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Has Volvo created the safest small car yet for families?

Tristan Honeywill

For people who want the reassurance of a large, traditional Volvo in a smaller, more modern package, the V40 hatchback could be ideal. A good-looking carthat features new technologies that aim to make car accidents history and driving more relaxing: what’s not to like?


How good is the crash protection for adults?

The 40mph crash in the video is the same as the main test conducted by Euro NCAP. It shows how the body structure and airbags work together to get the five star rating in Euro NCAP’s assessment. Looking at the data-sheet from the tests, what impressed me most was the fact that the V40 picked up maximum points in the side impact tests. The pole impact test is pretty intimidating.

It’s worth knowing also that Volvo has some extra in-house crash tests that it puts its cars through. Since the early 1990s they have been doing a higher speed “small offset frontal crash”. Basically a quarter of the car’s front clips a rigid barrier at 40mph. The extra speed increases the kinetic energy a lot and then concentrates it on the driver’s side of the car.

The V40 hasn’t been tested publicly yet, but it should do well. I’ll update when that happens.

High-speed emergency braking technology is worth getting. If you regularly brave rush hour motorway traffic, you’ll know how easily you can be caught off-guard by other drivers

How well will it protect the kids?

The NCAP crash tests using an 18-month and a three-year old dummy were fine. They were done using Volvo’s own-brand child seats, but any good quality child seat should be OK as Volvo’s side airbags drop nice and low. If you want, you can have a front airbag deactivation switch fitted as an option, so you can have baby next to you when driving. When I spoke to Volvo’s safety chief about this, he recommended that you keep the children in the back. Hard if it’s just you and a crying baby, but Volvo does sell a mirror you clip to the centre headrest so you can keep an eye on them via the rear view mirror.

The company also sells fully integrated dual-stage booster seats for older children as options. There’s probably less fuss with getting kids to use them. They also allow the seat belt to restrain the child more safely. You want the lower part to sit cross their hips, not their stomachs.


How the Volvo V40 pedestrian airbag saves lives (opens in new tab)

What if the car hits somebody? 

Pedestrian protection is also good, thanks to a clever bonnet airbag that comes as standard. It’s not the only reason to buy the V40, but if it ever deployed, your conscience will probably thank you. Euro NCAP’s tests confirmed that it reduces the chances of injury significantly. Available as a part of the optional Driver Support package, there’s also a Pedestrian Detection system that should make this less likely by warning you and activating the brakes.



How does it help prevent accidents? 

If you should daydream, sneeze or just misjudge things at the wrong moment, the V40 is looking out for you. A sensor monitors the speed at which the car is approaching objects so that if it detects a crash is likely, the seatbelts and airbags are ready and will match their response to the force of the impact.

Volvo’s City Safety system uses lidar to scan the road ahead to prevent collisions during distracted moments. For the V40, Volvo has upgraded the system so that it works at speeds of up to 30mph, instead of just 18mph.

More eyes on the road – camera and radars scan the area around the car
Road sign recognition keeps you aware of speed limits and potential hazards

Which are the best options to pick? 

The Driver Support Pack costs £1850 and is the best way of upgrading the car. You get a load of technologies that work together to make the car a safer and more relaxing environment. They range from an autonomous emergency braking system that works at speeds of 40-120mph to an advanced blind spot alert system that tracks fast-moving cars sneaking up from behind on the inside or outside lane.

Most work by making the driver more self-aware and are more guardian angel than back-seat driver. Driver Alert Control warns if you’re clearly tired and driving badly, flashing up a coffee cup icon when you need a break. The Road Sign Information system uses a camera to spot speed limits and then keeps them displayed on the dash for you. You can combine this with a Speed Alert function that also shows a warning on the speedo if you’re overdoing it, which is easy to do sometimes.

Sounds like too much information, but it’s fine. If you quite like the sat-nav alerting you to speed cameras, you’ll probably appreciate all this too. 

Best bit of technology?

It’s the high-speed emergency braking thingy. A radar watches the road ahead and if the car risks hitting another vehicle, the system alerts the driver and then automatically applies the brakes. It can’t promise to avoid the accident if the difference between the two cars’ speeds is more than 21mph, but it can help.

I haven’t tested the Volvo system, but I got to try out Honda’s version of this several years ago. They’ll work slightly differently, but are well worth the money. If you regularly brave rush hour motorway traffic, you’ll know how quickly the situation can change sometimes.

Can you recommend this car to friends and family? 

Certainly. The V40 sets new standards for small car safety. With the Driver Support and the R-Design packs fitted, you can feel good about driving something intelligent and stylish that also makes the roads a little safer for everybody. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Mercedes A-Class measures up.


Safety tips

Buyer’s guide:

  • If you have children, consider the integrated booster seats
  • The comprehensive Driver Support Pack costs £1850. You’ll also need to order the TFT display (£350), and Rear Park Assist (£325).
  • Winter Illumination Pack costs £1250. It includes Active Bending Xenon Lights and energy-efficient LED running lights. You’ll also need to order the Rain Sensor and Automatic Wipers (£155) however.
  • Volvo On Call, a two-year package that includes automatic emergency calls, stolen vehicle tracking and remote door unlocking, costs £550.
  • Also consider: Mercedes A-Class, Ford Focus

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