Review and photos by Haney Louka

2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD
Click image to enlarge

Here’s the good news: Volvo has given us a genuine sports sedan with all the right moves and a distinctly Swedish flavour that outshines its predecessor in every way. Here’s the not-so-good: get ready to pay the price.

The price I’m referring to is not the $29,995 base sticker on the S40 2.4i. That’s a pretty good deal to get you into a brand-new Volvo, complete with all of the style and safety the marque is known for. Major standard equipment includes a 168-hp five-cylinder engine, five-speed manual gearbox, A/C, power windows and locks, and an abundance of passive safety features including front, side, and head curtain airbags.

For those craving more power, the 2.5T will grace your driveway for $35,620. In addition to a more powerful engine (more on that later) and a six-speed stick, the turbocharged model comes with aluminum interior trim, an upgraded audio system, dual-zone climate control, a trip computer, and wheel-mounted audio controls.

That’s also a decent bargain in my books. As is the case with many luxury brands, though, start checking the option boxes on the order form and the price escalates about 50% compared with the starting point.

Take our AWD 2.5T tester for example. Out of the gates, it commands a sum of $39,620 and allows two more wheels to do the driving. Not bad, but there are many options available which luxury buyers would consider must-haves. For example, our tester was equipped with the $1,000 Premium package (power driver’s seat with memory and power passenger’s seat),

2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD
Click image to enlarge

$600 Convenience package (retractable side mirrors, Homelink, auto dimming mirror), $600 Climate package (heated front seats, headlight washers, interior air quality system, and rain-sensing wipers), $1,200 Audio package (including 12 speakers), and $1,800 Sport package (17-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, and dynamic stability and traction control.

With all of these goodies, the price jumps to $46,295 including $875 for freight. That sum puts the little Volvo in some serious, not to mention more experienced, competition.

Nuts and bolts

Powering the 2.5T version of the S40 is a turbocharged 5-cylinder engine with four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing. The result is 218 hp at 5,000 rpm and a stout 236 lb-ft of torque between 1,500 and 4,800 rpm. Power is routed through a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox, while a five-speed slushbox with manual shift mode is optional.

2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD
Click image to enlarge

The all-wheel-drive system on S40s so equipped is by Haldex of Sweden. An oil pump feeds a multi-plate clutch mounted on the rear differential. The system detects front wheel slippage by monitoring wheel rotation, engine speed, and driver input, and opens a valve that allows the pump to pressurize the clutch pack and force the plates together. The difference in rotation between front and rear wheels decides how much the valve opens, and thus how much power is sent aft – anywhere from zero to 95%.

Four-wheel disc brakes (vented in front) with anti-lock control and electronic brake force distribution work to halt the action while a fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink set-up in the rear keeps the rubber on the road.


Inside and out

2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD
Click image to enlarge

Volvo has this family-resemblance thing down to an art – there’s no confusing the S40 for anything other than a Volvo, and to these eyes it’s the most visually appealing of the bunch. Short overhangs and characteristic broad shoulder lines lend an aggressive, sporty stance to the car.

2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD
Click image to enlarge

It does bear more than a slight resemblance to Mazda’s 3, with which it shares some basic structure. Aside from having identical wheelbase measurements, each car also casts a similar shadow with a sleek but slightly rounded roofline and short rear deck. There are numerous details, however, that keep the Volvo firmly above the 3 in terms of classy duds.

The S40’s interior is 100 percent Swede, with its most distinctive feature being the ultra-thin centre stack which not only looks cool, but allows for handy interior storage behind it. But it’s the whole package – tasteful colours, simple style, and distinctive lettering – that makes the S40 truly feel like a Volvo inside. A decade or so ago that would have been a redundant statement, but in this age of platform engineering and parts-bin pieces, such an achievement is laudable.

2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD
Click image to enlarge

Seating fabrics are tasteful and there are useful audio and cruise buttons on the wheel. What seemed slightly out of character was the presence of a leather-and-wood steering wheel, which would have been more at home in a luxo-Lexus than this sporting machine.

It’s behind the driver’s seat that the Volvo runs into trouble – it’s simply not commodious enough back there for regular use by adults. Thankfully, though, that rear seat splits and folds to improve the trunk’s 404 litres of cargo volume.


The driving experience

If there’s any question as to how a car that shares basic platform components with a $20,000 Mazda3 can cost almost 50 large, it just takes one drive. As competent as the little Mazda is – it’s by far the sportiest drive for the money – the Volvo will run circles around it and coddle its occupants at the same time.

2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD
Click image to enlarge

It starts with a more supple ride. Don’t take that to mean soft, because it isn’t. It just absorbs the harsh bumps better while maintaining excellent control of body motions.

Steering response feels just as quick, but road and engine noise are suppressed enough so that driver and passengers can appreciate the fine 12-speaker audio system.

The S40’s turbocharged mill produces excellent thrust, particularly lower in the rev range. At any engine speed above 2,000 rpm, the S40 takes off faster than you can say, “what’s turbo lag?” The six-speed shifter is generally quite slick in its motions, but the engine’s throttle response gets a little goofy when the driving pace picks up. Running through the gears smoothly under brisk acceleration takes concentration, as small changes in throttle input produce exaggerated results.

Drivers won’t be confusing the S40’s acceleration with that of Infiniti’s G35, but under almost all conditions the turbo-five is a willing and able partner.


To sum it up

2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD
Click image to enlarge

The smallest Volvo is now the most appealing, with aggressive styling inside and out, a stout turbocharged motor, and all-wheel drive. Unfortunately, when loaded up to the level of our test example, the price found itself a little north of where it should be. Still, it remains a good choice for those who don’t need regular use of the back seat by adults.


Shopping around

The entry-luxury fray is brimming with style, power, and panache:

Acura TSX (200 hp, FWD, $34,900)
Audi A4 2.0T quattro (200 hp, AWD, $40,750)
BMW 325i (215 hp, RWD, $39,900)
Cadillac CTS (210 hp, RWD, $37,800)
Infiniti G35x (280 hp, AWD, $42,800)
Jaguar X-Type 3.0 (227 hp, AWD, $44,995)
Lexus IS 300 (215 hp, RWD, $37,990)
Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport (189 hp, RWD, $43,790)
Saab 9-3 Arc (210 hp, FWD, $40,500)
Subaru Legacy GT (250 hp, AWD, $36,495)


Technical Data: 2005 Volvo S40 T5 AWD

Base price $39,620
Options $5,800: $1,000 Premium package (power driver’s seat with memory and power passenger’s seat), $600 Convenience package (retractable side mirrors, Homelink, auto dimming mirror), $600 Climate package (heated front seats, headlight washers, interior air quality system, and rain-sensing wipers), $1,200 Audio package (including 12 speakers), and $1,800 Sport package (17-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, and dynamic stability and traction control.
Freight $875
A/C Tax $100
Price as tested $46,395
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sports sedan
Layout transverse front engine/all-wheel drive
Engine 2.5-litre dual overhead cam inline 5, four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing, turbocharger
Horsepower 218 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque 236 @ 1,500-4,800 rpm
Transmission six-speed manual
Tires 205/50 R-17
Curb weight 1,465 kg (3,223 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,640 mm (103.9 in.)
Length 4,468 mm (175.9 in.)
Width 1,770 mm (69.7 in.)
Height 1,452 mm (57.2 in.)
Cargo capacity 404 litres (13.4 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 12.1 L/100 km (20 mpg) (Imperial)
  Hwy: 8.0 L/100 km (32 mpg) (Imperial)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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