+ Striking Interior
+ Razor-Sharp Handling
+ Sweet FE
- Missing some Volvo-Expected Luxo Items for the Price
- Squeaks, Creaks, and Rattles
- Complicated/Fiddly Radio and HVAC Controls
Introduction: As I look back on the gobs of different models that I?ve driven, I had never gotten behind the wheel of a Volvo. The opportunity never presented itself. But on this day it did! I rented from my old agency ? the one that lets you pick any of about 50 vehicles in your level of membership. I practically ran over to it and called dibs.
Volvo is essentially a Ford brand these days. Instead of completely taking over the brand, Ford have let the Scandinavians run it the way they want to. The benefit: platform sharing. Ford uses the S60 platform, for example, for the 500. On the flip-side, when GM absorbed Saab, it basically de-Saabified it and took vehicles like the Chevy Trailblazer and stuck a Saab emblem on it. With Ford, it?s the other way around.
The S40 is Volvo?s entry-level offering that has been marketed to appeal to the successful 20-something that wants some luxury, power, style, and economy. Even still, the base model offers much of the Swedes? safety, sophistication, and quirkiness.
On the Outside: The S40 carries very similar looks to the other sedan models: from the grille, spoked wheels, and broad shoulders in the rear. For those slush-laden and muddy roadways, the S40 has the ?very upscale? headlight washers that deploy with the windshield squirter. Unfortunately, the color-keyed cap covering the driver?s side headlight washer popped off during its 12000 miles (it still worked). If you take a look at it from any angle, the car exhibits an air of sophistication.
On the inside: When the S40 was redesigned to match its larger siblings, the interior was the most memorable. The exterior matched the larger models, but the interior had been ?crafted?. The center control panel swoops into a thin work of art, revealing a considerable space behind it for storing goodies.
Unfortunately, that control panel was a flurry of tiny buttons to control the radio, seat heaters, and heat/air. The rest of the interior followed the upscale nature of the brand, with supportive sport leather seats, high-quality plastics, tilt/telescoping wheel and a manu-matic shifter. Compared with similar vehicles like the Acura TSX or 3-Series BMW, it has a warmer, more inviting presence with a focus on youth. Turn on the radio, and the display shows a rough graphic of the car before showing a funky display to control the heat/air ? which has about 20 notches on each of the temp and fan controls. At this level, an automatic climate control system should be standard as it wasn?t very user friendly as it stood. When the radio was in operation, stations that offered the following feature showed the artist, song, and station nickname. The classic 10-button ?telephone? panel was basically 10 station presets. Does your city have 10 stations you listen to regularly? Mine doesn?t ? I stretched it into 6-7. In the wheel, intuitive buttons changed presets, volume, and precisely controlled the cruise. But, its entry level nature showed through here and there. Move in the seat and it would creak, and rattles were present. Nothing huge, though.
The drive: This is my favorite part of the report. I expected a wheezy 4-banger or even a turbo and a wallowing, luxury ride. All preconceived notions were shattered. The engine instantly had significant power at any RPM level ? even with absolutely no compromise in top-end operation, and offered immediate response. Redline run-ups were actually smile-provoking. I fully expected this kind of power to come at a price: an FE price. It turns out that it this was a 5-cylinder. Hmmm...5? Surprisingly, it indeed did not suck the gas down (more on that later). The transmission did its job almost unnoticeably ? which is the hallmark of a good auto. I?m not speaking of the Buick-like soft slider shifts, but like a firm handshake: confident. Step on the go-pedal, and a downshift waits without delay. Press the ?W? button and you get a delayed, soft acceleration from startup to handle winter driving.
The steering wheel and the road communicated with one another via surgical precision. Take a corner at speed, and the suspension reacts with very light roll and immediate bite. The sport-factor was definitely there. Thrashing it around S-Curves was a piece of cake. It nearly felt 50/50 weight-balanced, but did understeer when pushed VERY hard. So, to sacrifice comfort, cruising felt a bit stiff. Some may complain, others will take it in stride. All of this was on the low rolling resistance Michelin Energy MXV4 tires! Heated seats were nice, but the radio was so-so (no aux input jack was present ? very bad for the target ?i-Pod? audience).
