SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide
Volvos are boxy, boring, and kind of expensive, right? Definitely wrong, in the case of the 40-series, the new "entry-level" Volvos. Offered in S40 sedan and V40 wagon body styles, the smallest, newest Volvos are styled and priced to bring new customers without alienating any existing ones. They are being aimed primarily at active, technically-astute, environmentally-aware 25 to 35 year-olds, the Generation X counterparts to traditional Volvo owners. Beginning Volvo owners..."Volvo For Life" is a new company slogan, after all.
But youth is not specifically necessary to enjoy the newest Volvos. The S40 and V40 have features that can appeal to anyone looking for a comfortable small-but-roomy car with good performance and handling, and all of the safety associated with Volvo. Base prices of just under $23,000 for the S40 and just under $24,000 for the V40 are very competitive with other similarly-sized imports. And the cars at that level are very well-equipped, with standard equipment including electronic climate control, power windows and doorlocks with remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, 60/40 split flip-and-fold rear seats, a high-quality AM/FM/cassette sound system, and, of course, all of the safety features expected in a Volvo.
I first had a chance to drive the S40 and V40 when they were introduced to the press last summer in Washington State. A day spent driving through the steep, twisting roads of the Cascade Mountains showed them at their best -- quiet, quick, and nimble small cars capable of long highway trips in comfort. A morning spent at Seattle International Raceway highlighted their sporty handling abilities. More recently, I arranged to have a V40 and an S40 for consecutive weeks at home. I found them to be very practical in daily use, with good room for their size. They were quiet on the highway, easily maneuverable around town, and quick when quickness was needed. And far more fun than expected. ``Volvo'' and ``fun" in the same sentence? Absolutely.
APPEARANCE: Directly from the rear or from the rear quarters, neither the S40 nor V40 looks like a Volvo thanks to the sleek, slightly-rounded lines. The V40's roofline is slightly arched, giving it a contemporary and very elegant look. With no flat panels, it's no frumpy old-time station wagon. The S40's rear section features styling similar to that of the top-of-the-line S80, which is actually not surprising. They share a stylistic ancestor in Volvo's 1992 ECC concept car. Both cars share front sheetmetal, which is very definitely Volvo. There's more than a passing resemblance to the mid-sized 70- series, but the 40-series cars are newer, and more rounded.
COMFORT: If the S40 and V40 don't look all that Volvo-like outside, the inside is certainly familiar. It could easily be mistaken for a slightly shrunken S or V70, with a similarly-designed instrument panel and the same wonderfully comfortable seats. Cloth upholstery is standard, but both of my test cars were fully-equipped. Which means, inside, a sunroof, woodgrain trim, leather upholstery, and front heated power seats. As mentioned previously, often-optional items like automatic climate control and power accessories are standard. The sedan and wagon are identical from the rear seat forward. The S40 has a large, accessible trunk; the V40 has a longer-than-expected cargo area. By flipping and folding the rear seat, I could easily get a bicycle in the rear of the V40 without having to remove its front wheel -- something nearly impossible in a small wagon and difficult even in some mid- sized SUVs. Both the S40 and V40 offer more comfort and convenience than expected in a small car.
SAFETY: The S40 and V40 are Volvos, and so offer nearly every safety feature known as standard equipment. All occupants have three- point safety belts, a Volvo innovation back in 1959. The safety-cage chassis has front and rear crumple zones. Dual-level front airbags, and the SIPS side-impact protection and side airbags, whiplash-protection seats, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes are all standard.
ROADABILITY: The S and V40 feel very much like smaller versions of Volvo's premium S80 on the road. Some older Volvos had a somewhat harsh ride quality. Not these two. Their fully-independent suspension is comfortably compliant on all road surfaces, yet gives good handling response. Because of a slight difference in weight distribution due to body styles, the V40 wagon actually feels better in corners than the S40 sedan, but the difference is minimal. Both are very quiet on the road, and work well for long distances. Pushed hard at Seattle International Raceway, they were enjoyably nimble.
PERFORMANCE: In both the S40 and V40, a 1.9-liter light-pressure turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine provides 160 horsepower at 5,100 rpm, with 170 lb-ft of torque available between 1,800 and 4,800 rpm. The front wheels are driven through a four-speed automatic transmission. It's not quite a sports sedan (or wagon), but has very good performance. Thanks to the engine's broad torque range, which give it "shifting-optional" performance characteristics, the automatic transmission is the perfect match to this engine. The powertrain is at its best in the middle of its rpm range, where instant acceleration is available. I never missed a manual gearbox, even on my favorite sports car roads. There is no significant performance difference between the S40 and V40.
CONCLUSIONS: The new Volvo S40 sedan and V40 wagon combine sporty performance and near-luxury comfort to take Volvo into new territory.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price S40 $ 22,900 V40 $ 23,900 Price As Tested S40 $ 28,897 V40 $ 30,162 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder Engine Size 1.9 liters / 116 cu. in. Horsepower 160 @ 5100 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 170 @ 1800-4800 rpm Transmission multimode 4-speed electronically- controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 100.4 in. / 176.5 in. Curb Weight, lbs. S40: 2998, V40: 3042 Pounds Per Horsepower S40: 18.7, V40: 19.0 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium (91 octane) for best performance, unleaded regular (87 octane) acceptable Tires P195/60 VR15 Michelin MXV4 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 28 / 23 0 to 60 mph 8.5 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES (on both unless noted) Metallic paint $ 400 Weather Package - includes: Dynamic Stability Assistance, heated seats, headlamp wipers & washers $ 850 Sunroof Package - includes: power sunroof, leather upholstery, simulated wood trim $ 2,200 V40: Sport Plus Package - includes (priced separately on S40, in parentheses): rear spoiler, front foglamps (250), power driver's seat (495), sport steering wheel (150), trip computer (250), CD player and upgraded speakers (800) $ 1,900 CD pre-wiring $ 27 Roof rails (V40 only) $ 310 Destination charge $ 575