There’s only one small Swedish car on the market, and the Volvo V40hatchback is it. Now, for the 2017 model year, it has just been given some updates.
The Scandinavian brand’s compact five-door model has been around for a few years now, having launched back in 2013. It has seen some changes over the time it has been on sale in Australia – including the recent facelift including the “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlights – but the fact of the matter is that it has never garnered as high a proportion of sales as it potentially could have.
It accounts for about a fifth of the sales of the segment-leading Audi A3, though that car is admittedly available in both sedan and hatchback guises. Roughly 100 people buy a V40 each month, but that number could rise for those in the market for a sportier version of theVolvo hatch.
That’s because the brand has just added a new Polestar Performance Parts accessories pack for some V40 variants. Ours is the D4 Inscription diesel model (listed at $44,990 plus on-road costs), with the $9982.50 pack adding some sporty styling and some extra performance.
The usual outputs of the 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine in the D4 model are 140kW at 4250rpm and 400Nm from 1750-2500rpm – hardly grunt numbers to be taken lightly.
But with the engine software rejig of the Polestar Performance pack, those numbers jump to 147kW at a slightly lower 4000rpm, and peak torque is up by 10 per cent, to 440Nm, this time across a slightly narrower rev band of 1750-2250rpm.
The reasoning behind the recalibration, according to Volvo, is that Polestar’s engineers want to improve the driveability of the car: “They want the car to be optimised for racing, you want the car to be optimised for driving on streets and roads”.
Performance is improved as a result, with the 0-100km/h sprint pegged at 7.1 seconds (usually it’s 7.2sec). There’s no penalty to be paid in terms of claimed fuel consumption, either: the figure Volvo reckons you might see is 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres, but we saw a much, much higher 8.1L/100km over our time with the car.
It’s not just an engine tune, though: there’s also a stainless steel exhaust and a new sports air filter, while it also gets lowered suspension, stunning 19-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero (235/35) rubber, a rear spoiler, rear diffuser and black door mirrors.
As a result, this already punchy diesel hatchback is even, er, punchier, but the advantage is that you can access the urge of the engine where it naturally spends most of its time, that middle band.
Thing is: the chassis isn’t really up to harnessing all that torque. There’s some evidence of torque-steer when you stomp the throttle, and the wheels will spin, too, if you’re not careful when using your right foot.
Still, there’s an abundance of torque and the engine is nicely refined when it’s building speed. It is almost muted at highway speeds, but the engine is very noisy at lower speeds (at idle, and particularly when cold).
The gearbox can be a little sluggish, too: when you’re trying to explore the rev range, you might find the eight-speed auto has chosen a cog one or two ratios beyond what you will want. There are paddle-shifters, but the gearbox can still be slow to react when you pull one of those triggers. It feels as though there might be two too many gears for the engine.
As eluded to earlier, the dynamism of the Volvo isn’t quite as good as you might hope. Part of that comes down to the steering: it is quite good on centre, but if you wipe off a lot of speed into a tight corner, you’ll find you have to turn the wheel a lot more than you should have to. The turning circle when parking is worst than some big SUVs, too