We in this country often complain that Europeans get their pick of fun-to-drive, premium compact cars while we’re force fed SUVs and full-size trucks. The Volvo S40 is a rolling rebuttal to that argument. Europeans, however, have become accustomed to paying a premium for small cars that perform, handle and feel like a luxury car. Are North Americans ready to pay for the kind of small car they desire from afar, or is the grass growing in the cracks of the other guy’s parking lot just greener?
Can a potent powerplant, all-wheel drive, Volvo’s reputation for safety and the S40’s attractive styling make a convincing case for a compact car that costs over thirty-thousand clams? Let’s crank the S40’s odd little plastic key and find out…
Click sticker for readable highrez version
The Volvo S40 can be had in mild mannered 2.4i trim for around $24K, though Volvo sent us a range-topping T5 AWD model that starts at $28,715. Our tester had every option box short of a moonroof and DVD nav system checked, which revved the price up to around $33K. (Cough, cough… ahem) That’s thirty-three grand for a sedan built on the same C1 platform as the $15-$20K Mazda3. The Mazda3 is arguably the best sub-$20K sedan on the market and as much a threat to the S40 as the Acura TSX and Audi A4 despite their diverging lineage. The Acura and Audi meanwhile are the two most oft mentioned entry-level luxury sedans whispered in the same breath as our sporting Swede.
Out of the aforementioned group of competing sports sedans (see an Edmunds comparison here), the Volvo S40 T5 AWD stacks up very well producing the superlative output of the bunch with its 218-hp turbocharged 2.5L inline-five engine with variable valve timing. While the Audi A4 can be had with a 3.2L V6, we instead chose to face off with the 2.0T model that packs a 200-hp turbocharged four, though we did opt for the Quattro all-wheel drive.
The offset of tenacious traction via AWD is weight, and our Volvo and the Audi A4 are a lot heavier than the Acura TSX and especially the Mazda3. The Volvo S40 T5 AWD at 3,447 lbs. is certainly a bit husky for its class, but it wears its weight like a much larger vehicle. The S40 looks like the larger S60 accidentally shrunk in the wash. The leading edge of the hood and the rear deck are both high off the ground and Volvo’s trademark side “shoulders” are present here, all of which led to us giving the S40 a new nickname: the Raging Warthog. Just like those wild pigs with ample incisors, the S40 is small in dimension but big in stature. The design exudes large car confidence from its small body. So despite being no larger than the Mazda3, the Volvo S40 makes you feel like you’re driving something bigger and better than an econobox.
Our particular car was also laden with Volvo’s Dynamic Trim package, a $1,895 bundle of body kit baubles we would normally forego. The add-ons include front and rear spoilers, a lower rear valance, side sills and lower door edge moldings. The frosting on the cake is a set of 17-inch SCOTIA alloy wheels. These mega multi-spoke wheels usher the S40 T5 into boy racer territory and fetch more than a few unsolicited glances from teenagers driving around in ten-year old Hondas. Volvo offers an impressive number of six different wheels design for the S40, all of which we happen to prefer over the expensive SCOTIA rims. Go figure.
Volvo designers have made an artform out of successfully reinventing the box and this iteration of the S40 is perhaps our most favorite until the new S80 arrives later this year. The protruding Volvo grille with its flat front flanked by a pair of deeply offset headlamp clusters containing projector lamp low beams is much more distinctive than the Mazda3’s windswept fascia, but cars don’t sell on looks alone. Stay tuned as we review the content’s of Volvo’s voluptuous box and flog the Raging Warthog on the paved plains of suburbia.