The geekdaddy and I have recently been going through the exercise of buying a new car. The geekdaddy’s car is now 8 years old, has done around 100,000 miles, and is going to start costing us money soon, I am sure. Plus, with the price of petrol ever increasing, driving two very fuel-inefficient cars around is starting to take its toll on the family budget. So it was time to consider our options. At the moment we have two Renault Scenics – the geekdaddy’s is a “normal” one and I have the Grand with the extra two seats in the boot. The motivation behind both these purchases was that at the time what we needed was a decent sized, reasonably priced family car. But now it seems rather wasteful for me to be commuting 40 miles per day, three days per week in a car that does less than 30 miles to the gallon, and so we decided to part exchange the older Scenic against something new, smaller and more fuel efficient for me, keeping the Grand Scenic for those times that we need the extra space.
It was a good plan, but I felt a bit overwhelmed with options. I had no pre-conceived ideas of what car I want to buy (although the geekson really wanted me to get a mini, as it’s the only car he can recognise!). All I knew is that I want it to be very fuel efficient and have a Euro NCAP 5 star rating. And I wanted some nice toys and gadgets as well. But that still left my options very wide open. Indeed, I felt like I’ve never had such a free choice of car before, and I struggled to know where to begin.
So when I attended BlogCamp Manchester last year I was delighted to learn that Volvo were one of the sponsoring brands, and I collared one of the PR ladies to ask all about the fuel efficiency and safety ratings of the latest Volvo models. We had a very long conversation about the cars, which actually resulted in my missing an entire BlogCamp session to continue the conversation (it was the one about food blogging though, so I didn’t feel too bad!). Lots of people at BlogCamp were talking to the Volvo team about their larger cars, but I was keen to hear about their smaller car, the V40. One thing led to another, and the Volvo team arranged for us to borrow a V40 R-Design for a week to see how it fitted our family.
When the V40 was delivered I was initially apprehensive about it. It’s smaller than the Grand Scenic, and doesn’t have the raised driving position that I’m used to with my MPV. It was also a manual transmission, and I haven’t driven a manual for about 15 years! However, the first time I got in and drove, all my fears faded away. The V40 had a comfortable drive, good visibility, and I had no problems at all adjusting to the manual gearbox.
With a Euro NCAP rating of 5 stars the V40 certainly has the safety rating I was looking for. But more than that – I have personal experience of how safe Volvos are. When I was a teenager I was a passenger in a bus that was involved in an accident with a Volvo – the car pulled out in front of us, and ended up sandwiched between the bus and a brick wall – the driver got out and walked away with cuts and bruises. I was the only passenger on the bus who ended up bleeding, because I was the one looking out of the other window, didn’t see it coming and got thrown forward, hitting the metal bar in front of the seat and putting my teeth through my lip!
Continuing on in the safety theme, the V40 that we borrowed was equipped with a large number of safety features. I loved the blind spot indicators – little lights near the wing mirrors that lit up if someone was in your blind spot, and flashed if you were indicating with someone in your blind spot. And it had a very clever camera system that watched for road signs and showed on the dashboard the most recent speed limit sign it had spotted – not foolproof, but generally a useful reminder. This camera system also kept an eye on the dotted lines dividing the lanes, and if it noticed you drifting out of lane it would very gently nudge the steering wheel and put you back in your lane. This felt weird the first time I experienced it, but I soon got used to it. It did highlight to us how often the geekdaddy tries to change lane without indicating though!
I recorded an audio blog entry whilst travelling in the V40, and in this you can hear me talk about some of those features:
It’s been a while since I’ve driven a diesel car, and things have definitely improved in that department. You really wouldn’t know the V40 D2 WAS a diesel – it was nippy, responsive and there wasn’t any excess engine noise. And with a combined fuel efficiency of 83.1 miles per gallon it definitely ticks my “fuel efficient” box as well – a huge change from the 27 mpg I get out of my Grand Scenic! In terms of cabin space, there was a good amount in the V40. Both the kids’ car seats both fitted in the back easily (the geekson is still in a stage 1 seat, the geekdaughter just has a booster seat). We liked the design of the back seats which included a little fold-down arm rest in the middle complete with cup holders.
An advantage of keeping the car for a week was that I could use it for all my usual weekly activities. It handled my 20 mile each way commute quite happily, and I made full use of the Bluetooth-enabled stereo to play music off my phone whilst I was commuting. I also did our weekly supermarket shop, and comfortably fitted everything into the boot:
But by FAR and away the coolest feature on the Volvo V40 we borrowed was its auto-parallel-park feature. I’ve never been able to parallel park – I passed my driving test before it was a requirement, and I’ve managed to get away with not having to do it all that often since then! So I was really keen to test out this feature – possibly the geekiest gadget I’ve ever seen in a car. The operation is really simple – you press the button to tell the car you want to parallel park. As you drive along the V40s cameras scan the roadside for a suitably sized space. When it finds one it indicates on the dashboard, gets you to drive forward until you are correctly positioned, then tells you to stop, engage reverse gear and drive slowly, taking your hands off the steering wheel! The car proceeds to turn the steering wheel for you, and positions you correctly into the space. It’s extremely impressive – look at this video of the system in action:
Over the course of a week the Volvo V40 completely won over both the geekdaddy and myself and we were very sad to see it go. Unfortunately the one aspect of the V40 which didn’t fit our requirements and which meant we wouldn’t be putting it on our shortlist was the price. The V40 starts from £18,995 (on the road price). The R-Design starts from £21,295, and the V40 we had with all the options fitted would retail at £28,795. I’ve worked out that my budget available will stretch to about £15,000, which I think means I’ll be looking for a smaller car than the V40. If I had the cash though I would buy one in a heartbeat!
Disclosure: I was loaned the Volvo V40 R-Design for a week for review purposes. Some of the features mentioned in this review are optional extras and not fitted as standard on the R-Design.