VCM), Keith Schafer, plans to do just that. With a track record of having grown Volvo sales in Russia significantly, he expects to do the same here and said that the product line is perfect now to complement the new offensive.
One of the initiatives is the introduction of 5 years of free scheduled servicing (including the parts required) along with a 5-year warranty and 5 years of Volvo On-Call support. So for five years, all a Volvo owner would need to pay for is fuel, tyres and the monthly instalment.
The other thing which will be addressed is the network and apart from having Federal Auto, which brought Volvo to Malaysia in the 1960s, VCM will also be appointing new dealers. One of the recent appointments is Clear Marque Sdn Bhd which has its first showroom along Jalan Kuching in Kuala Lumpur.