Safety: It?s Scandinavian. It?s a Volvo. Safety is absolutely first. ABS with EBD, Trac and stability control are standard as are the 360-degree airbags up front (curtains in back) and a safety cage that has been incessantly tested for maximum durability in a crash. The occupants? safety is paramount. There?s even an anti-whiplash head restraint system for the 4 outside passengers. The ignition key is actually a rectangle with a radio-chip in it (so there?s a separate cut-key for the door). Central locking and a high-mounted key slot will keep it out of your knee in a collision.
Efficiency: With as much torque as this engine puts-out at any moment, you?d think that fuel would be sucked down like mad. Not the case. I was surprised to inspect the ScanGauge during highway cruise and noted mid-to-high 30?s on level ground at 55 mph, and 20?s on hills. I was convinced that the SG was way off. I double checked the engine setting, and it was correct. The fuel fill-up was even spot-on with calcs. Honestly amazing. 75% of driving was on the highway, but the rest was hard, stop-and-go at ?society average? acceleration.
Conclusion: Since this is in the same class as our TSX, I wondered how it would stack up in a face-off. It has the same displacement (albeit one more cylinder), requires premium fuel (which as a rental it didn?t have), transmission type, and amenities. The trade-off is similar fuel-economy from 2 different engine styles: power is available anytime in the S40, where the Acura requires considerable throttle and relies on lots of tech and revs. The i-VTEC on the TSX is an LEV system, whereas the Volvo is not. The TSX offers auto-climate control, but isn?t as sporty or agile. Safety is similar, but not as ?famously proven?. The Volvo starts at about 3-grand less cashola. You can get a 6-speed manual in both cars but the S40 has a 2.5L I-5 Turbo version available and even AWD. The TSX is more ?one-size fits most? with minimal options and Honda reliability. Volvo reliability is also legendary. Remember the old 240 DL?s that would easily go ?-million miles? Some of that has diminished since the Ford merger and as they became more complexly luxurious. YMMW with reliability? but rest assured that your dealer will take good care of you.
Now for the FE conclusion: Wow! 31.6 MPG in mixed driving without trying is tremendous in this class. This is actually a safe, fun, practical, sophisticated, 4-door with decent rear-seat and trunk space + good FE. What a treat!
Model: 2007 Volvo S40
EPA Class: Compact Car
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic with LUTC with Manu-Matic and ?Winter? mode
Engine: DOHC 20-Valve Inline 5-cylinder rated at 168 HP and 170 lb-ft torque
Gross Weight: 3234 lbs
Fuel Consumed: 2.9 gallons
Speed Avg: 44 MPH
Distance: 90.4 Miles
Duration of Operation: 2.0 Hours
Ambient Outside Temp: 32-40F
FE Conclusion: Better than the EPA claims ? even with the temptation to use that flexible range of power during this test.
For the Hypermiler: If you need luxury, this may be the best bet. Get the 6-speed manual without the turbo or AWD -- although you lose a little MPG on paper ? beating that with technique could yield an easily managed set of 40+ tanks (all the while having a blast in the corners). I?m not sure how EOC would be ? it probably wouldn?t like it much being safety-conscious.
Side Story: I blew a fuse in the power-point that was needed for my GPS while trying to power my laptop for music. I?ve done it successfully a bunch of times, but I recently upgraded to a more powerful inverter. That darn thing blows every outlet I plug it into. It?s promptly going back to Radio Shack to trade for a lower-wattage version. So, I left the key in the ignition and located the owner?s manual.
Luckily the owner?s manual was with the spare tire. So, it turns out the fuse panel is actually under the glove box. To get to it, remove the panel, unscrew 2 screws and the panel actually drops down. Without a fuse-puller (why don?t they put those in cars anymore!!!) I improvised with a pen. I ended up pulling the door locking/interior light circuit by accident ? all I knew the lights went out and I needed them back. After replacement the lights didn?t come back on ? I needed them! It turns out the timer for the door being open cut the lights. I looked for a plunger on the door latch, but in a hurry didn?t find one. I shut the door to reset the light.
