What old Volvo's done is take to niches and, unlike the Audi et al, merge them into one rather than mercilessly exploit them. The top brass in Sweden realised that where two cars would suit a small group of buyers each, one could sort both out as well as enticing a whole new audience to its dealers. A smart move, if a little "all our eggs in one basket."
Volvo's design team has done a very good job with the V40, too. It's curvaceous in all the right places and doesn't have a single ungainly line on it. There are some neat touches in there -- the triple windscreen washers are a particular highlight, as is its shapely rear end.
As well as Swedish design, efficiency is a Volvo "thing." Hyper-efficient engines pepper the range, though if you're feeling particularly fruity you can opt for the auto-only T5 -- the closest thing you'll get to a V40 hot hatch (for now).
To drive the V40 is a delight. Its controls are all easy to use and it offers excellent visibility. Perfect, then, if you're an idiot or a bit slow on the uptake. Similarly, if you're looking for something engaging, you won't be let down. While the Volvo name may not be synonymous with massive grins in the twisties, the V40 will slap a wry smile on your face if you fancy some illicit fun.
Ride comfort is a particular highlight; it's very smooth over pretty much any road.
Volvo hopes that buyers will take a look at the VW Golf, Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class, and BMW 1 Series, then head over to a Volvo dealer to see what this new V40 thing is all about. I hope they do, too, because as an underdog in an arena of hardened hatch hounds, it's got enough fight in it. Is it enough to coax people away from ze Germans? Time will tell...