Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Review – Stylish Swede Will Bring Volvo a New Breed of Buyers

High safety spec, T5 engine excellent, refined build quality

Small ‘behind seats’ boot area, having to option/pay for expensive-but-expected equipment, badly-placed manual seat adjusters

Volvo V40?

Volvo V40 T5 R-Design has superb styling

Volvo. A name conjuring up words like ‘safe’, ‘family’ and ‘estate’. Yes, for years Volvo has been producing cars made with safety and space in mind, and that’s not exactly led to them being desirable with a younger audience. With the release of the new 2012 V40, I suspect attitudes are about to change quickly on that front, especially when you take a closer look at the T5 R-Design…

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

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The V40 is a good looking car as standard, but the R-Design is more striking and aggressive. It is planted, and hunkered down in a powerful stance that catches people’s attention easily, especially in the conspicuous Rebel Blue colour. The front of the car is muscular, with deep cuts for design lines slashing their way down each side, around the headlights and lower daytime LED running lights (which look superb).

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From a stood-up perspective, the front of the R-Design looks like it would lose it front lip to the first speed hump you came to, but Volvo have been clever by angling it sharply upwards underneath while still giving it the appearance of low-slung car. The high front means you’ll combat even the nastiest and most evil of council-made humps.

The sides of the bonnet cut in early, and swoop down onto the wide wings, making the V40 R-Design stand out from the average flat-hooded car. A sharply-raked windscreen flows up to meet a decidedly low roofline, and should you spec the panoramic glass roof, the design becomes alive further. Instead of just slapping a great rectangular slab of glass in the middle of the roof, Volvo have made it look spectacular, by meeting it right up to the windscreen, with no metal between, and also shaping it around the rear shark fin arial too. Beautiful, but I dread to think what it would cost to replace.

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Around the back of the V40, and the severe angles continue. The boot lid protrudes out prominently to the halfway point, before cutting back in, creating almost an overhang. Either side are the rear L-shaped lights, which have lines running down them to catch the light when turned on, creating a rather cool effect. They’re also eyeball-meltingly bright too.

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Down to the bottom, and the R-Design is finished off with a respectably large exhaust exit each side, plus a deep rear diffuser which finishes the sporty look off nicely.  The V40 R-Design is one of the classiest-looking hatchback’s on the market today, no doubt. A mix of powerful, sporty, purposeful and smart design culminates in a car that certainly grabs attention.

Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Lux Nav exterior country shoot

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Open the door to the V40 R-Design, and you’re greeted by an interior that does not disappoint. Available only with Charcoal Leather and aluminium trim, the design is sporty, yet elegant. Slide into the driver’s seat, and it’s very obvious that quality abounds through the cabin. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, yet thin when viewed from the side. Proof that you don’t need depth to attain comfort. There’s a couple of issues though. One is that the lumbar support dials are placed on the inner edges, and you have to tuck your hand between it and the armrest to turn it, and it’s not a comfortable thing to do. The dial for reclining the none-powered passenger seat is also tucked close to the B-pillar, creating the same problem.

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You can seat three on the rear seat, but the person in the middle will feel uncomfortable after only a few minutes. It’s more designed as a seat for short journeys. The sides though, are very nice. Okay, it would be better if the bottom section of the seat was longer to support your legs more, but aside from that they are fine. Leg room won’t be an issue either, unless you’re a very tall person. Although the roof is low, the optional panoramic roof (£1,000) makes it much better for those in the rear. Volvo have though it through too, as the blind opens front-to-rear, so they can get the benefit of the airiness while you keep shaded in the front.

Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Lux Nav review seating seats storage

Actually, I noticed during this bout of abnormally hot U.K. weather, when it was hitting over 30˚C, that the V40 kept cooler inside than other cars I was driving at that time, which is probably due to the narrow glass letting less light in. The V40’s narrow centre console is a wonderful design, as a single piece sweeps upwards from the gearstick. The R-Design’s is bare aluminium with a blue painted line going top to bottom, which I’m not 100% feeling. It’s not quite tacky, but it doesn’t seem to suit the car.

