For 2005, Volvo’s entry-level S40 has been completely redesigned from the ground up. Previously based on underpinnings from a European-only Mitsubishi, the 2005 S40 is based on a global platform used by the Mazda3 and the new European Ford Focus. The same design appears on the S40’s equally-all-new sibling V50 wagon. Along with its overhaul, the S40 also becomes more attainable: the base S40 price is $1,500 less than the 2004 sedan’s tag.

The S40 also benefits from across-the-board changes at Volvo, introduced for 2005. Every model has all-wheel-drive either as standard equipment or available as an option; a Dolby Pro-Logic II 5.1 Surround Sound audio system is also standard or optional. All models get new one-piece, flat-blade wipers, and water repellent glass is standard on the side-view mirrors and available on the side windows.

Two engines are available in the S40: a 2.4-litre, inline five-cylinder naturally aspirated engine, and a 2.5-litre, inline five-cylinder with a turbocharger. All-wheel-drive is available on the turbo T5 model; it’s a Haldex electronically-controlled system that delivers most of the power to the front wheels, until the rear wheels lose traction and torque is sent to the rear axle for enhanced traction.

The 2.4i features a five-speed manual gearbox (a five-speed automatic is optional), air conditioning, 16-inch steel wheels, 60/40 folding rear seat, CD player with six speakers, tilt and telescopic wheel, power windows with auto up/down on all, power heated mirrors with integrated turn signals and puddle lights, cruise control, floor mats, rear fog light, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake distribution and emergency brake assistance.

The T5 turbo adds a close-coupled six-speed manual (the automatic is optional), front fog lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, folding passenger seat, leather-wrapped wheel and shifter knob, eight speakers, dual-zone automatic climate control, trip computer, and wheel-mounted audio controls. The T5 AWD has the same features, plus traction control, 16-inch black chrome alloy wheels and dynamic chassis tuning.

This being a Volvo, even the base model is packed with safety features: side-impact and curtain airbags, whiplash protection system (WHIPS) front seats, multi-stage airbags with knee pads for driver and passenger, pedestrian protection, collapsible steering column and pedals, and fail-safe engine mountings. There’s even an optional power child lock for the rear doors.

And though it’s built on a Mazda platform, it looks like a Volvo, with delightfully curvy lines and elegant proportions. Inside, the eye is immediately drawn to a quirky but cool centre console that “floats” in mid-air and glows in the dark. An optional navigation system, if ordered, pops out of the dash above it. The console’s controls are not immediately intuitive and have a bit of a learning curve. The “T-tec” seat upholstery feels too much like a wetsuit.

On the road, the handling qualities that make the Mazda3 so much fun to throw around are just as evident, although the ride is definitely on the firm side. Both engines move the small car out very well, and there’s no turbo lag on the T5.

Although it’s slightly shorter than the model it replaces, the S40 is roomier than its predecessor, with a longer wheelbase and wider track. While the Audi A4 and Saab 9-3 remain viable competitors, the S40 will no doubt win over numerous buyers who’ve always wanted to experience Volvo’s reputation but who have to keep their bank balances in mind.

The S40 is built in Ghent, Belgium.

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