The last few days were very interesting for us at Valve, with two very interesting luxury hatchbacks parked in our garage. While we did spend quite some time with the BMW 1-Series and Volvo V40 individually, both Europeans at the end of the day are the nemesis in the same segment. They are also the most powerful in their segment and it was natural to pit the best against each other and that’s exactly what we did. Promising lots of power and performance with ample of European luxury, we pit the 1-Series and Volvo V40 in a face-to-face battle. So which luxury hatchback offers the most worth for your money? Read on to find out.
How Do They Look?
Our test cars came in very interesting and young colour options. The V40 arrived in a shimmering blue while the 1-Series turned up in a burnt shade of orange and ideally both shades are attention grabbers. However, the styling makes all the difference here and the Volvo V40 wins this round by leaps and bounds. If arriving in style is your thing, there is absolutely no doubt the V40 does it best in this shootout. The Swedish hatchback has panache, attitude and the right character lines featuring the wide grille, sweptback headlights and those trademark Christmas tree tail lights. In fact, we feel it looks much better than any other Volvo on sale save for the new XC90 and is exactly the kind of model a young buyer would like to be seen in.
On the other side of the spectrum, the BMW 1-Series sits low, feels a bit odd proportioned and means business with its looks. It is the only offering from the Bavarian automaker that looks understated and happens to look a tad bit mundane when parked against the flamboyant V40. The thing is if the 1-Series will pass by, you will not turn around to check out the car once. Even if you did, odds are you will shun it thinking it’s the Volkswagen Polo for the very similar tail lights. Interestingly, somebody did pull up to check out the car if it was a longer version of the Polo, having missed the badge on the tailgate.
From 14 to 45 year olds, each made sure to turn back and take a look at the V40 (not to forget the regular thumbs up we received from the spectators). In fact, this is the most attention we’ve had since we drove the MINI Cooper D five-door a couple of months back. Now that says something about the Swede, doesn’t it? The Volvo is also bigger than the 1-er in dimensions and commands a more respectable road presence in comparison, which makes you want to be seen in the car more often. The other interesting bit on the Swede is the R-Design package that adds those sporty bumpers, side skirts and 5-spoke alloy wheels. Is it worth the extra effort? Absolutely!
How Is The Cabin?
While the exteriors may not be fair to the Beamer, the German automaker does manage to justify the interiors with a more pleasing cabin. Being a base variant, it did miss out on a couple of features or two but retained on all the essentials. The V40, on the other hand, was loaded to the brink with features and gets a really interesting cabin. The 1-er gets a 3- Series inspired cabin and that works extremely well as you are transported into a bigger car well before you know. While space may not the cabin’s forte, the 1-er hass certainly an ergonomically sound cabin with all the switches at the right place. The all black dashboard and leather upholstered seats give that sporty feel but it is the large windows that make the cabin feel really spacious.
The Volvo V40 also gets a layout translated from the bigger models on the hatchback. It is a familiar space with several details that help make it stand out. On the outset, ingress and egress is more convenient on the V40 while the seats are well cushioned too. Volvo cars get a rather different centre console when compared to other European offerings and one thing you like about is, that all switches fall right on your fingers. What we particularly liked on the V40 over the 1-Series is the digital instrument cluster that has a multitude of setting on offer. Configure it any way you like and there is hardly anytime when the system will disappoint you. In contrast, the old school cluster on the 1-Series feels pretty basic but more than makes up for it with the iDrive system and the free standing display that falls right under the driver’s field of view. You also get a dual zone climate control unit on the Beamer that chills the cabin completely.
This is where the V40 lacks substance as the integrated infotainment display is a tad too small for our liking and we would have liked the bigger unit, as seen on the Cross Country. We also liked the leather covered door pads, dashboard and soft plastics used inside the cabin that just gives an extremely pampered feel inside the Volvo. Rear seat space is decent on the 1-Series while the V40 offers decent headroom and legroom. The latter lacks large windows in the interest of a coupe roofline, which does restrict natural light inside the all black cabin. Nevertheless, the V40 comes with a panoramic sunroof that makes things easier.
Talking about boot capacity, the larger dimensions of the Volvo V40 work in favour of the car here as the hatch can accommodate two mid-sized suitcases or large bags in comfort. Practical much? You bet. The 1-Series falters here and at best can gobble up two mid-size bags in relative comfort. Both models offer the basics in the form of Bluetooth, AUX and USB connectivity that works flawlessly, while the seats are more cushioned on the Volvo; although BMW provides more supportive seats that keep you in place around the corners. All in all, it is pretty much neck-to-neck between the 1-Series and V40’s interiors, but we do tend to slide a little towards the Beamer because of the iDrive unit.
How Do They Drive?
The V40 and 1-Series are one of the most powerful cars in the segment, but the real differentiating factor is the wheels to which power is sent. While the Volvo gets a Front Wheel Drive (FWD) layout, the 1-Series keeps up with the BMW tradition using a Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) configuration. As a petrol head, this makes all the difference in the world that you can ever think of. This is the auto equivalent of the USA and Russia if you would say so.
But no, the difference isn’t a world war in the making, and instead offers two very different yet driver friendly setups. The 1-Series is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel that produces 145 PS and 320 Nm of torque, whereas the 2.0-litre unit on the V40 is a 5-cylinder unit that makes 152 PS and 350 Nm of torque. Clearly, both the luxury hatchbacks are quite loaded with power, and offer ample of torque to play around with. However, the BMW feels more responsive with the RWD setup and a lighter kerb weight when compared to the V40’s larger dimensions that take a toll on the performance and you do feel the Volvo struggling to get past when going head-to-head.
