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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.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 9 Years Ago
      Puff Chippy - are you really so sure that the US will not buy small premium cars - particularly the way gas prices are? I would buy one. I am in the car myself most of the time, and do not need a land barge, but I still want premium features and performance. The basic platform for this car is shared with the Mazda3 and Ford Focus II, but other than suspension design the differences are pretty big. The S40 is built up signifigantly more with a lot of work going into the structure - and a Mazda 3 cannot be had with the same safety systems available on the Volvo.

      Also - congrats on working in a BMW rant. I am not sure what your point is. Maybe you always wanted a BMW and could never get one. I don't know. Journalists usually have nothing but positives to say about BMW driving characteristics so I am not sure why they are a bad choice for a car if you want a little sport in your sedan. Oh well - maybe it is like Duke Basketball...eventually it gets boring to root for an obvious choice.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Oh yeah, one more stupid thing to check out:

      If you go to http://www.mazda3.com and check the highest trip and every available option, it's almost 30k just for the Mazda (I think like 26-27k specifically)
      • 9 Years Ago
      I actually own the FWD version of this car so I cannot speak to its handeling characteristics specifically but everything else is the same. The S60 is more plush inside but for us younger buyers, the S40 is where the party is. Peppier engine, Superb Stereo, Stylish Design, Comfortable Seats, Accent lighting, etc... are all there to impress mom & dad when you come home with it (as well as the women folk) There are qualms I have with it that I hope a service visit will fix (mainly software enging management related but nothing detrimental, just annoyances). Overall I like the ride and its comfortable for long trips (although I have never sat in the back for long trips) but I would recommend it to any of my friends.

      • 9 Years Ago
      It's Ford's version of an Expedition: take a $15,000 vehicle (Mazda3 / F-150) add a bunch of crap that at manufacturer's cost comes to squat and sell it for $30,000. Were not refined for not drinking the Kool-aid? I dont think so.
      Even Toyota and Nissan dont get away with the scam, they dont sell that many Sequoias and Armadas (based on Tundra/Titan).
      • 9 Years Ago
      3,447 lbs? LOL
      My 12 year old 6 cyl Volvo 960 wagon weighs that much. And thats a much larger car than this toy. This is not a real volvo. Just a focus in drag. And the interior quality is cheap beyond belief. Hard plastics everywhere.
      • 9 Years Ago
      I wonder if Volvo would have more success in the US if they widened the engine range, or do US buyers demand bigger engines?
      My dad just bought an S40 1.6 diesel in the Uk for 14,300 (big discount). This puts it in a different price category where it can compete with some fairly ordinary cars and is much cheaper than the A4 or 3 series. And yet the Volvo feels much more upscale , and is perhaps the best equipped car in its class, with DTSC, cruise, climate control all standard on the base model.
      And the 1.6 diesel has more torque than the 2.4 petrol, so it's decent to drive too.
      • 9 Years Ago
      I am personally disappointed with the mileage one can expect out of an S40. I will soon be in the market for a fuel efficient, yet fun to drive automobile and I am at a loss for options in the US market.

      The Mazda 3 is a great example of a car that can be fun to drive yet still gets decent mileage. (28/35 in i trim) However, I would like something a little more upscale. It is unfortunate that a car built on the same platform could perform so much worse. (base S40 is rated at 22/32)
      • 9 Years Ago
      Nate, reread the article. It states that they chose Quattro with an Audi A4 2.0T, not with the Volvo.
      • 9 Years Ago
      It's all about the V70R.
      • 9 Years Ago
      gag, Audi A4 is a million times better than this ford crap, Volvos used to REALLY good, back when they were own By Volvo, not by Ford.
        • 8 Years Ago
        Obviously you didn't do your research. Ford only owns Volvo. They are not Fords- You can't even buy them at the same dealership. Their parts are not exchangeable.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Contrary to most enthusiast blogs, most Americans really don't want a little car like this or we'd already be driving them. $33k for that? Sure, that kind of money for a tiny little car may work for BMW where you have buyers willing to pay just so that they can tell their golf/shopping pals they they have a BMW but that won't fly in a Volvo. I've driven an S40 and was shocked at how flimsy it felt. Reminded me very much of the crummy Corolla's I used to get as loaners when I had my Lexus worked on. If this is the kind of car you really want then the Mazda3 is a much better value.
      • 9 Years Ago
      I think the aero package is very subtle, and comparitively cheap compared to other brands' body cladding. Every time I look at this car I can't help but see a Mazda3 thanks to the very distinct proportions. I think the Mazda3 is kind of ugly, and it's obvious that they had to deal with this Volvo platform when they were styling it. The dimensions work for the Volvo, but not for the 3. Ditch the spoiler and the wheels. The A pillar has a good curve to it, and the whole canopy flows very nicely.

      In my area, people will buy a Volvo to impress others just like a Bimmer or Benz. Volvo is seen as somewhat alternative or different, like Saab. With the big push for safety by every manufacturer now, Volvo's reputation helps the clout approach the other European brands.
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