By Jim Bray
(photos by Les Enser)
Volvo. The name is synonymous with safety and durability, and for years it
was also synonymous with cars that looked like cinder blocks on wheels.
Those days are now long gone, fortunately, and the recent crop of Volvos has
been as pleasing aesthetically as they are technologically. This has undoubtedly
helped the Swedish company remain competitive in an increasingly crowded automotive
marketplace, and if my experience with the 2005 S40 sedan is any indication,
the company will be doing quite well for the foreseeable future.
The S40 is Volvos entry level vehicle, a four door sedan
available in a variety of configurations. My test unit was the T5 AWD, which
is the higher end version and it came with enough extras and gewgaws to move
its price tag from the S40s base of just under thirty grand Canadian
to just under fifty thousand Canuck loonies.
Not cheap, but not out of the ballpark, either, considering what you get.
Take the engine, for example. The T5 label indicates that this S40 includes
a hot, turbocharged and intercooled inline five cylinder power plant with variable
valve timing. Its rated at 218 horses @ 5000 rpm and 236 lb. ft. of torque,
numbers that dont seem excessive at a price point where six cylinder-equipped
entries such as Infinitis G35 are pushing nearly 300 ponies, but they
also dont tell the whole story. Most of the torque is available from
about 1500 rpm and once you ram the gas pedal to the floor and wait just the
tiniest moment for the turbo to kick in it rockets you forward in a most satisfying
My all wheel drive unit also sported a wonderfully smooth and slickly shifting
6 speed manual that was one of the nicest 6 speed sticks Ive driven to
date. Every gear is easy to find and the ratios seem designed for the enjoyment
of the driver.
Other engine choices include a 170 horsepower 1.9 litre four banger and a
168 horsepower 2.4 litre five. Having driven the top line unit, however, I
dont think Id want to hamstring this lovely performer by giving
it anything less than the lovely top line engine. Likewise, you can also get
five speed transmissions, either manual or automatic, but I sure liked that
Ditto for the all wheel drive, which helps the S40 stick to the road like
peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth. Base models come with front
The cabin is a lovely place to do the job of driving, or passenging,
very comfortable for four though a little tight in back for five much
like most cars of this size. The drivers seat features the usual bevy
of power adjustments and its easy to find a great driving position. I
thought the left foot rest was a little too close, but thats where the
front wheel well is so what can you do besides buy a larger car?
The front seats in my tester were covered in a fairly nice grade of what seems
like leather and came with bun warmers and memory settings. Theyre very
comfortable and though it doesnt look as if theyd offer a lot of
lateral support when I took the S40 on my favorite trek through the twisties
near the Canadian Rockies they held us in better than we expected.
The rear seat splits 60/40 and folds to let you carry long stuff in the trunk.
This is good because the trunk was one of my two criticisms of the S40 it
isnt large enough. My other quibble was the storage bins on the inside
of the front doors: they might hold a pack of cigarettes but thats about
it. Fortunately theres a lot of other storage available.
The Volvos handsome and comfortable interior has a really neat center
stack splitting the dashboard that looks like something out of a Bang & Olufsen
catalog. It houses the HVAC and audio equipment, though the stereo probably
isnt B&O or the S40 would undoubtedly cost another ten grand
And the thinness of the panel means theres room for a little storage
platform behind it, out of the way yet quite easily accessible. Its the
perfect place to put something you dont mind forgetting about, cause
the little cubby is so darn cozy and unique that you could easily
forget its there.
The stereo, with the usual AM/FM radio tuners and 6 disc in dash CD changer,
sounds very good. In fact, it thunders quite satisfactorily. It inspired us
to crank up the remastered The Who Live at Leeds, and we were glad we did.
Theres an abundance of speakers mounted throughout the cabin including
a center front speaker designed to exploit the systems Dolby Pro Logic
II capabilities. I dont understand why they wouldnt go all the
way and play DVD Audio and dts DVD 5.1 music discs like Acura and others do.
Those new audio formats arent doing well, unfortunately, but boy can
they ever sound great! I tried a disc from each format in the S40 and it threw
up its little electronic hands in frustration.
The HVAC works well, the wipers do an excellent job of cleaning right to the
drivers side edge of the windshield and the washers positively hose down
the glass and headlights. Audio/cruise controls are mounted on the steering
wheel as well and the simple, icon-based labels are nicely straightforward.
That delicious engine/transmission combination is hooked into a car that uses
struts up front and a multilink setup in its bum, with a nice ride thats
comfortable and smooth, but compliant enough to let you still feel the road.
The S40 sports four wheel power disc brakes, with ABS of course. I found
the brakes a tad grabby; just think about stepping on the pedal and the Volvo
stands on its nose. This took a couple of days to get used to, but in the end
I appreciated the quick activation of the cars very good stopping power.
The electro hydraulic, speed sensitive, power rack and pinion steering is tight
The whole car is straightforward in feel and operation, maybe a bit sterile
but certainly not unpleasant. I didnt really know what to expect when
I got into this car. This was my first Volvo review and the last time I drove
a Volvo it was my youngest sons first car, a moribund cinder block. The
fact that that wreck was still on the road was probably a backhanded tribute
to Volvo. And the companys safe, somewhat stuffy image built over the
years didnt give much hope that this would be a fun car to drive.
But it sure is! If this is Volvos entry level car, I cant wait
to see what they consider upmarket.