In fact, the BMW 1-Series is lighter than the Mercedes A-Class as well in the segment and is quicker in reaching from nought to 100 kmph in 9.0 seconds. In comparison, the Volvo V40 does the same run to the tonne in 9.2 seconds (Both figures were tested by our team). Both cars can reach a speedometer indicated 200 kmph easily even though the Beamer has a higher top speed. Cruising speeds are anything between 130-150 kmph. The 1-Series redlines at 4700 RPM while the V40 redlines at 5000 RPM, the latter though offers better city drive-ability with comparatively lesser turbo lag. Torque kicks in after 1700 RPM on both models.
What further differentiates both luxury hatchbacks are the transmission options available. While the BMW 1-Series uses an 8-speed TipTronic automatic unit, the Volvo V40 makes do with a 6-speed torque converter unit. Now, the thumb rule says ‘more the merrier’ and that is the case here as well. The Beamer’s 8-speed box shifts cogs faster and is an absolutely lovable unit. While it does not offer paddle shifters, you do get a manual mode, which holds the gears at redline. In comparison, the V40’s 6-speed offers commendable shifts but feels a tad bit slow over the Beamer. It gets a manual mode too and will upshift as soon as you redline. The ‘M’ mode does make the shifts quicker with little to complain about.
Lastly, the one and very important factor that sets the BMW 1-Series superior over the Volvo are multiple driving options. The 1-er comes with Comfort, Eco Pro, Sport and Sport+ modes with switchable traction control that lets you suck maximum performance out of the engine. Want to go sideways? Switch the traction control off and the Beamer turns into an untamed performer. It gets disappointing when you can’t do that with the Volvo despite the kind of power on offer. Nevertheless, fuel efficiency levels are higher on the V40 returning an average of 13-15 kmpl while the 1-Series is marginally behind returning between 12-14 km/l.
How Do They Handle?
We’ve pretty much established that the Volvo V40 is a well-packaged hatchback. It looks stellar, has a spacious cabin with the right tech on board and offers good performance too. However, handling just is BMW’s home turf. The 1-Series has all the key attributes fueled by the Bavarian that makes it categorically better than the V40. Remember we explained how the cars are propelled by a different set of wheels? This is where it helps. The 1-Series comes with 50:50 weight distribution that shows how well tuned the chassis is and is eager to jump into the corners. Being lower in height, body roll is inexistent on the Beamer and just keeps you on track even the tightest of turns. Adding to the concoction is the very responsive steering wheel that weighs up nicely and offers relentless feedback. It is also one of the true blue RWD cars sold today in the country that know a thing or two about sticking the tail out. The beauty lies in the fact on the 1-er, you can do it more than a couple of times without having to feel guilty about.
That said, the Volvo V40 isn’t a distant runner-up. Sure the handling isn’t as sharp as the Beamer, but the V40 is a sharp handler in its own might. Mind you, the chassis on the Volvo is borrowed from the Ford Focus, which is one of the best handling hatchbacks in the world. The V40 does falter from body roll due to the larger proportions while understeer is another factor when pushed too hard. The steering wheel though, is quite responsive on the V40 as well, but does not emote the same kind of dynamics as the Bavarian does in this department.
Having said that, high-speed stability is better on the Volvo while the BMW has a tendency to feel a bit bouncy bit at times. Both cars are stiffly sprung but the tubeless tyres on the V40 help improve the ride quality inside the cabin. The Beamer gets run-flat tyres that ensure maximum grip at all times but do compromise on cabin comfort. Braking is exceptionally good on both models with a plethora of electronic aids kicking in to ensure that you stop where you intended. Having driven both cars back to back, the V40 offers better pedal bite when compared to the 1-Series.
The cabin insulation too is much better on the V40 that completely disconnects you from the outside world, with the windows rolled up. Something we witnessed on the XC60 as well. The 1-Series falters with the tyre noise creeping inside the cabin while the engine too gets audible in the higher RPM range. The latter though is not something we are sad about. Surprisingly, the V40’s 5-cylinder feels extremely refined despite being an older motor and we seldom felt it was a diesel thanks to the remarkable insulation on the hatchback with little rattles translating inside the cabin.
Are They Safe?
A rhetorical question we suppose, but we will still break it down for you. The Volvo V40 and BMW 1-Series, both have scored full 5 stars on the Euro NCAP safety norms and adhere to all the essential and stringent safety norms globally possible. The basics including multiple airbags, ABS, Brake Assist and ESP are common to both models, while Volvo goes a notch further to provide the now famous City Safety system that automatically applies brakes within city limits in case of an impending collision. BMW has kitted the 1-er with corner braking control, which understandably so is where you would want to spend more of your time. Like all its models, Volvo imports the V40 as a CBU in the country, whereas the 1-Series is locally assembled at BMW’s Chennai facility with 50% of local content going in.
Which One Should I Buy?
As much as we may have debated about both the hatchbacks throughout the review, the verdict boils down to this very question. The conundrum here isn’t about the price but satisfaction to the heart. The BMW 1-Series and Volvo V40 are very different products that are targeted towards two similar buyers but with different needs. Yes, the Beamer is fun to drive, comes in an RWD configuration, has a more responsive steering wheel and better UI, but it also compromises on space and even with the comprehensive facelift introduced a couple of weeks ago, it isn’t the best-looking luxury hatchback out there.
In contrast, the Volvo V40 is everything from being fun to drive, gets a decently spacious cabin, around the same amount of features and a panoramic sunroof; because that always works. Plus, it looks absolutely stellar irrespective of the colour you opt for (the R-Design package is worth the extra moolah!). So, if we had to choose between both the hatchbacks, the Volvo would seem most obvious being the more practical off the two; but for a driving enthusiast with a knack of going sideways, the BMW is still the king of the road in this segment.