OK, with the facts presented, guess what happened? ? Just think ?Inept RH77 type of stuff?. Yup, locked-out. Luckily I was close to home, so my wife picked me up and I got the road-side assistance folks by. I was really worried about the anti-theft engineering with this car. It turns out you can unlock any car, without leaving damage, with the right tools and finesse. I couldn?t believe how they did it. Trade secrets -- or look up on the Internet ;-) Well alright I?ll tell you. The locksmith put a blood-pressure cuff device in the door and gently pumped it up. The door separated far enough to allow a long, flexible rod to push the ?unlock? button. No car is safe from thievery if you think about it. Luckily no breaking of windows was required. At any rate, I was more than 2-hours off-schedule, so I had to return the car and give up on my trip for the day and try it again the next day. I wasn?t so lucky: Chevy Cobalt 4-door. Ugh.
Your pleasent review of the S40 only makes this car more tempting. It has one of my auto show favorites for awhile!!!
Thanks for your work!
Thanks to you as well. It's good to see folks enjoying the reviews.
I really fell for the S40's swooping center console a few years ago at our local auto-show (I think the re-design was '03 - not sure). Back then, I was really into the S60R Turbo-AWD. I ended up with an Mitsu Evo instead (less expensive). Then I sold it in hopes of getting something with better FE. It didn't make sense to drive a car every day with gobs of power and no legal place to unleash it.
So, at the rental lot, I couldn't believe it when there was a Volvo available to drive in the "choose your own vehicle" fleet -- and then to have it get a surprisingly high FE (there were a couple more available when I returned mine the next day). Where I usually rent vehicles now, Volvos are in the "Prestige Collection".
I'm 99% certain that it hadn't been gassed up with Premium fuel, since most people don't return rentals with the more expensive gas (and it had over 10000 miles on it). I'm guessing that it had to have been running on a less-aggressive timing profile, and perhaps more efficiently? But honestly, you couldn't tell from the power response. What a blast to drive -- especially the handling.
As a contrast, to get over 30 MPG in the TSX during the Winter requires almost all highway driving and lots of throttle finesse on hills. The Volvo did it with one more cylinder, the cruise was set at speeds around 70, got stuck in heavy stop-and-go traffic and did some in-town driving with stronger acceleration. I can't really explain it. Perhaps a good tire choice helped -- aside from that
Maybe a couple more can be driven by others to confirm the result. If I come across one again, I'd surely choose it for another test!
For the Hypermiler: If you need luxury, this may be the best bet. Get the 6-speed manual without the turbo or AWD -- although you lose a little MPG on paper – beating that with technique could yield an easily managed set of 40+ tanks (all the while having a blast in the corners). I’m not sure how EOC would be – it probably wouldn’t like it much being safety-conscious.
So I rented another Volvo S40 for a trip from KC to St. Louis and back.
On the way out, it was about 300 miles at 30 MPG.
Now, on the way back, I took a leisurely route instead of I-70. Top speeds were lower and the A/C was used.
To my amazement, a pump-fill upon returning the vehicle showed the following:
7.839 gallons 37.72 MPG
(ScanGauge is in the "shop")...
Estimated average speed: 45-50 mph
Technique: Drove slower, used the hills for coast/load, utilized the manu-matic and just kept the top speed down. Otherwise, no EOC or any other technique was used.
I'm really shocked. There could be some irregularity in the pump method, but even still, a 5-10% variance produces good FE.
The 2.4L 5-cylinder pulls hard when needed. If you shift the gear selector into "Manu-matic", 5th gear will hold the TC on hills, even with near-full throttle, until it reaches 40 mph. Nice feature for an auto!
Aside from the comfort, safety, and feature content, the factor that really sticks out on this car is the suspension. The S40 handles great. Twisty roads are a blast, and the low-end torque pulls through the final part of the corners perfectly.
...and apparently, if you take it easy, good FE can be realized too. What a great car!
Nice review indeed!
Just hope the car can take regular fuel comfortably.
Someone care to review the AWD versions please?
Just don't know how much more fuel will be needed by the AWD model.
Thanks -- I enjoyed driving the car as well as writing about it
What's strange is that the fuel-filler door didn't have any warnings about premium fuel. It had a big yellow sticker about replacing the cap.
Under near-full load at sub-2000 RPMs, uphill, there was no ping or knock that I could hear. The engine bay may be quite insulated too -- but I can generally hear that stuff. Generous power was still available.
Unfortunately, to get AWD requires an upgrade to the 218-hp Turbo-5. It's a mild-pressure variant, but premium fuel would almost be required for detonation safety, and FE would assuredly decrease.