It’s a pity the name Smart Car is already taken because it would suit Volvo’s new V40 hatchback to a tee.The Swedish brand has lifted the gadget bar to a whole new level with its newest model.

That includes a range of functions that you don’t even need to be in the car to use. The V40 not only parks itself (with its parking pilot system), but it also steers itself (if you happen to drift across the centre line), warms itself up (on cold mornings), stops itself (if you’re in danger of a collision), turns itself off (when you’re sitting in traffic to avoid wasting fuel) and even reads the road signs for you.

It will check behind so you don’t reverse into oncoming traffic (cross traffic alert), jolt you if you’re drifting out of your lane (lane departure warning) or if there’s a car in your blind spot (blind spot indicator), will alert you if you’re becoming drowsy and even dip your headlights when you forget.

It will keep a safe distance from the car ahead when you’re in cruise control, brake to avoid a collision in city traffic (up to speeds of 50km/h) and even keep an eye out for pedestrians wandering into your path.

With all that clever technology, it’s a wonder you need a driver at all. But just so you don’t feel left out, the nice Volvo people have invented a new driver-focused system called Sensus – a new style of fully-graphic instrument cluster which can even be personalised to the driver, depending on your mood.

Smart? The word doesn’t even do this car justice. And the best is yet to come.

Volvo promises that soon, V40 owners will be able to download a phone app which, among other things, will help you locate your car in the car park (including a digital compass to point you in the right direction); remotely lock or unlock the doors and windows; start the heater remotely on chilly days; check remotely how much fuel you have remaining as well as your average consumption, average speed and odometer reading and check on the car’s “health”, including brake fluid levels, coolant levels and oil pressure.

The mobile app will also include a driving journal to detail your trips over the previous 40 days (which can be downloaded for keeping your log books) – and, if someone tries to steal your Volvo, the remote system will send you an alert.

So much technology, so little time.

The V40 pushes the Swedish brand in a new direction with a hatchback instead of the previous V40 (wagon) and S40 (sedan) models in the Volvo line-up. That puts it into direct competition with the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s new A-Class, BMW’s evolving 1-Series and Audi’s smart new A3 models – all of which offer the convenience of a five-door hatch.

The Volvo will be offered with a variety of engine options – from frugal diesels to high-performance petrol engines – and with prices ranging from early $30ks to well beyond $50,000 for the flagship T5 R-Design.

Mind you, knowing exactly what you’re driving can be a bit tricky with Volvo’s rather strange new naming conventions.

For instance, there’s the T5 which, as you might expect, is a turbo-charged, 2.5-litre five-cylinder. Not so logical is the T4 (still five cylinders and turbo-charged, but 2-litres instead of 2.5); while the diesel variants are even trickier – the D4 is a 2-litre, five-cylinder oil-burner while the entry-level D2 is a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel.

Odd names aside, the engines give an impressive array of flexibility to the V40 lineup – from fast to frugal and a couple of choices in between.

We drove the T4 Luxury – sitting about mid-range in the V40 line-up with a price tag of $45,990 plus on road costs. The range starts at a much more affordable $34,990 for the entry-level D2 Kinetic model (with a thrifty turbo-diesel engine and six-speed manual transmission). Volvo’s now-familiar “Geartronic” six-speed automatic is standard on other models.

There’s no question the V40 represents solid value for money – the list of technology and features is long and impressive and the Volvo, as we’ve come to expect, exhibits high levels of finish and quality.

As with most European brands, the options list can add substantially to the purchase price.

To get the full range of safety aids on most models, for instance, you’ll need the $5000 Driver Support Pack – which adds Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Warning and Full Auto Brake; Blind-Sport Information System and Cross Traffic Alert, active high-beam, lane-keeping aid, lane-departure warning and road sign information. That’s an impressive amount of technology for that kind of outlay.

Adding to the value equation, Volvo will include free scheduled servicing for three years or 60,000km – giving it a handy edge over most Euro rivals. But it’s the technology that is likely to be the car’s biggest selling point. Central to that is the new Sensus infotainment system.

Using a TFT (thin film transistor) display, it allows the instrument panel to be reconfigured by the driver to display information most relevant to the situation – as well as a choice of themes. There’s a calming Elegance mode, green-tinted Eco mode (with fuel consumption and economy numbers boldly displayed) or Performance (with red background and more prominent tachometer and power gauge).

Sensus also includes a console-mounted touch-screen giving access to vehicle settings including City Safety (collision avoidance system), Active Cruise Control, driver alerts as well as settings for lighting, door mirrors, central locking and audio setup. Sensus also displays satellite navigation, reversing camera and DVD player.

Volvo has not yet specified when the phone app function will become available. Technology aside, the V40 is a bit of a mixed bag. We found the ride a bit harsh in our test machine, although this can be mitigated to a large degree by the adjustable suspension system allowing you to choose between three modes.

I’d suggest that if you’re choosing the firmest of those three settings, you should be prepared for a car that crashes over relatively minor road imperfections and feeds those bumps back through the cabin in a surprisingly harsh way.

The two-litre, five-cylinder turbo petrol engine in our test machine was punchy and responsive (132kW, 300Nm), but a bit on the thirsty side. Despite an official average of 7.6L/100km, we struggled to keep it in single figures during our test – which admittedly was mostly in urban conditions.

Volvo boasts its diesels deliver fuel-efficiency as low as 4.9L/100km for the D4 and a dazzling 4.2L/100km for the manual version of the baby D2.

Style-wise, I was in two minds about the V40. Whereas its predecessor was a crisply-styled, athletic-looking thing, the new V40 looks a little awkward from some angles – particularly at the rear where the big hatchback tends to look a bit bulky. That’s very much a personal thing, though – and on the plus side the cabin feels amply roomy, with decent cargo space in the rear hatch.

Our test vehicle was fitted with a full-length fixed panoramic sunroof, which helps add an airy, spacious feel to the cabin.

Storage spaces, as always with this marque, are cleverly thought out with ample spots for sunglasses, keys and remote garage openers. The cargo space even features a two-level luggage floor – giving additional space to stack grocery items or delicate cargo. Perfect for those trips to Ikea.

There is also a clever cargo mat to keep items secure in the back, as well as a load divider and load belt.

And, of course, being a Volvo it comes with a five-star safety rating – reflecting Volvo’s corporate plan that, by 2020, nobody should die or be seriously injured in one of their vehicles. Smart thinking, indeed.


DETAILS: Five-door, five-seat compact hatchback with five-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine; six-speed automatic transmission.

TECH STUFF: Two-litre, five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine produces 132kW, 300Nm; six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission with sports mode; front wheel drive.

FEATURES: Five-star safety rating, dynamic stability and traction control; City Safety frontal collision avoidance system; pedestrian airbag; blind spot indicator, lane departure warning and mitigation system; automatic parking assistant, rear view camera, satellite navigation; reversing cross-traffic alert, road sign recognition system; leather trim, climate control air-conditioning, electric windows and mirrors.

THIRST: 7.6L/100km (official combined figure).

VERDICT: More gadgets than Dick Smith’s.