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Volvo V40 T4 SE Nav

Click to view picture gallery“Diesel or petrol? Its a perennial
  coin toss, and the stats are now
  pretty much 50:50
in other words,
  half of all cars sold in the UK are
  now diesel...

THE RECEIVED WISDOM is that you should go for a petrol engine in a small car and a diesel in a big one. But a whole slew of recent and very clever technology from Mazda's SkyActiv to BMW's EfficientDynamics has radically changed the debate for larger cars.

If you don't do loads of miles, petrol power might actually work out better these days. While diesels drink less fuel, petrol versions cost less to buy, so you're likely to need to complete loads of miles in your diesel to make back the premium.

With Volvo, the price difference is closer than most. For example, the T4 SE petrol range starts from 23,730; the D4 SE diesel, with almost identical power, costs 23,845 — just 115 more. At that price, you'd make the difference back on fuel within just a few thousand miles.

So making it much more of a straight choice: should you choose diesel or petrol? That's the main reason I'm testing Volvo's T4 version of the V40 powered by a 177bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine. And after just a handful of miles I'm reminded of all the ways in which petrol-engined cars can be superior.

“In the real world
the T4’s average fuel
consumption was in
the low 40s —
less than the official
51.4mpg, yes, but still
pretty impressive for a
177bhp petrol-powered
car that hits 62mph
from standstill
in 7.7 seconds.
Volvo's T4 petrol-powered V40 just feels better to drive. It's much smoother — and far quieter — than diesels. It's quicker, too: a 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds beats every diesel in the V40 range hands down.

You're encouraged to use the power as well because the T4 engine, unlike most diesels, feels so happy at high revs. Okay, it may not have quite the grunt low down in the rev range that a diesel can offer, but unless you're towing a horse box the difference in practice really isn't huge. Thank the turbocharger strapped to the T4 engine for that.

It's not as if the petrol model is thirsty, either. Indeed, the figures on paper are quite remarkable: the T4 will average 51.4mpg while emitting just 129g/km of CO2. That means low tax for company car drivers and very little road tax to pay. In the real world I averaged fuel consumption in the low 40s — less than the claim, yes, but still pretty impressive for a petrol-powered car with 177bhp under the bonnet.

As for handling, the V40 feels very accomplished, with very safe manners that are typical of front-wheel drive cars, and a decent steering feel, too. The six-speed manual gearbox works slickly and with enough weight — although the gear knob fitted to my test car proved controversial in our household.

It was a kind of 3D-effect illuminated thing that looks far too bling-bling in the otherwise very tasteful interior. It forms part of the optional Active TFT instrument kit, which gives you three completely different graphic treatments for the gauges depending on whether you're driving for power or economy. Volvo's trademark 'floating' centre console remains, and very effective it looks too.

When it was launched, the V40 five-door hatchback was presented as the replacement for not only the old S40 saloon but the V50 estate as well. Since then, the V40 has effectively replaced the C30 three-door hatch, too (RIP C30). As a C30 owner, I'm pretty gutted that there's no longer a quirky three-door model in Volvo's range.

But although it's a much bigger car overall, the V40 does do a very good job of encapsulating the essence of what makes Volvo cool — a quality feel, airy Scandinavian interior design and a very usable spec. There are lots of safety features, too, like lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and low-speed crash detection.

So should you buy the T4 petrol over the D4 diesel? I reckon so. And if that's not enough to fulfil your unleaded cravings, Volvo will, of course, sell you a 251bhp T5 R-Design. — Chris Rees

Volvo V40 T4 SE Nav | 24,680
Top speed: 140mph | 0-62mph: 7.7 seconds | Average Test MPG: 43mpg
Power: 177bhp | Torque: 177lb ft | CO2 129g/km