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From a side view, this piece is surprisingly thin, and there’s even a storage space behind it. All the controls from the interior heating, stereo, car set-up, telephone and more are on this one piece. There’s only one issue I have with this; there are too many buttons, making it look overcrowded and messy. They should do away with the telephone keypad to simplify it. Other than that it’s a superb design, and I especially like the different way that Volvo have used for showing the fan direction (see photographs).

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The  multimedia screen is a good one. The graphics are bang up to date, and it’s easy to navigate around the (many) on-screen options, whether that be the safety settings, sat nav, phonebook, fuel consumption stats etc. The driver’s console is outstanding in its layout. The dial’s displays are completely digital, and there’s three different configurations to choose from too; Elegance, Eco and Performance.

On each display mode, you can also chose to have the average fuel consumption or real-time fuel consumption displayed, or to just have the rev counter or temperature gauge (depending on which setting you have) fill the outer edges fully instead. In the centre of the dials is a digital display for things like the cruise control setting, warning indications and more. It’s one of the best dial designs I’ve seen in a car to date, and it is without a doubt impressive.

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The design of the automatic gear knob is beautiful too. A clear top with (what looks like) laser-etched symbols for the driver, reverse etc. Below that is a chrome finish, mirroring the symbols. A green LED lights up next to the position you’ve chosen, and at night the top lights up too. This all sounds like something out of a modders catalogue, but believe me it’s done in good taste.

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The R-Design’s steering wheel is a comfortable thickness, and its controls for the stereo, cruise control etc are simply laid-out and are easy to access and use. At 335 litres, boot space with the seats up isn’t huge, but Volvo have at least made sure that the 60/40 rear seat section fold completely flat, giving a surprising amount of space – I even managed to fit a large dog cage inside (just), and the metal tie-down points came in really handy that time, showing that Volvo still include their renowned practicality to a degree.

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A gripe I had with the V40 I tested was the lack of reverse camera, just distance sensors. In fact, every time I had passengers in and was reversing, they always commented on it. There’s all this safety technology and a luxurious interior, and yet there was no camera. It simply doesn’t make sense. If you’re buying one of these, you must absolutely tick the ‘Rear Park Assist Camera’ option box – it’s only £375!

In summary, the Volvo V40 R-Design’s interior is luxurious, modish, refined and thoroughly well-made, to the point where it reminds me very much of the Jaguar XF 3.0 Supercharged Portfolio, and that’s saying something.

Engine and gearbox

There are a range of petrol and diesel engine on the V40, with different power outputs, but we’re concerned with only one on this review; the T5 automatic. The T5 is a 2.5 litre petrol engine, five cylinder, 20-valve and a turbo bolted on. I’ve always been one for preferring bigger capacity engines, but with manufacturer’s heading down the path of smaller cc’s with more advanced fuel delivery systems, advanced turbo units, lighter components etc, delivery of high horsepower and torque, plus lower CO2 emissions and better fuel economy is achieved. It’s looking very much like the future for the majority of cars.

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The V40’s T5 is no exception. The 2.5 litre engine kicks out 254 bhp with 265 lb ft (360 Nm) of torque, which may not seem huge, but it’ll still get you from 0 – 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds (0 – 100 kph in 6.2)! To put it in perspective, that’s as as fast as the Jaguar XF 3.0 litre Supercharged. Regarding rivals, it’s not much slower to sixty miles per hour than the Audi S3,  but will get beat by the BMW M 135i and absolutely trounced by the (more expensive) Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG.

Still, a few milliseconds’ difference to sixty isn’t the end of the world. The T5 is still quick car regardless, and the more important aspect is the rolling acceleration, where it will impress greatly. More about that later. A 6-speed automatic Geartronic ‘box was on this particular V40 T5, and I couldn’t find much to complain about. In full auto mode, it changes gear smoothly and quickly with no issues. Push the lever over to the left, and you can then use it in ‘manual’ mode, where it’s a simple push forwards to go up through the gears, or down to go… down. Unlike a few of the other manual modes on auto gearbox’s, this one let me change down while the revs were still high, giving me more control when slowing from speed quickly. When in full automatic mode and braking, you can physically feel the engine doing some of the work to bring the speed down as well.

