A PIPING hot sauna is a great way to relax after a stressful day. The option of rolling around in the snow and beating yourself with birch branches immediately afterwards is less appealing. The same goes for eating fish. You can’t get anything tastier than a freshly fried haddock supper on a Friday night, but it’s understandable to turn your nose up at a plateful of its dried salted distant cousin.
As far as I’m concerned, the devil inspires the desire to “go shopping” and vast retail malls like the blue and yellow Ikea monsters are simply cathedrals designed for the worship of his work. So, while we’re all northern Europeans, there is something distinctly different between us and the nine and a half million inhabitants of Sweden.
They’re not all blonde, blue-eyed beauties either and although it seems like stating a stereotype, they do have a stunning sense of design. Venture into that Ikea store if you dare and you’ll see that even the ordinary stuff of modern living can not only have a name it’s impossible to get your tongue around, it can also be incredibly stylish.
It may be all that fresh air, something in the water, or the winter months when the sun doesn’t rise, but Swedes are clever at making things work well, and look good while they’re doing it.
I was struck with these thoughts while behind the wheel of the latest piece of kit from Volvo, which since the demise of Saab, is now the only car maker in the country, even if it is now in the hands of a Chinese parent company. The new V40 is being shown to potential customers for the first time in showrooms this weekend as a replacement for the outgoing S40 and V50 models.
The Volvo people call it a premium five-door hatchback which unfortunately doesn’t fit into their established S (saloon) or V (estate) categories so they’ve gone with the V for this car although even they admit it’s something of a confusing compromise. What is sure is that this is a vital car for Volvo, its most important model in the last 20 years, because in a challenging marketplace, it’s aiming to go head-to-head with the big brands such as the Ford Focus, VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra, Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series to take a slice of their action.
They’re confident because they believe there’s room in there for another premium car and can come close to 10,000 sales a year to people who want the individual qualities of style, sophistication and most prominently, safety for which Volvo is renowned.
They’re certainly pushing the safety line more than ever with some of the most advanced features to be fitted as standard in a car in this range. The City Safety system which will stop the car if it predicts a collision now works at speeds up to 31mph instead of only 19mph and there’s now an optional rear cross-traffic detector, which alerts you to oncoming vehicles when reversing in limited visibility areas like supermarket car parks. There’s also collision warning, pedestrian detection and uniquely, the world’s first pedestrian airbag under the bonnet is fitted as standard across the range. Bluetooth for mobile phones is also installed in every model.
Also, rather than the common feeling that the car is cleverer than you as the driver, they want to make sure you are always in control so that as you take your place in the cockpit you’ll sense the car is “designed around you”. Certainly that’s how it feels…. everything’s very crisp, stylish and functional although I did find it took a while to navigate my way round the various controls. That’s something that would soon become second nature to an everyday user.
I liked the digital instrument panel which changes background colour according to which driving mode you’re in, from Elegant and Eco to Performance. The “floating” central console has become a standard feature in the larger models in the range and oozes Swedish style and design. Passenger space in the rear is what you might call neat and although I’m a few inches under six feet, I still found it a wee bit tight to get in and out of the back. The rear boot space is good with a handy double floor for storage and security. Externally, the lower stance is assertive on the road with a strong front end, prominent side creases and sculpted rear.
There are three diesel and two petrol engines available just now and a larger T5 producing 245 bhp should be here later in the year. The official economy figures for the 1,600cc diesel are impressive but in the test car I averaged much less than the claimed 74 mpg over about 200 miles of varied driving and I felt that get-up- and-go had been less of a priority for the engineers than lightness on the pocket. Still, if you’re heading for a relaxing spell in the sauna, a day at the furniture store or worst of all an unappetising meal of dried fish, what’s the rush?
CAR Volvo V40 D2 SE
PERFORMANCE Max speed 118 mph; 0-62 mph 11.7 secs
MPG 74 combined
CO2 EMISSIONS 99g/km
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 27 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 7 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: East