The Volvo S40 comes loaded with features for a very competitive price. For starters, the base price of $24,190 is $510 less than the current S40. Standard equipment includes a 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine, curtain and side-impact airbags, projector-type headlamps, and ABS with EBD, which electronically balances the braking.
Volvo says the primary engineering challenge was to get the same safety in the S40’s small package that’s in the flagship S80 sedan. To that end It has been designed using something called VIVA, for Volvo Intelligent Vehicle Architecture. What appears to be an unprecedented amount of time, research, testing and detail has gone into the construction of the chassis and body in the interest of crash protection. There are several zones of deformation upon impact, built with different strengths of steel depending on that zone’s function: conventional, high strength, extra high strength and ultra high strength steel.
The Volvo S40 was launched as a 2004 1/2 model in January 2004, but it’s essentially a 2005 model. The previous S40 line (2004 and older) was vast and the new S40 line will likewise grow over the next couple of years. The all-new 2004 1/2 models come with front-wheel drive and a five-speed automatic; 2005 models offer all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox as well. Also available for 2005: a V50 sport wagon.
The new Volvo S40 looks like a sports sedan, particularly when fitted with the optional 17-inch Saggita alloy wheels. The design is clean and elegant, Scandinavian simplicity. Inside, the S40 represents a sharp departure from previous Volvo designs, and the new interior is comfortable and convenient.
On the road, the S40 is stable and relaxed. Even at high speeds, it can easily run with expensive sedans from BMW and Mercedes. The turbocharged T5 engine is wonderfully smooth, with quick but linear acceleration performance. The entry-level 2.4i engine feels nearly as quick and is just as smooth. The five-speed automatic is smooth and responsive. The suspension is firm but not jarring, offering an ideal balance of ride and handling, and the brakes are excellent. The all-new Volvo S40 is a superb sports sedan.
Volvo says the S40 exterior design is an evolution, but the interior is a revolution. Certainly one part of it is new invention. The center stack is only about one inch thick, like a computer monitor with a flat screen. Behind it is a storage bin. Simple, clever, practical, handsome, Swedish.
You have to reach around the back of the stack to gain access to that shallow storage space, but it’s better to have it than to waste it. The stack begins behind the beautifully minimalist shift lever (no goofy balls here), and curves gracefully upward to link the console with the instrument panel. The audio, climate and other buttons are arranged vertically and there are four round knobs at the corners. One of those four knobs is a menu control that easily accesses more detailed information and controls. Above the buttons is an information screen. That’s all; it’s everything you need, and it’s all intuitive, unlike the top-of-the-line models from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
One problem we had with the thin stack, however, is that during hard cornering, of which the S40 is eminently capable, our right knee rode hard against the edge, and it hurt. A racer’s solution would be to patch it with foam and duct tape and be content.
Silver duct tape would match nicely. Our T5 came with brushed aluminum trim, which again was perfect from a style standpoint. Not too much and in all the right places, including the whole center stack. We later drove a 2.4i with a dark wood trim, and it wasn’t nearly as good-looking.
The interior comes in three colors: gray, dark gray or dark beige. The buckets in our T5 test model were T-Tec; we think we might pay the $2295 for the Premium Package just to get the plush leather. But maybe it wasn’t the T-tec material we didn’t like, so much as it was the thin padding under our butt, although lumbar support is standard.
Volvo leads the auto industry in environmental awareness as well as safety. There’s an emphasis on environmentally compatible cabin materials and systems, such as trim materials with low PVC content, a standard pollen filter and an optional air-quality system including an activated carbon filter.
Everything is carefully compact in the interior, including the strong stubby door handles, easy to grab and pull. The console compartment is deep, with two good cupholders forward of it, and the glovebox is decent-sized. The instrument panel is clean and simple and workmanlike, with a big 160-mph speedometer (149 top speed of the T5) and 8000-rpm tachometer (redline 6500), white numbers on a black background with red needles.
The new body design opened up a lot of interior space. Since it’s wider, taller and has a longer wheelbase than before, the cabin is bigger in all three directions; and even more room is created by the short engine compartment thanks to the new engine. And Volvo typically has created intelligent ways to use that space, as it did with the XC90 SUV; this may be a sedan, but why not? The rear seat is a 60/40 split and the seatbacks open up to the trunk when dropped. The front seat folds as flat as the rears, creating an unprecedented open floor space for a small sedan.
The chopped-off rear end makes the trunk opening small, but it leads into a deep forward well. Below the floor of the trunk is a spacesaver spare tire and a first aid kit, and the trunk lid has a special tensioner/absorber to make its opening and closing smooth and easy.
The Volvo S40 is available as two models:
The 2.4i ($24,190) uses a new five-cylinder inline engine making 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm, on premium fuel. It comes with a five-speed automatic transmission, but a five-speed manual will also be available. Standard equipment includes air conditioning and power windows and door locks, stability traction control (STC), 16-inch alloy wheels, remote entry, in-dash CD system and theft-deterrent system. The Premium option package ($2,295) includes leather upholstery, power moonroof, electronic climate control and power seats. The Sport option package ($750) includes dynamic suspension, sport alloy wheels, foglights and seating surfaces in a handsome durable outdoorsy material developed for Volvo called T-Tec. A premium sound system with 6-CD player is optional ($850).
The T5 ($26,990) uses a slightly larger 2.5-liter turbocharged version of the engine, making 218 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque over the wide range of 1500 to 4800 rpm. The T5 adds as standard equipment foglights, a power driver’s seat and the T-Tec seating surfaces. It comes standard with a five-speed automatic, but a superb six-speed close-ratio gearbox will also be available. Option packages for the T5 are almost the same as for the 2.4i, except the Sport package alloy wheels are 17-inch, with 205/50R/17 performance tires, a steal given the suspension upgrades and the beauty of those wheels. Only the T5 will offer the availability of all-wheel drive.
Stand-alone options for both models include electronic stability control (Volvo calls theirs DSTC for Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) for $695, metallic paint ($450), the power moonroof ($1200), and bi-xenon headlamps ($700).
Basic warranty is four years/50,000 miles. Even better: Volvo pays for factory schedule maintenance for first three years/36,000 miles.