The key to long term cars sales success is, naturally, selling a lot of cars. To do that repeatedly, a broad range of products is a must. Towards that goal, and to help put more and younger drivers behind Swedish steering wheels, luxury car builder Volvo is introducing a new compact series, the S40 sedan and V40 wagon. Now, they’re the most affordable Volvos in years. But since buyers expect big things from any Volvo, can their expectations still be met at a smaller price?

After spending a lot of time with Volvo’s new compact luxury cars, we think that the answer is a resounding yes. For a start, both the S40 sedan and the V40 wagon are slick and stylish, with a lot of the posh S80’s look. Especially in the rear, where smooth flowing lines offer little hint of the traditional Volvo boxiness.

With an overall length of 176.5-inches, and wheelbase of 100.4-inches, the 40s are easily the smallest of current Volvos. But like many small packages, they pack a lot of good things inside. The interior is quite roomy and very well equipped with a host of luxury features. The wood-grain trimmed dash is handsome and Volvo efficient, boasting excellent materials and build quality.

Safety features, besides Volvo’s traditional tank-like construction, include front and side airbags, plus the S80 sedan’s Whiplash Protection System for the front seats. Which, incidentally, offer superb support and back comfort. More stuffing for the bottom cushion is our only want. And, we highly recommend the optional seat heat and soft leather upholstery. Like all Volvos, instruments are large and legible. Ditto the standard automatic climate controls, with dirt and pollen filters.

But while we like the sound and layout of our test car’s optional CD-equipped stereo, it could be moved higher in the dash for easier use. Which would also get it clear of the dash-mounted cup holders. Here’s a messy accident waiting to happen!

Rear seat room is sufficient for all but the tallest adults. And the 70/30 split seatbacks fold easily for more cargo space, which is already a healthy 13.2 cubic-feet in the S40 sedan and 30.2 cubic-feet in the V40 wagon.

To motivate both sedan and wagon, Volvo provides a single engine, a 1.9-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve 4-cylinder, thankfully boosted by a light-pressure turbocharger. It pumps out 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. All feeding to the front wheels through a 4-speed automatic transmission with sport, economy and winter modes. Unfortunately, no manual is offered. But the auto still let us reach 60 in a fine 8.5 seconds. And through the 1/4 mile in 16.4 seconds at 86 miles-per-hour.

The engine is peppy, quick revving, with a flat torque curve and overall smooth feel. But, its buzzy behavior when pushed hard, combined with somewhat sluggish shifts, are not what some might expect in even a compact luxury car.

Whether we drove the 40s in heavy city traffic, or on the wide open highway, we found turbo lag to be minimal. Passing power is delivered quickly, but it peaks just as quickly and there is little reserve.

Smooth and refined are the terms we’d apply to our testers’ ride and handling. The compact S40 and V40 ride like their bigger, plusher 70 and 80 brethren on a front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension. But on our test track, that translates into an ultra-tight, super-nimble feel not found in other Volvos. Despite some push in corners, there is excellent balance and the responsive power steering is spot on, though very tight cornering will see engine revs drop low enough that the turbo requires a moment or two to pick up speed. Still, we equate the 40’s road holding prowess to the class benchmark BMW 3-Series.

The anti-lock equipped 4-wheel disc brakes are also impressive, averaging short 114 foot stops from 60. While a touch soft, the pedal delivers fine response. And chassis stability under braking is first rate.

And to get all this in S40 sedan form, you need to pay a reasonable base price of $23,475. In V40 wagon form, the price starts at $24,475. Though if you’re not prudent, options can push the price close to $30,000.

We favor the basic package ourselves, which offers tremendous comfort and performance for the dollar. Automobile Magazine called the S40 and V40: ”...stylish, well made, and better to drive than most of the Japanese and domestic cars in their price category.” And we think some pricier European models, as well.

So, impressively affordable price or not, compact size or not, the Volvo S40 sedan and V40 wagon do indeed provide buyers everything they expect from any car called Volvo. And if that doesn’t put a lot more Americans behind Swedish steering wheels, nothing will!


  • Engine: 2.5-Liter, Dohc, 24-valve, In-line 6 Cylinder
  • Horsepower: 170
  • Torque: 181 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 6.5 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 15 Seconds @ 93 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 105 Feet
  • EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 28 MPG Highway