Test Drives

Volvo V40 R-Design review

R-Design is nothing new to Volvo, having been around at least since the 2011 version of the now phased-out Volvo C30 T5. That was sort of Volvo’s first hot hatch, packing 230bhp and upgraded chassis and body bits, but the C30 was always a little too left-field to be considered a proper hatch.

It was a great idea, making a Volvo hot hatch – associations with the horrendous Twilight movie series and Edward Cullen aside – but fell short in execution, with the braking, ‘nine-tenths’ dynamics and fuel consumption from the old five-cylinder engine making it only a choice for the truly impassioned (or enraptured).

But here’s a sweet Swede (nationality, not the vegetable) that you don’t have to read three novels or make yourself all cross-eyed to love – the V40 R-Design. We tested the basic V40, which also happens to be Volvo’s first small hatchback, at its international launch earlier this year and it proved itself to be a worthy opponent to the juggernaut that is the VW Golf.

Pricing and competitiveness issues meant the basic V40 isn’t on sale in Singapore, but local dealer Wearnes Automotive has instead focused on making the V40 stand out by selling ‘specials’. The first model is the Cross Country edition, with off-road styling, slightly higher suspension and bash-plates to imply toughness, it makes a compelling competitor to anything from a Mini Countryman to Nissan Juke or VW Cross Polo.

The R-Design is the second V40 to go on sale here and its target audience is a little more direct – people who like to be, or want to be associated with, going fast. To the latter effect, the R-Design gets a body kit which comprises of side sills and a contrasting rear-diffuser with twin tailpipes.

The front end gets a different grille, R-Design badge, different DRLs and an aggressive matte black spoiler which Volvo dubs ‘the mustache’, although it’s certainly more Mario Kart than Mario Bros. On top of that there’s a panoramic sunroof, rear spoiler, 18-inch matte black ‘Ixion’ wheels and chrome accents on the windows and side mirros. It all adds a lovely edge to the V40’s already interesting, handsome appearance and when doused in ‘Rebel Blue’, Volvo’s signature performance colour, you get a Volvo with the sort of in-your-face visual presence as never before. Before this, nothing short of an 850 BTCC touring car could make people do the bendy neck and roar off beside you at traffic lights for no apparent reason.

If you wish to join them, the 1.6-litre 180bhp engine with 240bhp of torque is well up to the task. Mated to a six-speed dual-clutch geabox (both Ford-derived tech) it puts the car firmly in the ‘quick’ category, although 8.4 for the hundred is, in this day, on the lower end of the scale for truly hot hatchbacks. It does sound decent too, with a little rort and snort.

The car gets the ‘Sport Chassis’ option, which includes lowered and stiffer suspension as well as a larger and more robust steering column. Both of these improvements are obvious in the driving experience, with the car significantly more agile and flat than the literally-taller Cross Country model. There’s a certain edge to the proceedings now, although it’s not quite darty or rabidly quick but it turns faster, rolls less and the suspension is firm, but not unyielding. On the scale of lukewarm to searing hot hatches, it lies somewhere toward the middle, but this cool customer is not by any means slow.

Where it gains points is on the generous equipment load-out. Being a V40, it’s got five doors and hatch back for good practicality, although the boot is a bit small (335-litres is below the class average of 350-litres), the seats do fold down for 1,032-litres in total. Other nice touches include the double-floor boot, remote fold down seats and even the rear bench head rests tuck away to improve driver visibility. The V40 is still the only car in its class to pack an active instrument display, an 8.0-inch TFT system, which comes with a special R-Design exclusive blue ‘elegance’ theme, although you will likely bung it in ‘dynamic’ with the big digital speedometer most of the time. Other touches include R-Design specific sport seats, centre console trim, steering wheel and gear shifter. Volvo’s standard infotainment system with the expected trimmings (USB/Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming) is also on board, although it lacks navigation.

Of course, being a Volvo, the V40 has a safety net other cars can only dream about. Besides the usual structural strength, electronic nannies and airbag parade, there’s also City Safety which stops you from having a fender bender if you aren’t paying attention at speeds below 50km/h, plus active bending xenon lights track your way into corners. Optionally if you want you can stack on things like Passenger/Cyclist detection, a passenger airbag, lane keeping aids and active cruise control.

In the history of cars, there’s plenty of them that inspire and encourage anti-social behaviour (anything with ‘dynamic’ or ‘sporty’ in the marketing materials, really), so in this age of Increased Responsibility, a hot hatch with a conscience is something that really is a proper selling point.

Volvo V40 R-Design


Engine 1,596cc, 16V, turbo in-line 4
Power 180bhp at 5,700rpm
Torque 240Nm at 1,600-5,000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 225km/h
0-100km/h 8.4 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.1L/100km
CO2 142g/km
Price $205,000 with COE

Also Consider: Mercedes-Benz A 250 Sport, Volkswagen Golf GTI

Photos by Derryn Wong

about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong