Volvo V40 D3 R-Design

Volvo V40 R-Design Volvo 471501

 

By Tim Saunders

Laser radar.

It sounds like something off a sci-fi thriller but we’re actually talking about technology fitted to Volvo cars, those traditionally staid and dull vehicles, favoured by the flat cap brigade.

Today’s hip and trendy Volvos are anything but and are packed with sophisticated technology that keeps the brand at the forefront of car design and manufacture. Its laser radar systems are a key ingredient.

I’m testing the V40 D3 R-Design, a performance five door hatchback and it’s fitted with an intelligent yet simple to operate cruise control. As you might expect this keeps the car travelling at the desired speed but unlike most systems it also measures the distance of the car in front. This ensures that it keeps the Volvo at a safe distance behind. It does this by automatically braking and accelerating thanks to the information relayed by its clever laser radar. This distance can be changed from reasonably close to quite far away depending on driving conditions.

In theory this is a valuable tool that should mean that the driver can relax. Not so though. My test takes place in torrential downpours and high winds and I discover that the radar is not infallible. This becomes particularly noticeable while at 70mph round a bend on a dual carriageway. The Volvo is in the outside lane but on approaching the bend there is a car on the inside and the radar picks this up and brakes abruptly despite there being no cars in front of me. This annoys me and I cancel the function. On another occasion we are on a straight road and high winds cause a flashing red warning bar on the driver’s side of the dashboard to light up – accompanied by a really loud beep - for absolutely no reason whatsoever. My sleeping children wake up. High side winds seem to completely throw the radar and despite there being no traffic in front the Volvo brakes sharply from 70mph to 50mph.

That said this cruise control is quite impressive when you bear in mind that it can be set at say 50mph and if a sharp incline appears the resulting gear change does not cancel out the cruise control. Often this is the case in many other vehicles.

Another safety feature is the Blind Spot Information System. There’s a little light on the inside of the wing mirror that glows red whenever a vehicle appears in the blind spot. This is useful because the design is prone to blind spots especially at the rear making it a little awkward to reverse but there are helpful sensors fitted that bleep to alert the driver of nearby obstacles.

As a driver’s car the Volvo is engaging and the R-Design model, which comes with big alloys, a smooth power delivery for a diesel and a low chassis, corners really well. To give it a good run I drive it to Sandbanks, Poole, West Stafford near Dorchester and a lovely little village near Didcot, Oxford. All are places we had not visited before, so why not? With an average fuel consumption of over 65mpg it will easily cover over 600 miles on its 60 litre tank. It is fitted with engine start/stop. These relatively long journeys in generally heavy lashing rain allow me to experience the car in the worst conditions. At one point it rains so heavily that even with the wipers on the fastest speed it is impossible to see and thankfully traffic eventually slows to a crawl.

I find the leather sports seats too hard and not supportive enough for my lower back and there is a disappointing lack of a footrest for the driver’s left foot. I struggle with operating the heating because both left and right sides of the car are operated from a single dial near the driver – the switch that’s incorporated has to be pushed once for left and again for right. It’s all a bit confusing for a simple soul when they’re focusing on the road so luckily my wife is there to operate the more technical things.

In the back eldest daughter Harriett quickly learns how to operate the electric windows (while sister Heidi dozes) but it is easy to lock them from the front. This time I remember to engage the child lock on her door.

The boot is large enough for our single pushchair.

This 150bhp 2-litre diesel is a gutsy car that has enough power when required. Finished to a high standard the sound of the engine can be heard on tick over, which does alert the occupants to the fact that they’re in a diesel.

Facts at a glance:

Volvo V40 D3 R-Design

New price: £31,780

0-60mph: 9.1 secs

Top speed: 130mph

Economy: 65.7mpg

Fuel capacity: 60 litres

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