2006 Volvo S40 2.4i
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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In North America, choices in the under-$35,000 import luxury car market are limited: there’s the trendy but rather flamboyant Mini Cooper S; the ‘space-age’ Acura CSX Honda Civic look-a-like; the Saab 9-2x, a Subaru Impreza knock-off; and the new but debatably not-as-handsome BMW 323i that starts a hair above $35,000.

Then there’s the stylish Swede: the Volvo S40, a compact four-door luxury sedan that uses the same Ford global platform and suspension as the Mazda3 and European Ford Focus. A major redesign in 2005 made it look like a small-scale version of the S60 and S80. This is a two-edged sword: although the S40 is a very handsome vehicle, it’s not a unique-looking vehicle. The wagon version of the S40, called the V50, received a similar styling treatment in 2005.

There are three S40 variations: the base S40 2.4i ($31,495) has a naturally aspirated 2.4-litre inline five-cylinder engine with 168 horsepower. The turbocharged S40 T5 ($37,495) has a turbocharged 2.5-litre inline five-cylinder motor with 218 horsepower; and the all-wheel drive turbocharged T5 AWD ($39,995) adds an electronically-controlled Haldex multi-plate clutch which sends up to 95% of the power to the rear wheels if the front wheels slip.

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

This week’s test car, a S40 2.4i, is the best value, in my opinion – although the price has gone up about $1,500 since 2005. It comes with a comprehensive list of standard features: but be warned: when you start adding options, the price can balloon by five to ten thousand dollars.

The S40’s base price of $31,495 includes a 168-hp all-aluminum five-cylinder DOHC engine with continuously variable valve timing (exclusive to Volvo), a five-speed manual transmission (a 5-speed automatic is $1,500), disc brakes with ABS and emergency brake assistance, fully independent suspension, 16-inch tires, and speed-sensitive power rack and pinion steering.

Inside, standard stuff includes Volvo’s unique T-Tec seat upholstery, air conditioning, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system, front, side and curtain airbags and Volvo’s patented SIPS (side impact protection system), heated mirrors, manually height adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, folding 60/40 rear seatbacks, power windows with automatic up/down on all windows, remote entry, car alarm, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, and 12-volt outlet.

Stability and traction control are available, but unfortunately, only as part of a $3,250 ‘Premium Package’ or a $4,000 ‘Sport Package’. A sunroof ($1,500), leather seats ($1,450), premium audio system with in-dash six-disc CD changer and steering wheel audio controls ($1,200), and ‘Caligo’ alloy wheels ($500) are available as stand-alone options.

My test car had the optional ‘Premium Package’ ($3,250) which includes automatic climate control with driver/passenger temperature adjustments, heated front seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum interior trim, stability and traction control, and headlight washers.

With freight and a/c tax my test car came to $36,360.


Interior impressions

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

The S40’s interior is a model of Scandinavian simplicity: classy but not too flashy. Real aluminum trim (optional) on the centre console, doors and door handles looks much better than the fake metal trim found on most non-luxury cars. Vehicle and engine speed are conveyed by simple, round gauges with classy rings, and the digital displays between the gauges show the time and outside temperature, and odometer.

The S40’s unique centre stack has an open storage area behind it – it looks good, but accessing it is difficult. Adjusting the dials for the radio volume, radio station, or heater controls produces a matching visual display in the small screen above them. This one screen is used to display all adjustments to the heater/air conditioning system and radio/CD player.

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

As well, Volvo’s unique ventilation ‘pictogram’ showing a human profile is intuitive. 2007 models with the optional Audio Package will add a new auxiliary audio jack for MP3 players.

The front sport seats have a multitude of adjustments, including height and lumbar, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes for the best driving position. I liked the soft grip feel of the steering wheel. The standard T-tech upholstery is a sort of a cross between cloth and vinyl – smooth to the touch and easy to clean. The driver’s seat proved comfortable and supportive during the week I had the S40, and both front seats have ‘WHIPS’ head restraints to help prevent whiplash in a rear-ender.

