2004 Volvo S40 (2004.5)

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2004.5 Volvo S40

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Volvo comes up with a competitive entry level model.
Pros:
  • Nice redesign
  • Fast with turbo engine
  • Solid
Cons:
  • Rather stark interior
  • Tight legroom behind tall driver
  • Spongy brake pedal

Volvo hopes to grab more young buyers with its all-new 2004.5 S40 sedan, which is a big improvement over its predecessor.

The revamped compact S40 costs less than other Volvos and feels much more like a Volvo than its predecessor, which used Mitsubishi underpinnings.

The first S40 sedan and similar V40 station wagon arrived in 2000 for about $24,000, when other Volvos started at $27,500 and went to $46,500. The S40 and V40 were decent cars, aimed at younger buyers, but never really attained much popularity. Most people just didn't seriously regard them as being genuine Volvos.

Second Shot
Volvo thus is giving the entry market for its cars another shot with the revamped S40, which still is its smallest sedan. The car looks much like a downsized, truncated version of the midsize Volvo S60 sedan and is aimed at younger (30-35-year-old) drivers.

However, the new S40 may not be sporty enough to draw such folks from sportier models from automakers such as Audi, Acura, BMW and Volkswagen.

The new model is 1.9 inches shorter overall than its predecessor at 175.9 inches, but has a wheelbase that is 3.1 inches longer at 103.9 inches. It's also 2.1 inches wider and 1.7 inches taller, with shorter body overhangs, wider track and roomier interior. Weight is up several hundred pounds.

Sporty History
Volvo began in the United States in the 1950s as a sporty, practical 2-door coupe with bucket seats and a floor shifter. It actually won sports car races and got good reviews in car buff magazines. One advertisement pictured it a family car with a racing number on its side.

The always-rugged Volvo sedan became boxy in the 1970s and began carrying higher prices. A strong emphasis on safety and a practical station wagon model helped Volvo get a good foothold in this country. The only other Swedish car was the Saab, which most people considered too offbeat.

An Opening
Volvo dumped boxy styling in the 1990s and gave its cars more power, although prices kept climbing. That left an opening for the S40 sedan and V40 wagon.

The new front-wheel-drive S40 sedan debuted in March, with a similar station wagon arriving in July. It shares a new, Volvo-designed platform with its parent Ford Motor's European Focus and Japanese affiliate Mazda, which uses it for the new Mazda 3 model.

The base S40 has a $24,190 list price and comes with a 2.4-liter 168-horsepower inline 5-cylinder engine. The higher-line T5 version stickers at $26,990 and has a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder motor with 218 horsepower and considerably more torque.

Lower Prices Coming
The S40 now comes only with a 5-speed automatic transmission. The sedan will be offered in a few months with 5- and 6-speed manual transmissions. Volvo says they'll lower the price of both trim levels of the sedan by about $1,200.

The new V50 wagon will initially come only with the hot T5 turbo engine, 5-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, which also will be offered for the T5 sedan. The wagon will be offered with the base engine and front-drive in the fall.

Hot Rod Version
The T5 sedan naturally is faster than the 168-horsepower S40, which at least has reasonably good acceleration. The turbocharged engine has enough juice to whisk the T5 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds with the automatic transmission.

Volvo emphasizes safety as much as performance with the S40. It has anti-lock disk brakes, front-seat side airbags, head-protecting side-curtain airbags and traction control.

The body was designed to have excellent crashworthiness. For example, the S40 went through computer simulated frontal crash tests without the installed engine. The sideways-mounted engine then was designed to fit within the empty space that remained after the simulated crash test.

The result? In a collision the engine can be shunted nearly 6 inches to the rear before its crankshaft comes into contact with the cross-member near the bulkhead. All that promises to prevent an engine from ending up in the laps of front seat occupants in severe collisions.

Near-Luxury Model
The new Volvo is a "near-luxury" model and thus has lots of comfort and convenience items, from air conditioning to keyless entry. The T5 adds items such as a firmer suspension and automatic climate control.

Extras include leather upholstery, a sunroof, heated seats, navigation system, anti-skid system and appearance packages.

The quiet interior looks rather stark but has enough room for four 6-footers. There's good room up front in supportive seats. Rear leg room is tight for a tall occupant behind a driver who moves his seat back halfway to get comfortable.

Gauges can be quickly read, and most controls are nicely sized and easily reached. Dual cupholders in the front console are positioned to prevent spills, but the console storage bin doesn't hold much.

Good Roadability
While somewhat heavy, the quick steering lets a driver precisely place the car exactly where he wants it to go and provides good road feel. Handling is above-average, although the base sedan doesn't handle as sharply as the T5, with its firmer suspension. The ride—helped by the car's solid structure—is generally comfortable, but allows major road imperfections to be felt. The brakes are strong, but the pedal has a spongy feel—although its action is progressive.

The large trunk has a low, wide opening. Cargo capacity can be greatly increased by folding the rear seatbacks forward—or by folding the entire seat forward, which is a simple operation.

The new S40 has a nice blend of sportiness, practicality and safety. Let's see how it does against rivals such as Acura and BMW.

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BB06 - 9/18/2014 3:26:18 PM