V40 looks more like a stretched hatchback than a lifestyle estate car. It sits low and squat on the road. Tastefully sculpted body panels and interesting creases on its flanks help mark the latest Volvo out as a rival to premium compact cars such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. The rear is very pretty and there are even hints of the classic P1800's 'hook' in the rear doors.

Inside, the cabin features very comfortable seats, some lovely illumination and, of course, the familiar Volvo switchgear. The standard car gets a conventional speedometer dial but on higher models there is TFT (virtual) instrumentation for the driver. This changeable mode screen shows the most innovation, e.g. the speed display only lights up the speeds in and around the velocity you are travelling at. You can select from three slightly gimmicky display modes, namely Elegance, Eco and Performance - where the back lighting turns red and the speedo displays the revs on the dial and the speed in large digits in the centre of the dial. The rear seats offer enough leg and headroom for up to six footers, but best avoid the optional big sunroof if your passengers are fully formed adults.

Sadly, like so many new cars these days, there is no spare wheel as standard, just an inflation repair kit - run-flat tyres are not even optional. The boot holds 335 litres to the glass-line (402 max) and up to 1,032 with the rear seats down.

The big-selling version in Ireland will be powered by a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder 'D2' entry-level diesel engine. The 115bhp front-wheel drive car has a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. On the road the tax band 'A' five-door car makes quiet, efficient and very green progress (94g/CO2) and it pulls well, too. Higher output diesels (D3/D4) and petrol variants (T3/T4 & T5-yet to come) are available in the range, but for now only the lower-powered variants will be sold in Ireland. All versions have stop/start technology as standard.

Under the skin the chassis is a mixture of old Ford Focus (from when Ford owned Volvo) and S60. V40 feels wider on the road than it is. There is a confident feel to the cabin, plus the driving experience feels premium. In our left-hand drive test cars the driver gets decent footwell space, but the right side footwell is a little tight - so we will wait and see how well-placed the pedals will be in RHD cars. The gear lever could do with a shorter throw to make the experience more sporty. Overall, V40 stops and goes pretty well.

V40 gets some new safety gadgetry such as a pop-up bonnet with pedestrian airbag. This works via seven sensors in the bumper area (using similar accelerometers that you'd find in a smart phone). The airbag only deploys at speeds between 20km/h and 50km/h if it detects a collision with a pedestrian's legs. Volvo's 'City Safety' anti low-speed collision system is standard, too.

Prices start at just under €27,000. Ireland will get the D2, D3 diesels and T3 petrol version. There are three main specification levels - ES, SE and SE LUX - plus there is a mind-boggling number of additional 'packs' to help personalise your V40.

V40 is a genuine alternative to an A3 or 1 Series.

Michael Sheridan