SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyer's Guide
What's this? The Volvo V40 wagon, and its S40 sedan sibling, were just introduced to the U.S. as 2000 models in mid- 1999, and have gotten a makeover for 2001. Short product life cycle?
Well, no. Although we first got the 40-series in the 2000 model year, it was introduced in Europe in late 1995. Its design inspired subsequent Volvos, first the S80 luxury sedan, then the newest V70 wagon and S60 sedan. In a bit of a feedback loop, those cars have inspired a number of changes to the 2001 S40 and V40.
If revised front styling is the most noticeable change, it's also the most minor. The S and V40's 1.9-liter light-pressure turbo engine has internal changes to reduce noise and vibration, while increasing torque slightly. It is now matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, instead of the previous four-speed, for improved performance and fuel economy. The front suspension has been completely redesigned, and the rear suspension revised. The interior has received more of a facelift than the exterior. Nothing is radically different, but, as I discovered during a recent week with a 2001 V40, Volvo has made a good car even better.
My week with the V40 involved more driving than usual, which worked to my advantage. The V40 is a great car for a day- long excursion for four people on scenic backroads, and a good commuter as well. It has the interior space and versatility of most small SUVs - and some midsized ones - and far better fuel economy. Most importantly, it's good-looking, fun to drive, and never boring.
APPEARANCE: What was a radical departure from previous Volvo styling in 1995 is now solidly mainstream, even conservative. The V40's basic shape, with its long, aerodynamically-tapered roofline, is unchanged, but the details have been modified for more resemblance to the larger Volvos. The graphite-colored bumper trim is no longer full-width, and the front fascia and headlights have been subtly restyled. A different selection of alloy wheels is offered this year as well.
COMFORT: If at first glance the 2001 V40's interior looks unchanged, look more closely. It's still contemporary Volvo in styling, but almost everything has been redesigned, with a definite European ambiance. The front bucket seats are new to the 40-series - they are the same as the base seats in the V70 and Cross Country. Although here they are manually adjustable - which is really not a problem at all - comfort and support levels are high, and a long day behind the wheel can be pleasant. Optional leather upholstery adds elegance and comfort. The instrument panel has also been freshened, with good instrument and control size and placement. The center console is new, and has a useful covered storage box with a power outlet - just the spot to plug in the optional heated / cooled storage box for a picnic lunch. The standard power window controls have been moved from the console to the doors. The rear seat has more room that expected for a car of this size. Two normally-sized adults can fit easily. Cargo capacity is very good, and a cargo area shade provides some security. The rear seat flips and folds with a 60/40 split for extra carrying duty, and, in that position, a bicycle can fit without removing the front wheel - something that is not possible in some larger, thirstier SUVs.
SAFETY: Volvo is almost synonymous with safety, and the V40 has all of the expected Volvo safety features. All occupants have three-point safety belts, a Volvo innovation back in 1959. The safety-cage chassis has front and rear crumple zones. Dual-stage front airbags, and side-impact protection, side airbags and the "Inflatable Curtain" side head-protection system, whiplash- protection seats, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes are all standard.
ROADABILITY: While not officially a sport wagon, the V40 can easily satisfy an enthusiast driver with a need for cargo or passenger carrying. Since it's not harshly sprung, it can also satisfy anyone who needs the versatility and space of a small-outside, not so small- inside wagon. The front MacPherson strut suspension has upgraded parts and new geometry, resulting in a slight increase in track and wheelbase. To accommodate these changes, the rear multilink suspension has also been revised. The result? The original V40 had very good ride and handling characteristics, but the new one is just a touch better in all respects. Good suspension compliance, low noise levels, and nimble cornering abilities make the Volvo V40 a good car for any sort of road, with any sort of load.
PERFORMANCE: Although its maximum horsepower output is unchanged at 160 at 5250 rpm, the V40's low-pressure turbocharged 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine benefits from internal enhancements that raise its maximum torque to 177 lb-ft, up from the previous 160. Torque is what moves the car, and there is no maximum torque peak, but, rather, a plateau from 1800 to 4500 rpm. This, allied with a fast-acting turbo, means instant response at all speeds. The new five-speed automatic has closer gear ratios than the old four-speed, further improving both performance and economy - I averaged 26 mpg in over 400 miles of extremely varied driving. Adaptive shift logic selects the correct gear more often than do most automatics. I'm partial to manual gearboxes, but, even when enjoying a drive on twisting backroads the V40's automatic did very, very well. It even downshifts on downhill grades to use engine braking.
CONCLUSIONS: The Volvo V40 wagon combines comfort, versatility, and economical performance.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Volvo V40 Wagon Base Price $ 24,500 Price As Tested $ 27,002 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve light- pressure turbocharged inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 1.9 liters / 119 cu. in. Horsepower 160 @ 5250 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 177 @ 1800-4500 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic with adaptive shift logic Wheelbase / Length 101 in. / 178 in. Curb Weight 2866 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.9 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded gasoline, 91 octane for best performance, 87 permissible Tires P195/60 VR15 Michelin MXV4 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / 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 22 / 32 / 26 0 to 60 mph 8.5 sec (mfg) OPTIONS AND CHARGES CD changer pre-wiring $ 27 Leather/Audio package - includes: Leather seating surfaces, premium sound system, in-dash CD, premium speakers, trip computer, 10-spoke alloy wheels $1900 Destination Charge $ 575