Model/Engine size: 1.6 TD 4 door
Fuel economy combined: 57.6mpg
The Volvo S40 shares some of its styling cues with bigger Volvos – but it can manage 57mpg. So if you want the image of a traditional, safe Volvo, but with good economy, you should choose the S40 1.6TD. Or should you? Can you live with its quirks…?
Before we get on to its quirks, the big advantage of the Volvo is that it isn’t a BMW or an Audi. So if you think that such cars, or any of the other more popular offerings in this class, are too mainstream, then the S40 could be worthy of consideration.
It does most things generally acceptably, and still retains the perception of solidity and reassurance that a Volvo should offer. Of course safety is synonymous with Volvo, and that may be the key issue that pushes you in the direction of this car. The S40 has a five-star score in Euro NCAP crash tests, along with front, side and curtain airbags. The S40 achieved maximum marks in the NCAP side impact test, and it scored 82% for child protection.
The styling certainly looks less boxy and more sporty than Volvos of old – helped by the alloy wheels and low profile tyres on our car.
Volvo has also made an effort to inject some style into the interior, and a main feature of the dashboard is the very slim ‘floating’ centre panel. However this has its downsides, such as there are too many buttons all clumped together in the centre of the panel, and the edge of the panel tends to dig into the driver’s left leg.
The S40’s equipment levels are good; entry-level S models come with climate control, front and rear electric windows, remote central locking and 16-inch alloy wheels. Sport models have larger alloy wheels and sportier trim and suspension, while SE and SE Sport models include leather upholstery, an upgraded stereo system, automatic wipers and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat with memory.
Quality is generally high and reliability shouldn’t be a problem. There isn’t a huge amount of space inside; there’s no hatchback (although there is an estate), and access to the boot on the saloon is tight.
The diesel engine is noisy, especially at low speed, and as you may have guessed, in this 110bhp 1.6 TD guise, it’s fairly sluggish. The advantage is that the 57mpg (equating to CO2 emissions of 129g/km) combined with the size of the fuel tank (11.4 gallons) means it has a useful 665 mile potential range between fuel stops.
So what are the Volvo’s quirks? Well, they start when you get in the car. The position of the ignition key on the dashboard is just too close to the indicator stalk on the steering column. It makes it difficult to get the key in, and even more difficult to get it out.
A similar issue is experienced with the handbrake, which is positioned just too close to the gearlever, especially when in second or fourth gear.
On the move, the car seems to want to die at low revs when accelerating away, presumably due to the over-keen traction control system, but we feel that technology that kills the revs when accelerating out of a junction can be more dangerous than spinning the wheels.
The gearbox isn’t the most rewarding to use, and there is a tendency for a transmission snatch when coming on and off the accelerator. And there’s no clutch rest.
Despite Volvo working hard on improving the driving dynamics of the S40, which shares a platform with the Ford Focus and Mazda 3, it can’t really be described as a driver’s car, especially when compared to rivals. At the end of the day, this Volvo is a reasonably sized car, with a relatively low power diesel engine, front wheel drive, and an emphasis on safety rather than excitement. If that’s what you want, then that’s fine, just don’t expect it to be something else.
So the Volvo S40 is ideal for committed Volvo-lovers who want to stick with the brand but want one of its smallest and most fuel-efficient offerings. But it’s likely to be difficult for the S40 to tempt drivers out of BMWs and Audis.
Fuel economy extra urban: 67.3mpg
Fuel economy urban: 45.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 129g/km
Green rating: VED band C – £120
Weight: 1313 Kg
Company car tax liability (2008/09): 18%
Price: £16,795 (From £13,995 to £23,285)
Insurance group: 8
Safety: NCAP 5 star
Max speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 12 seconds
Also see our review of the Volvo S40 1.6D DRIVe ES Start/Stop