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On this engine, there’s also stop/start, which is one of the smoother systems I’ve come come across. There’s one annoyance, and that’s that if you come up to something like a roundabout, or a T-junction, the engine will cut out the very second you stop, and although it’s super quick to fire back into life, it can be a jerky experience if it goes from stopped to start in a short space. Of course, there’s always the option to turn it off, but that kinda defeats the purpose.

Fuel economy is better than I assumed it would be. Around the city, official stats state up to 25 mpg, while ‘extra urban’ is quoted as just over 47 mpg, with a combined figure of 35.8 mpg. Realistically, it looks like Volvo have been fair with these figures. I averages around twenty-two miles-per-gallon around town, and that drastically went up as I got out on to a long country-road run, averaging around sixty mph I got an indicated 41 mpg. I’d say that’s pretty darn good for a petrol car with decent performance.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

The Volvo V40 T5 R-Design looks like it’s made to drive well. And it does. It is quiet, refined, powerful and handles well. Let’s have a quick word about those. Set off slowly in the T5-engined V40, and it is eerily-quiet. With the windows up, there is so little sound from the engine you could hear a pin drop. Handy if you like driving barefoot.

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Slip the beautiful automatic gear lever into drive, go easy on the accelerator and the R-Design V40 will slide up to town speeds as fluidly as mercury on a waxed bonnet. There’s no drama or commotion, and it does it in a highly classy way. However, as you pass those national speed limit signs and plant its accelerator, the T5 V40 will change its act from suave gent to caddish bounder quicker than you can say Terry Thomas. If you’re at lower speeds still, and decide to give the go pedal a hearty push, you’re going to get the front-wheel-drive V40’s tyres grappling and struggling for purchase, twitching left and right, leading to a notable degree of torque steer. Not a massive amount, but it’s certainly noticeable.

Accelerating hard from a stand-still obviously results in an amount of wheel spin, but rather than the Volvo doing what some cars do, and completely over-manage the car by hugely limiting power to the wheels, the V40’s system seemed more subtle than that, and allows you a bit of play. Of course, the DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) system can be turned off if you want more authority.

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The Volvo’s 2.5 five-cylinder petrol turbo engine gives a lot in return to you right foot’s prompting, and you’ll find the T5 R-Design will absolutely monster its way past other cars, should you want to overtake at higher speeds on country lanes, for example. The acceleration isn’t brutal or vicious like it was in the Subaru WRX STi 340R I tested, and it’s more like a strong-but-fluent flowing of power. It’ll do the job with ease, let’s put it that way. Push on upwards of 100 mph, and you’ll find the power delivery still going strong. With a top speed of 155 mph, this particular Volvo is certainly not going to be an embarrassment should you find yourself on a German Autobahn anytime soon either.

Volvo have done well with the suspension and chassis set-up, allowing the T5 V40 to handle well in the twisty sections, and I found it inspired confidence with good grip and poise, while the setting wasn’t overly stiff either, allowing both myself and passengers a comfortable and relaxed ride too. If you want your R-Design to feel even sportier, just tick the Lowered Sports Chassis option (£500), and your V40 R-Design will be 10mm lower than standard.

When it comes to the safety tech on the V40, I don’t think there will be many manufacturers out there that will better Volvo. The Lux Nav model I had sported Pedestrian Safety, which reads the road and walkways ahead, tracking pedestrian’s movements, ready in case they step in front of the car. The Volvo will first of all warn you audibly, and if that’s not acted upon, it’ll either lower speed rapidly or apply the brakes fully, depending on your initial speed. If you do hit a pedestrian, the car comes equipped (as standard) with a Pedestrian Airbag, which inflates both under the bonnet to cushion the initial blow, and also a inflates a third of the way up the windscreen plus entirety of the A-pillars.

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More safety for the driver includes an automatic braking system which works automatically should you fail to apply the brakes at a certain distance before the object in front (at under 31 mph). Then there’s the ‘Driver Support’ option, which includes Lane Keeping Aid, Driver Alert Control, Collision Warning, Blind Spot Information (BLIS) and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). The ACC is an utterly brilliant feature, and it will slow the car all the way to a stop, braking hard if necessary, and it’s simply a matter of pushing the cruise’s resume button to carry on. It’ll even work in stop/start city traffic. It makes any drive so much more relaxing and stress-free.