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

Headroom and legroom in front are good for six-footers, but rear headroom is only adequate for adults up to five-feet ten inches tall. In the rear seat, there is generous footroom under the front seats and adequate kneeroom. The rear seat is really only wide enough for two adults, and has a folding centre armrest with two cupholders. A rear 12-volt powerpoint is also available for rear passengers.

For safety, there are three height adjustable rear head restraints – the centre one is mounted lower so as not to restrict the driver’s rear view. The rear seats have child seat anchors, and the rear doors have child locks.

Folding down the split 60/40 rear seatbacks requires first lifting up the seat cushion against the front seatbacks, removing the rear head restraints, and folding down the seatbacks. I didn’t realize it at the time, but after looking at the photo of the folded rear seats, I realized there are slots in the seat cushions to store the loose rear head restraints.

The S40’s trunk is a reasonable size for a small sedan (357 litres/12.6 cu. ft.), and with both rear seatbacks folded down, there is a loading length of up to 174 cm (69 in.).


Driving impressions

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

In terms of the driving experience, the difference between the Volvo S40 and the Mazda3 is one of refinement: the S40 is quieter with less vibration and a more comfortable ride on the highway, however it’s a bit stiff over poor surfaces. At highway speeds, the car is very stable and tracks well. Handling is nimble due to its independent suspension (front MacPherson strut/rear multi-link with coil springs) and standard Michelin Energy MXV-4 205/55R-16 all-season radials. Responsive steering, short wheelbase, and a decent turning circle (10.6 metres/34.7 ft.) make the S40 a manoeuvrable city car. The only problem is a high rear deck which can impede vision when parking.

The S40’s 2.4-litre five-cylinder engine offers 168 hp at 6000 rpm and 170 lb-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm, and with the standard five-speed manual transmission, it zips from a standstill to 100 km/h in about eight seconds.

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

The engine can be a bit noisy under hard acceleration, and I found passing performance uninspiring. Highway cruising is quiet with the engine turning over 2,600 rpm at a steady 100 km/h in fifth gear. Fuel consumption is good, but not class-leading: 10.9 L/100 km (26 mpg Imp.) city and 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg Imp.) highway. Even the BMW 323i does better than that.

The S40’s manual shifter offers easy, fluid shifts, clutch pedal effort is light, and clutch engagement is smooth. Braking chores are handled adequately by standard four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, electronic brake distribution and Emergency Brake Assistance.

To summarize the S40’s driving experience: this is a small car that feels like a more expensive luxury car – from the look and feel of the controls to its performance and handling. Its closest rival is probably the new Volkswagen Jetta. But the S40 2.4i model is not a sports sedan like the BMW 323i or Mini Cooper S.

Crash test results

The S40 has done well in government sponsored crash tests. In 35 mph frontal crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic

2006 Volvo S40 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

Administration (NHTSA), the 2006 S40 got four stars for the driver and five stars for the front passenger. In side impact crash tests, the NHTSA awarded five stars for the right front passenger and five stars for the right rear passenger.

In 40 mph frontal offset crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the S40 received a ‘Good’ rating. In side impact tests, it received an ‘Acceptable’ rating. This was mainly the result of ‘injuries’ to the test dummy’s torso in side impact tests. See the links below for more information.


Reliability

Consumer Reports rates the S40 as “Recommended” even though its reliability is rated “Average”, due to some owner’s concerns about ‘Electrical’ and ‘Power equipment’ problems (not specified).


Verdict

A classy compact, the Volvo S40 2.4i sedan offers a stylish interior, nimble handling, adequate performance, good fuel economy, above-average safety equipment, and a standard four-year/80,000 km warranty. Options can boost the base price considerably.


Photos


Pricing: 2006 Volvo S40 2.4i

  • Base price: $31,495
  • Options: $3,250 (Premium Package: automatic climate control with driver/passenger temperature adjustments, heated front seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum interior trim, stability and traction control, and headlight washers.)
  • Freight: $1,515
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $36,360 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


Crash test results


Related stories on Autos

Competitors

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Acura CSX

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 BMW 323i
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Mini Cooper S
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Saab 9-2X


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