“THERE’S MORE TO LIFE THAN A VOLVO. THAT’S WHY YOU DRIVE ONE.”
A lot of things come to mind when one thinks of the Swedish brand, and a lot of those things are all about safety. Women seem to be pleased when they find out that their date is picking them up in a Volvo, but nobody is more pleased than her father, who is actually doing cartwheels in the bedroom. He's ecstatic. For many years now, that's what Volvo has been to the consumer. It's "the safest car" in the world, and it is undisputed. However, we all know that times have changed from three decades ago and that the world has moved forward.
Today, you'll find a Ford Focus stopping on its own when a pedestrian decides to throw himself down the road. Therefore, the brand that used to produce the world's safest cars had to move forward too. While safety is still paramount for the company, the guys in the factory had to go back to the drawing boards to reinvent themselves. They started throwing out words like "fun" and "sporty". On a cold day in the fall of 1995, Volvo gave birth to the V40. An automobile that would lead Volvo to the next generation of consumers. It no longer had the looks that would appeal to your grandmother and her dog. It was young, fresh, and unusually Volvo.
Like most evolutions in species, there are one offs in the gene pool. The V40 was one of them. However, the problem was that the V40 was the germ that sprouted out from a series of wonderful cars that Volvo eventually released, like the S60 and the S80. For starters, it looked nothing like a Volvo. It looked like a Nissan and drove like a Mitsubishi - because it was a Mitsubishi.
Even worse, it had the rear end of a Suzuki Esteem, which however way you look at it, is never going to be a good thing. The true problems were in the electrical system and build quality of the car. I know, because my cousin's sister had one. It fell apart quicker than an Apple Crumble would the moment you stuck a spoon in it. The V40 was horrible in every single way imaginable and its only redeeming factor was that you'd still be alive after deciding to crash the car on a post because you've spent your life's savings on a Mitsubishi. It actually was the first car to earn a four star rating in the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP).
After two decades of misses on the first two generations of S40's and V40's, Volvo has finally revamped the entire project plan of this automobile. They've killed the sedan and wagon in exchange for a more focused hatchback. I am thoroughly pleased that they've managed to turn the critter into a flying butterfly.
That is exactly how I feel about the Volvo V40. At first glance, the Scandinavian compact car is a looker - and not the type that gets less attractive as the days go by. In fact, this body has been around since 2012 - a lifetime in car terms, but it still looks current. There aren't any bad angles or signs of age - the Kate Beckinsale of cars.
The interior is svelte. Anywhere you look around the cabin, millimeters of meticulous design and engineering are present. Every button you see, you think to yourself, "Yes, that's where that should be". Although, I would’ve wanted a larger display with a sat-nav on the dashboard. Speaking of the dashboard, Volvo has found a very luxurious and soft-touch material with leather grain-like texture to wrap around it. Simply sumptuous.
Beyond the features we've come to expect from all relatively new automobiles, Volvo goes the extra mile to add what others haven't thought of. For example, there's an odd waterfall-like design along the center console which gives you storage space behind the plethora of buttons - why isn't that standard? It’s only odd because we aren’t used to it. This is what Inspector Gadget would have been if his mother gave him lessons in organizing.
Ergonomics go beyond the button placement of the V40. Driver comfort is, well, comfortable with proper lumbar support and limited driver and passenger body sway especially on the twisty roads.
"It makes you feel like a baby being cradled so gently by a mother despite her rush to mix you a bottle of milk."
Volvo has always had a celebrated reputation for sound system excellence, and the V40 is no exception. Even on FM radio all the way in Bataan, the sound stage had excellent depth and clarity. Low frequencies were tight, deep, and chest-vibrating rather than the uncomfortable kicking of my high school friend’s lowered Toyota LiteAce subwoofers. Vocals were clean and clear - void of any distortion. Highs were crisp and outlined. The sound coming out of the V40’s system was monumental, especially at the tail end of a stereo FM transmission’s range. Pure sorcery!
Driving along zigzag roads from Bataan to Subic felt a bit too smooth and planted, bordering disconnection. My brain was telling me to slow down, but the V40 never gave me cues to do so - so I didn’t. My kids in the backseat were sound asleep the whole hour and a half ride which speaks a lot more than I could ever write about the ride. Sharing the Ford Focus platform, the same sense of agility and accuracy are felt, but with a mature touch from Volvo. It seems, Volvo’s engineers let go of driver feedback - a selling point of the Focus - for more confidence and security - signatures of the Volvo brand.
In the straightaways, the V40 can do 0-100 km/h in 6.9 seconds without the feeling of being pinned down to your seat by the Ultimate Warrior. In fact, it makes you feel like a baby being cradled so gently by a mother despite her rush to mix you a bottle of milk - and that's what Volvo is all about. It no longer needs to tell everyone that it is "the safest car in the world", because that moniker is already a pillar and an institution today. We grew up with that tagline and Volvo sees that too.
Like a parent who had to constantly remind their children who's boss and that the only safe place in the world was at home, Volvo too has learned to let us go. They have come to understand that we too, have to live and that we've learned to trust their judgement as much as they've learned to trust ours.
So instead of having to hold our hand in everything that we do, they have learned to trust us not just in what we do, but also in introducing who they are - the person behind the parent.
And what a revelation it is.
Ex-Public Highway Racer