Any negative points? On road surfaces that weren’t so smooth, there was slightly too much road noise coming into the cabin. I’m not expecting Rolls-Royce like silence from the Volvo, but still the noise from the tyres could be counted as a negative on certain road surfaces. Apart from that, there’s not really anything else to moan about.

Overall, I think the T5 V40 R-Design gives satisfaction in terms of both engine performance and handling. It is sporty and fast enough to have fun in, but it also cuts the mustard when it comes to refinement too.


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List price of the 2013 Volvo V40 T5 R-Design is £31,390. The model I was sent was the Lux Nav spec, and with a load of options including Driver Support (i.e. the electronic safety stuff) at £1,850, panoramic roof at £1,000 plus Park Assist Pilot at £850.00 and 11 more options, the price of those added up to a hefty £6,700, making the final in excess of £38,000.

That seems a lot of dosh, but is it really? Well, Volvo’s cars aren’t cheap, but you can be absolutely assured you’re driving something very, very well built. When compared with similarly-specced rivals it comes out closely-priced too. Examples are the BWM M 135i 5-door automatic at £38,380, and the Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG at £40,585.

What I don’t like is that on a car as high-end as this ‘Lux Nav’ spec, you’re still having to pay for stuff you’d expect as standard, such as heated and power seats in the front, and they don’t come cheap either.

2013 Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Lux Nav Automatic verdict & score

The V40 R-Design really changed my perception of Volvo’s. Yes they still make their safe family estate cars and all-wheel-drive’s, but the R-Design sort of quashes people’s notion on the brand. What Volvo have done is take their extensive knowledge of safety and reassuring build quality and thrown an extra large tub of hot spice into the mix.

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The V40 R-Design is too expensive to be classed alongside most hot hatches, and it is almost clinical in the way it goes about its business, but that’s not to say it lacks character or desirability, as it has both. The V40 T5 R-Design will almost certainly attract a new breed of buyer, and let’s very much hope that this is the first of many cars like it from Volvo.

Do you own a Volvo V40 R-Design? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8.5
Interior  8.5
Engine (T5)  8
Gearbox (Auto)  7.5
Price  7.5
Drive  8.5
Overall Score  8 / 10 


Model (as tested)  2013 Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Lux Nav Automatic
Spec includes  All-round power auto windows, leather upholstery, all-round sensors, 17″ alloy wheels, active bending lights, bluetooth for music and calls, power mirrors   See spec sheet for more
Options you should spec  Reverse Camera (£375), Fixed Panoramic Sunroof (£1,000), 18″ Ixion Alloys (£700), Rebel Blue paint (£275)
Price (as tested)  £38,115 (including options)
Engine  2.5 litre petrol turbo, 5-cylinder, 20-valve
Power, Torque, CO2  254 bhp, 265 lb ft (360 Nm) | CO2: 185 g/km
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Front wheel drive | 6-speed Geartronic (automatic)
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 155 mph | 0 – 60 mph: 5.7 seconds | 5-star Euro NCAP
Fuel economy (mpg)  Urban: 25.0, Extra Urban: 47.1, Combined: 35.8
Weight (kerb)  1,500 kg (3,306 lbs)
Websites   Volvo U.K., Volvo USA, Volvo Worldwide

Check out our other car reviews here

Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies, Nathan Fielder| Photography: Jason Fanthorpe, Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

4 responses to “Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Review – Stylish Swede Will Bring Volvo a New Breed of Buyers”

  1. andrew

    best review seen for this vehicle so far!

  2. mdavies

    Thanks Andrew. We put a huge amount of effort into reviewing and photographing the cars we get so it’s always nice to know that people appreciate them. Thanks for taking the time to tell us.

  3. Paul

    Fantastic spot on review. The V40 T5 R Design really surprised me too. I test drove the A250, VW GTI and the A3 and in my opinion the other didn’t even come close.
    The Volvo is a spacious luxurious hot hatch – Volvo should be doing more to promote this car.

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