Volvo brings content-laden all-new entry luxury S40

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Volvo like all manufacturers of luxury products have found it necessary to produce so-called entry-level vehicles to attract younger customers, and keep older customers in the fold.

They want the 30-somethings, many of whom have young families, who can start in an entry-level vehicle and grow into the full-line of Volvos as their affluence grows.
They also want these products to appeal to an older generation of empty nesters who are on or approaching a fixed income and are familiar with the brand but don’t want to tie up 50-large in a new vehicle.

Here’s the tricky part: these products must carry an affordable price tag while retaining the qualities embodied in the higher priced luxury models. The companies can’t afford to water down their lower-priced products too much, so they have to craft the content that can be put into a $25,000 to $35,000 vehicle carefully. Volvo seems to have worked the balancing act to perfection.

Volvo entered this market in 2000 with limited success with its S40 sedan and V40 wagon, compact vehicles that gave buyers the opportunity to own a Volvo and the corresponding Volvo safety features and brand heritage for under 30-grand.

Volvo sold around 30,000 S40s in 2000, but sales have tapered off since then. Volvo wants to get back to that figure with an all-new 2005 S40 originally introduced as a 2004.5 (for technical certification reasons) now in showrooms.

The new sedan is an improvement in almost every way from the original version, including luxury refinement, a remarkable feat for a vehicle starting at about $25,000.

Torsional rigidity has been increased 68 percent in the new S40, which is built on Ford’s worldwide C1 platform developed by Mazda and shared with the new Mazda3 and the European Ford Focus. Basic structure aside, each company develops and tunes the platform differently for its own unique needs making direct comparisons near impossible.

Needless to say Volvo has prepared their basic structure to deliver that special quality that is oft called “Volvoness.” It looks like a Volvo and acts like a Volvo.

The new flexible platform has allowed Volvo to increase the width by 2.1 inches and the wheelbase has been stretched 3.1 inches over the prior generation car.
The increased wheelbase has opened up the interior, particularly in the rear where legroom has increased 1.7 inches and shoulder room has grown proportionally.
The new car looks more athletic with short overhangs and bulging fenders.

And looks are not deceiving is this case. The new dimensions, including a wider track, give the S40 a more athletic stance on the highway. The styling has been reworked to include the familiar Volvo grille and taillights. And, in fact, the S40 now looks like a shorter version of the popular mid-sized S60.

The new S40 gives buyers a choice of two engines. The standard engine found in the 2.4i trim line is a 2.4-liter 5-cylinder generating 168-horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque.

Optional is the hot-running turbocharged T5 with a 2.5-liter 5-cylinder making 218-horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.

The 2.4-liter engine comes mated to either a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. The turbocharged engine can be purchased with a 6-speed close-ratio manual or 5-speed auto.

We drove both the 2.4i with a 5-speed manual transmission and the T5 with automatic. (Note that the T5 is becoming available with all-wheel drive this summer with a base price of $28,395).
The 2.4 with manual combination proved lively and fun to drive. The shifter has light action and short, accurate throws. It is our guess that most people will prefer the automatic, but if you decide this may be the time to take a chance with a do-it-yourself shifter, you may find a new joy in driving. We found the smaller engine is adequate for all situations and moved us through and around heavy traffic without a hiccup.

For comparison purposes, figure about 7.7 seconds 0 to 60 with the manual and 8.5 with the automatic. This decent performance comes with 30 miles per gallon fuel economy, something that has become more important as gas prices have soared above $2 per gallon.

But if you want performance, it’s available in the S40 with the T5 to the tune of 0 to 60 in just over 6 seconds with the 6-speed/218-horsepower engine combination. The T5 we drove with the automatic was a “Geartronic” that allowed for some sport shifting that proved effective and gave a bit of a thrill to the drive. Handling was crisp and without any noticeable under or oversteer. Good confident fun across the board.

The inside is indeed, that of a luxury car. Material is expensive looking. Fit and finish is excellent. But the first thing that strikes the eye once behind the wheel is the slim aluminum-surrounded center stack that could pass for a work of art.

Four large knobs (two stereo and two climate control) flank the center controls that look like a large, thin television remote control. The whole design is clean, uncluttered and handsome, a vision of modern Scandinavian sculpture.

At first glance, it looks rather complicated to operate. But, after a short acclamation, it becomes fairly intuitive.

The seats are comfortable and should provide for pain-free long-distance driving. The back seats, likewise, have a nice balance between firm and soft all in the right places.

Volvo and safety have become synonymous over the years. And Volvo has not short-changed the new S40. Standard features include Volvo’s Side Impact Protection System that includes side impact airbags and side curtain airbags. Other safety features include a Whiplash Injury Protection for the front seats, collapsible steering wheel and pedals, traction control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes with emergency brake assist.

Volvo says it is using four grades of steel including high-tensile steel for the frontal structure to create optimal crumple zones. Volvo recently achieved five-star crash test ratings for both front and side impacts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

One noteworthy feature we have never seen before as factory equipment is a driver’s side rearview mirror with the outer portion shaped to eliminate the blind spot allowing the driver to see cars in the rear bumper area.

Prices for the 2.4i start at $23,945. A few desirable options will take the price up a few thousand dollars, but the S40 is still a bargain.

The 2.4i came with the premium package including power driver’s seat, power moonroof, wood inlays, audio controls on the steering wheel, electronic climate control and leather seating surfaces for $2,295; sport package including dynamic suspension, sport alloy 17-inch wheels, fog light and spoiler for $850; climate package including rain senor wipers, heated front seats and headlamp washer for $625; audio package including a premium sound system and 6-CD in-dash changer, $895; and B-Xenon headlamps Dynamic Stability Control, $1,395. That brought the bottom line to $30,005 including destination charges.

The T5 we drove had a starting price of $26,745, the premium package including leather and moonroof for $2,195, the sport package with Dynamic sport suspension and 17-inch wheels for $750, an audio package for $850, the climate package for $625, a convenience package including Homelink - $405, Dynamic Stability Traction Control - $695, Bi-Xenon headlamps with washers - $700, and the 5-speed automatic with “Geartronic” auto-stick functions for $1,200. Total sticker came to $34,165 including destination charges.

The new S40 is certainly worthy of the Volvo name and should provide viable competition for such makes as the Audi A4, Acura TSX, BMW 325i and Saab 9-3.

Customers of any age who want a high content, entry-level, sporty sedan of European origin need look no further. The S40 combines fun, safety and “Volvoness” in one sharp package.