2002 Volvo S40

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2000 Volvo S40

This 2000 review is representative of model years 2000 to 2004.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 6
Pros:
  • At last, an affordable Volvo
  • Zippy, turbo-inspired performance
  • Firm ride
Cons:
  • Torque steer when gas pedal is mashed
  • No manual transmission available
  • Rough roads can be jolting

Couldn't afford a new Volvo before? Maybe you can now. In the 2000 model year, Volvo is selling a new, smaller, more affordable sedan, the S40. But this Volvo comes from the Netherlands—not Sweden—and Mitsubishi was a partner in the development.

Taking a new tack
Volvo's new attempt at an affordable car comes courtesy of Volvo and Mitsubishi. Honest. The two automakers worked together as the S40 sedan and the V40 station wagon were developed. In fact, these two new Volvo models are based on the chassis of a Mitsubishi that's not sold in the States.

You won't find prominent mention of this, of course, in the Volvo marketing material. You also have to look hard to find that these new Volvos don't come from Sweden, where Volvo is headquartered. They're built at an assembly plant in the Netherlands that also builds the Mitsubishi Carisma.

So, the question has to be: Does the front-wheel-drive S40—with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price that's at least $3,000 less than the previous low-end Volvo—really have the soul and mannerisms of a Volvo?

Blend-in styling
To be sure, the new S40 has a certain Volvo familiarity, not the least of which is due to the trademark Volvo sash that's on the grille and the character lines on the steel hood.

But the gray S40 4-door, which was the test car, was also bland enough and similar enough in dimensions and rounded styling that it easily blended with the usual compact and midsize mainstream 4-doors on the road.

Volvo may be known as a premium badge, but it doesn't always translate, I guess, into distinctively styled cars, especially when you have less sheet metal to work with.

And I wonder how this will fit with the S40's target buyers, who are supposed to be younger and trendier—far younger at an average age of 30 than the established 46-year-olds with graduate and post-graduate degrees who buy Volvos now.

One engine only
The S40's only engine is a 1.9-liter double overhead cam turbocharged 4-cylinder. Horsepower of 160 at 5100 revolutions per minute is about mid- to upper-range for this category of cars—a bit below the 170 at 5500 rpm in the 6-cylinder-powered BMW 323i and 200 at 5500 rpm in the Honda Accord V6. But it's more than the 150 at 5700 rpm you'd find in a mid- or uplevel Honda Accord with 4-cylinder engine.

Whooshing forward
You'll notice the real difference in personality, though, comes with the S40's torque, which maxes out at 170 lb-ft available between 1800 and 4800 rpm.

You can feel the S40's light-pressure turbo sort of grab hold and take control when you slam hard on the accelerator. Suddenly, the 3,000-pound S40 feels lightweight and zippy, and after a very slight lag, you're sprinting down the road. Now, this is a Volvo!

In fact, the automaker said the 0-to-60-mile-an-hour time is 8.5 seconds. This compares with 8.2 seconds that BMW quotes for its 323i.

But while two competitors—the 323i and Accord—offer manual transmissions for youthful and sport-minded buyers, Volvo's compacts only come with a 4-speed automatic. There's not even a shift gate to allow manual shifting sans clutch pedal, which BMW offers and even DaimlerChrysler has added to some vehicles.

The S40 and V40 do, however, offer sport or economy mode that automatically changes shift patterns slightly, based on driver preference. A winter model is also available.

Some torque steer
Fuel economy is commendable with highway estimates as high as 28 miles per gallon. That's good, because the S40's 15.9-gallon gas tank is smaller than that in the 323i and Accord.

But I did notice some torque steer when I demanded power in this front-wheel-drive car, and it was especially troublesome when I was making a turn. Watch to make sure you're alertly driving this car and holding the steering wheel correctly.

Volvo-like stiffness
The ride was Volvo-firm, with a good amount of vibration coming through, even on relatively smooth pavement. It wasn't harsh, by any means, but there was always communication about the road conditions in a sort of edgy way. On potholes and really broken pavement, however, the shocks came through more severely.

There's an independent MacPherson strut configuration up front and a multi-link configuration at the back of the S40 and V40. Fifteen-inch wheels shod with all-season tires are standard.

Volvo seats and head restraints
Inside, the S40 had Volvo's good, supportive seats and up front, the automaker's anti-whiplash, stationary head restraints.

Every one of the five seat positions had 3-point seat belts, and even the three back seats all had head restraints.

Compact, for sure
But the smallness inside is noticeable, especially in the back seat. Rear door openings are narrow, and three adults must squeeze together back there. This car is narrower than most other compact to midsize sedans. And every time I moved across the S40 rear seat, I inadvertently kicked open the rear-seat cupholder, which was positioned at the base of the front-seat center console.

Both front and rear legroom is less than in 323i and Accord, and rear windows only go down about three-quarters of the way.

The trunk, at 13.2 cubic feet, is bigger than the 10.7-cubic foot trunk in the 323i but smaller than the Accord's 14.1 cubic feet.

Short-stature drivers, take note
I never could quite get comfortable behind the S40 steering wheel. For one thing, the dead pedal was pushed back a ways, making it difficult for someone my size—5 foot 4—to use.

For another, when I positioned the driver seat comfortably, I found the window buttons on the door and in the center console were awkward to reach. A center armrest between the front bucket seats that hung over the buttons only added to the problem.

And I was less than impressed by the optional stereo system in the test car. Static emanated from one of the stereo speakers intermittently.

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BB06 - 8/20/2014 7:47:37 AM