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New Car/Review

'Volvo

Volvo S40 Sedan (2001)

By Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 23,500
     Price As Tested                                    $ 27,125
     Engine Type        DOHC 16-valve 1.9 Liter turbo I4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 119 cid/1948 cc
     Horsepower                                   160 @ 5100 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               170 @ 1800 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  100.9"/67.7"/177.8"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2942 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  15.8 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                           195/60R15 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                  2 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            22/32/27
     0-60 MPH                                        7.8 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          16.0 seconds @ 86.5 mph
     Top-speed                                           134 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

(Volvo's new S40 is "downsized" from its luxo models, says Matt Hagin. Bob Hagin says fast things sometimes come in small packages.)

BOB - When Volvo was bought by Ford a couple of years ago, the corporate aim was to make the Swedish brand one of the high-priced jewels in Ford's Premiere Group crown. But its big luxury models left Generation X'ers looking in from the outside through showroom windows. Many of them wanted to step up to the prestige and quality they perceived in Volvo, but they weren't quite ready for the hefty price stickers that went with it. Ford noticed this and its financial infusion allowed Volvo to develop its "small" car program which lead to the current 40-series four-door sedan and station wagon. It's the "baby" of the line and is lots more affordable than the others.

MATT - But the size of the 40-series doesn't seem to have compromised Volvo quality, Dad. It's not quite as luxurious as the S80 T6 Executive Turbo sedan, for instance, but it's almost half the price. Volvo needed something to match the entry-level cars of other European auto makers and of them all, the S40 is the fastest and the quickest of the bunch. The engine is a transverse-mounted four-banger that puts out 160 horses and 170 pound-feet of torque - and it delivers that torque from 1800 to 4800 RPM. This attribute gives it great highway passing ability and it can go from 50 to 70 in just over four seconds. The engine itself displaces 1.9-liters and is all-aluminum with twin cams on top and four valves per cylinder. This is pretty common stuff today, but the high power and torque rating are attributable to the twin-scroll intercooled turbocharger that puts out a bit over eight pounds of boost.

BOB - Volvo refers to our tester as the "light-pressure" model, which must mean that the turbocharger won't fall victim to the somewhat premature failure that some turbocharged vehicles experience. Last year was the debut of the S40 and at the time, the only transmission available was a four-speed automatic. The company still doesn't offer a stick-shift but the new automatic has been upgraded to a five-speed with a lockup for the torque converter in the top three gears. It has three selectable driving modes and an adaptive shift mode that modifies its own shift points to match the driver's usual habits and a winter mode that makes the car start in taller gears in ice and snow. This helps keep the front wheels from spinning helplessly if the driver in overzealous on the throttle. I think the torque converter lock-up feature adds a lot to the great highway mileage the S40 gets. At 32 MPG, it's up there with some of the econoboxes.

MATT - Volvo has always been hot on safety, Dad, and although we didn't try it out, this S40 has a system that makes the front seats move back a bit during a rear-ender to soften the impact. The rear seatback folds down for more cargo space and when it's up, there's plenty of space in the back seat for two full-sized adults. But if the two in front are tall and have their seats pushed all the way back, foot room in back will be in short supply. The driver's seat is fully adjustable and it can be made to suit almost any driver. The only problem I had with it was the controls for reclining the seat and adjusting the lumbar support. They're awkward to get at.

BOB - The handling of the S40 is typically European and a bit on the stiff side, but I though it could use a little more roll stiffness. It tends to dive into corners, so maybe tighter shock absorbers or heavier sway bars would make the difference. Personally, I like the somewhat straight-arm positioning of the steering wheel but I know some of our other driver would like it better if it were closer to the seat.

MATT - The S40 is built in Holland in a Mitsubishi/Volvo joint venture with parts coming from Japan, Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands.

BOB - Most new cars have similar eclectic backgrounds and the only thing that makes a vehicle imported or domestic is the logo on the hood.