Volvo's 2-litre V40 T4 R-Design is hotter than most hot hatches
Volvo V40: V is for verve Drive the Volvo V40 T4 with concentration and conviction and the car will reward you with a sports car-rivalling performance. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

In yet another example of how smaller engines may not always be cleaner engines, Volvo Cars has replaced its 1.5-litre V40 T2 with a beefier 2-litre engine.

It turns out that the bigger engine allows the V40 wagon to fall within the Vehicular Emissions Scheme's C1 banding ($10,000 tax surcharge), while the smaller unit would attract a $20,000 surcharge in C2.

That is because the 1.5-litre produces more particulate matter, an insidious pollutant which is a serious health hazard.

Driving enthusiasts will not complain, since the T4 is a significantly sportier car than the T2. And even though it has a bigger displacement, its stated fuel consumption is identical at 5.5 litres/100km. The T4 also emits a bit less CO2 than the T2 (128g/km versus 129g/km).

In real life, fuel economy is noticeably higher, which calls into question the CO2 figure.

The only thing is that the 2-litre falls into the usually pricier Category B COE and attracts a higher road tax annually.

But for the sake of lungs everywhere, driving the T4 is worth the slightly higher financial penalty. In any case, any hardship is soon forgotten at the wheel.

The T4 is full of verve, with 187bhp of maximum power attainable at a relatively low 4,700rpm. But it is its peak torque of 300Nm that makes the car a veritable rocket in the urban landscape.

From 1,300rpm, its diesel-like shove manifests itself with the subtlety of a prize fighter's punch. Squeeze the throttle a bit too hard and you will feel the massive torque trying to wrest control of the helm while, at the same time, hurtling the compact Volvo wagon forward like a toy boat in a storm drain. Depending on your frame of mind, that can be very thrilling or very scary.

Despite its compactness, the V40 can come across as a tad ham-fisted because of the tremendous force exerted on its front wheels. It does not help that its steering is a little feathery and the front section appears a little floaty at high speed.

But drive it with concentration and conviction and the car will reward you with a sports carrivalling performance. It is thoroughly brisk and effortless, even if its 6.9-second century sprint, while decent, does not make headlines.

Keep your right foot planted and the T4's uncommon gutsiness shines through. You will be amazed at how relentless this 2-litre is.

Blasting up the Benjamin Sheares Bridge with the speedo rising unabatedly with the gradient makes you think how wonderful this car would be on Malaysia's North-South Highway.

In Sport mode, it is even more effortless. Driving in this mode here, you cannot imagine needing anything more powerful.

Part of this unusual ease comes from its light throttle and its linear response. The other part might be the car's quiet operation. Because you have 300Nm from just 1,300rpm, there is hardly any need to drive the engine harder.

While this means you do not get the stirring soundtrack of a sporty car, it also means propulsion with calmness. This adds to the impression of effortlessness.

The same goes for its chassis, which is sportily tuned, but not overstatedly hard. So, you get to enjoy swift and steady cornering without the punishing ride.

If this is what it means to be environmentally friendlier, bring it on.