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2006 Volvo S40 T5 Review

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2006 Volvo S40 T5

Not long ago, the adjectives that best described a Volvo were nearly any but ``stylish'' and ``sporty.'' ``Boxy''? Yes. ``Safe''? Almost by definition. But Volvos were an acquired taste, perhaps the automotive equivalent of that Swedish delicacy, pickled herring.

That was then. Since those days, Volvo has thrown away the box and developed a new and distinctive design language. And performance has been added more overtly to the mix.

The proper mix of style and performance is especially important in the hotly-contested entry compact sports-luxury class, where Asian brands aggressively sell performance at the lower priced end, with the traditional European marques covering luxury at the top. Volvo's entry is the second-generation S40 sports sedan, with its V50 wagon variant adding the versatility of a small wagon to the mix. The S40/V50 pair replaced the original S40 and V40 last year, and were a major improvement. They continue with minor trim changes for 2006.

The three S40 models are the moderately-priced front-wheel drive 2.4i, with a 168-horsepower 2.4-liter inline five-cylinder engine, and front-wheel drive T5 and all-wheel drive T5 AWD, powered by a 218-horsepower low-pressure turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter variant of the Volvo five. That's the same engine used in the larger S60, and it makes the S40 T5s the sportiest Volvo sedans except for the much pricier high-pressure turbo S60R.

I drove the S40 T5 AWD with the standard six-speed manual transmission earlier this year and found it to be a quick, quiet, and comfortable car. I've just finished a week with a new T5 with the optional five-speed automatic, and it's more of the same. Volvo's all-wheel drive system is meant more for all-weather use than maximum rally-car grip, so the difference between the two cars is minimal on dry, or even slightly damp pavement. AWD or now, in this case, is a question of better winter traction versus 130 lbs less weight. And, with the turbo engine's fine, wide, and strong torque band, the automatic does little damage to ultimate performance, and is easily manually-shiftable in ``Geartronic'' mode anyway. If you live in the snow belt, AWD. If you don't, the regular T5 will do just fine. It's stylish and sporty in a more mature way than the Japanese competition, and also distinct from the other European entries.

APPEARANCE: The S40 takes Volvo's strong, broad-shouldered look and pours it into a compact package. Appropriately, given its entry-level position, the S40 is more youthful in its proportions and styling than the larger Volvo sedans, muscular without being muscle-bound. And there is some history behind that look, as the prominent hood and lower fenders evoke Volvo styling trends of the 1950s and 1960s, before the box era. The body modifications that are part of the ``Dynamic Trim Package'' include the typical aero kit parts - a flat front air dam fascia, lower side-sill extensions, and a spoiler atop the trunk and lower rear valence. It visually lowers the car but does not give it an inappropriately juvenile ``boy racer'' appearance.

COMFORT: As in any contemporary Volvo, the S40's interior is well-thought out and comfortable. And it's not all that much smaller than the S60's. At the T5 level, it's a fine example of Swedish Modern design - simple forms that look good and function very well. Brushed-aluminum trim provides highlights in an otherwise monochrome interior, with the thin-line center stack the most unique feature. It looks to be from an upscale audio component manufacturer, and allows storage space behind the stack that otherwise would go to waste. The seats are different from those found in the larger Volvos, but in no way inferior - and Volvo seats are among the best in the industry. The standard synthetic upholstery is appropriate for the S40's mission and price point, and grips well. The power-adjustable driver's seat and manually-adjustable passenger seat are first-class accommodations. The rear seat is among the largest in the sport-compact class. Its 60/40 split is not unusual, but the flip-up cushions are, and, with a reasonably-large trunk opening, add versatility. If more cargo carrying is in the program, look at the V50 wagon.

SAFETY: All V50 and S40 models benefit from ``Volvo's Intelligent Vehicle Architecture,'' which uses computer-modeled design with four grades of steel for a rigid chassis with high occupant protection and progressive, controlled deformation in the event of a crash. Naturally, all of Volvos safety systems for front and side impact protection are standard equipment.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Exemplary chassis rigidity helps the S40's ride and handling qualities in addition to reducing noise. My test car came with the ``Dynamic Sport Suspension,'' which tunes the fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension a little more stiffly than standard. It's more ``European sport-touring'' than serious sports in specification, supple enough for comfort but with decreased body roll for improved cornering. Torque steer can be the bane of powerful front-wheel drive cars, but the S40 handles the engine's torque well, with only a slight tug on the steering wheel under full-throttle acceleration.

PERFORMANCE: What's the most cost-effective way to high performance? Drop the big engine in the small car. In the case of the inline five-cylinder Volvos, the ``big'' engine is physically the same size, although slightly larger in displacement at 2.5 liters to 2.4 due to a longer stroke, even better for packaging. It's a dual overhead cam design that is turbocharged and intercooled, but boost pressure is relatively low and compression high to minimize the power difference on and off boost. Not that it will be off-boost much, as maximum torque - a healthy 236 lb-ft - is developed from 1500 through 4800 rpm, with the 218 maximum horsepower developed at 5000 rpm, considerably under the 6500-rpm redline. Only right off idle is power not instantaneous, and even then lag is no worse than found in most high-performance naturally-aspirated engines. This means that it works well with the optional five-speed automatic transmission, which also features Geartronic manual-shift mode. The standard six-speed manual offers closer gear ratios and less weight for slightly improved performance at some expense to traffic convenience.

CONCLUSIONS: Volvo joins the upper echelon of the compact sports sedan class with its latest S40 T5.

2006 Volvo S40 T5

Base Price			$ 26,615
Price As Tested			$ 33,275
Engine Type			dual overhead cam turbocharged
				 inline 5-cylinder
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 154 cu. in.
Horsepower			218 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			236 @ 1500-4800 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled
				 with Geartronic manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		103.9 in. / 175.9 in.
Curb Weight			3,278 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.0
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P205/50 VR17 Michelin Pilot MXM4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc /solid disc, ABS, EBD,
				 and EBA standard 
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy  - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		22 / 31 / 23
0 to 60 mph				6.5  sec

Metallic paint					$   475
Climate Package - includes: 
  heated front seats, headlamp washers,
  RainSensor					$   675
Dynamic Trim Package - includes:
  front & trunk lid spoilers, lower rear
  valence, side sill and lower door edge
  moldings, Dynamic Sport Suspension,
  17-inch SCOTIA alloy wheels			$ 2,025
Audio Package - includes:
  premium sound system & 6CD changer		$   895
Greartronic automatic transmission		$ 1,200
Dynamic Stability and Traction Control		$   695
Destination Charge				$   695