2005 Volvo S40 2.4i
Test car not exactly as shown. Click image to enlarge

Review by Laurance Yap
Photos by Grant Yoxon

Volvo’s a different company than it once was, and their customers aren’t the same either. These days, they’ve come to expect style along with their safety, and the company’s new small sedan, the S40, reprises the design themes that turned the company around. It has the same distinctive domed hood, high shoulders, and triangular tail lamps that were introduced on the S80 and now feature on all of the company’s models. To complement the car’s sporty new style – so different from the dumpy first-generation S40 we got here in Canada – wheel options now range from 16 inches right up to 18 inches.

The wheel options are indicative that Volvo customers want performance too, and the S40 delivers with a platform based on the same architecture as the new European Ford Focus and Mazda3. The new platform allows a lot of latitude for customization, so that means the new Volvos do manage to feel very much like Volvos, with a solid ride, accurate steering, and powerful brakes connected to a slightly over-servoed pedal. What’s impressive about the S40 is that when you push it harder, there’s a clear step up in sophistication compared to its predecessor, with superior body control, impressive damping, and surprising grip and stability in every corner. This comes thanks to the Focus’ trademark control-blade independent rear suspension.

2005 Volvo S40 2.4i

2005 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

Power is very much a part of the S40’s performance equation as well. Volvo now offers a range of engines and drivetrains in its small car. Two engines are available, a 2.4-litre inline-five producing 168 hp and a turbocharged 2.5-litre, 218 hp version. There are three transmissions: a five-speed manual on the base engine, a short-throw six-speed close-ration manual with the T5, and a five-speed automatic that’s optional on both. An electronically-controlled Haldex all-wheel-drive system is also available with the T5 models; it’s a reactive system that favours front-wheel-drive in most conditions, but reacts quickly and smoothly when traction is lost. Both engines combine a distinctive warble sound with thrust that’s more than adequate, especially when you get into the boost on the zippy T5.

But it’s really the S40’s interior which is its major selling point – the whole thing is just way cool.

2005 Volvo S40 2.4i

2005 Volvo S40 2.4i

2005 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

The floating console’s ergonomics are superb, the telephone-dial pad and the four knobs really allow you to do all you need to do with a minimum of distractions, and all of the controls and display graphics are typically Volvo – large, readable, and informative at just a glance. The storage area “liberated” by the floating console may have a lot of apparent volume, but in practical terms it’s not much more usable than a bin would have been; water bottles tip over and roll into the footwells under hard cornering.

Led by the unique console, the interior is far more stylish than the old S40, with the same easy-to-read gauges, chunky column stalks, and superb quality of larger Volvos. It’s also pretty spacious. Real people can now fit in the back seats, which were previously only good for children, and headroom and legroom up front are improved as well. Like its V50 wagon sibling, the S40 features split-folding rear seatbacks and underfloor storage. A couple of notable features are the standard “T-Tech” interior fabric, which is kind of like a wet-suit with a really high-tech feel, and a thumping optional 445-watt Dolby Pro Logic sound system.

Still, the S40 does deliver on the traditional Volvo safety front. The company claims that its small cars are as safe as an S80, thanks to a structure that combines four different kinds of steel, a patented front-end crash structure, and a full complement of airbags and seatbelt pretensioners.

2005 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

On the side-impact front, Volvo rammed an XC90 into the side of an S40 with very little intrusion into the passenger area. To avoid a collision in the first place, ABS with brake assist is standard, and stability control is optional.

To cap it all off, the S40’s prices actually start at a little bit less than its predecessor’s, at just under $30,000, rising to $34,500 for the T5 and just over $37,000 for a fully-loaded T5 all-wheel-drive. For buyers that don’t have a lot of people and gear to haul around, the S40’s more compact dimensions, more fun-to-drive character, and more modern interior make it a more attractive and fully-equipped option than, say, a base S60, despite the S40’s premium pricing. It’s a well-balanced package that should suit many urban drivers just fine.

Technical Data: 2005 Volvo S40 2.4i

Base price $29,995
Options $2,900 (5-speed automatic transmission $1,500; Dolby Pro Logic premium audio system $1,400)
Freight $1,495
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $34,490
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Layout transverse front engine, front-wheel-drive
Engine Transversely Mounted, 2.4L, 5 Cylinder Normally Aspirated, All Aluminum, DOHC 20 Valve with CVVT
Horsepower 168 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 170 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed adaptive automatic
Tires 205/55/16 Michelin all-season
Wheelbase 2640 mm (103.9 in.)
Length 4468 mm (175.9 in.)
Width 1770 mm (69.6 in.)
Height 1452 mm (57.1 in.)
Cargo area 404 litres (14.2 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.8 L/100 km (26 mpg Imperial)
  Highway: 7.3 L/100 km (39 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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