• Apr 28, 2006
Some automakers do things differently just to be different. Volvo is one of those brands, and the interior of the S40 bears out the company’s antiestablishment ways. From the ultra-slim center console to the Dynamic T-Tec seating material to the vertically stacked stereo and HVAC controls, it’s clear the interior of the S40 has been developed by designers who march to the beat of a different drum.

But a vehicle’s interior is a driver’s domicile, and since more time is spent inside a vehicle staring at gauges, buttons and dials than taking-in exteriors, it’s of extreme importance that an interior function as well as it looks. After a few days inhabiting the S40 we’ve come up with some conclusions on whether or not Volvo’s earned a payoff for being different inside the S40.


From the moment you slam the door shut on the S40, your senses are triggered by a different environment than what you might be used to. The seats, for instance, are upholstered in what Volvo calls Dynamic T-Tec, a material more premium than cloth that feels a bit like neoprene, the stuff out of which wetsuits are made. It’s a nice diversion from leather, and in concert with the front seats’ sufficient bolstering does well holding driver and passenger in place.



Once settled its time to take inventory of the dash and center console, the latter of which bisects the former with what fellow Autoblogger Chris Paukert called a “free-floating aluminum ribbon” back in a review he did of another S40 T5 (sans AWD) on The Truth About Cars. The center ribbon breaks away from the dash and leaves a void of space behind itself in which various sundries can be stowed. We were totally smitten with this design element, as simple as it is. The slot-loading drive of the CD player is placed high enough on the ribbon to take advantage of the dash’s depth, but the stereo and HVAC controls, neither of which require a deep recess, seem as if they’ve been playfully stuck to the aluminum center console like magnets on a fridge.



If only they were magnets so we could arrange them in a way that better facilitated their use. As they are the center sliver of buttons and four large dials take some getting used to. While someone who reads hiragana, katakana and kanji might find their vertical layout comforting, us non-Japanese speaking folk prefer our order of action to flow from left to right (read: horizontally).



Though it’s odd to see a telephone number pad front and center, the 10-station preset (without the use of submenus) was much appreciated. The HVAC system is operated via two large knobs that control temperature and fan speed, while stabbing your finger at a minimalist depiction of the human form will direct the flow of air. Some in the comments of our first post rightly point out that any aftermarket modification of the stereo is nixed thanks the center console’s unusual design, which is just another example of how the S40 tends to err on the side of form over function.



The S40’s big backsize means that trunk space is decent. The back end packs in 12.6 cubic, more than the Mazda3 but less than the Audi and Acura models. We appreciated the trunk’s flush floor, which hides the spare, though the lack of a dip-down sacrifices a few cubes of grocery room.



Another niggle we had with the S40’s insides were the diminutive door handles that only allow two fingers to slip behind their short bars. While circus folk and other people with small hands might appreciate their Lilliputian scale, the tiny door handles only serve to aggravate one’s egress from the vehicle.



Much has also been said in the comments of our last post about the S40’s interior space and the amount of elbowroom available, specifically when compared with the volume inside the “larger” Volvo S60. As evident by a side-by-side from Edmunds, it’s true that the S40 and S60 are extremely close in terms of interior dimensions. The S40 manages its space much more efficiently than the S60, which is both longer and wider than its little ‘bro. The S40 also feels bigger inside than it looks outside, but that’s not to say it isn’t snug. One man’s snug, however, is another’s “just right”, so you’ll have to sit in an S40 to judge for yourself.



So... does the S40’s interior help the car’s cause or set it back in its pursuit to win the hearts and minds of small car fans around the world? We give the Swedes credit here for imbuing the S40 with a little style inside, although it’s clear that Volvo sometimes favors being different for its own sake, rather than for its customers. Those quirky touches and unique design elements are what build brand identity, however, and Volvo has been successful at cultivating an image that not only encompasses its heritage of safety, but also its penchant for beating a new path.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 22 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      the center console only precludes the addidtion of any aftermarket headunits (cd/dvd, etc)... most amplifiers do support line-in (read: speaker output from the car's standard amplifier) sound inputs, while not the preferred method of wiring a car's audio, it will work towards getting those 1000 dollar focal component speakers wired and powered!
      • 8 Years Ago
      I really liked this car but the use of Mazda parts made me feel as if I was being overcharged for what I was getting...so I bought something else...
      • 8 Years Ago
      Mr Neff, Volvo design is different because it's Scandinavian which uses distinct design cues. Swedish design, in particular, is traditionally marked by "simplicity, severity and a funtionalist orientation"; i.e, the minimalism evident in the S40 interior design.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I scored one of these for 3 weeks in a promotion Volvo was running. It was a solid car. The sticker price is a little high but dealers will cut you a good deal. There were a few things I couldn't stand.

      One, the back seat is tiny. I drive an A3 now. It feels like a Buick by comparison. Second, the pedals are too close together. The lip of my dress shoe was always getting caught under the brake pedal. Its okay with sneakers but otherwise its enough to drive you crazy. Third, the stereo does not perform well. It reset itself on cold days and doesn't sound that well to begin with. Also, there's little point to the storage space it creates. You can't easliy reach back there and if anything falls out its right next to the gas/brake pedals. Not a good place to have things fall. I just didn't see the point. Invest your engineering dollars elsewhere - start with the pedals and the rear seats.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I spent a few weeks deciding between a slightly used V50 (much the same car as the S40) vs. Audi's A3.

      V50 has to be one of the most handsome compact wagons around, but in the end shoddy materials and lack of thoughtfulness killed the Volvo for me. Absolutely *no* storage space up front besides that cool - but awkward - cubby behind the aluminum. Non-upgradeable audio was also a bummer, but cheap materials were everywhere and the T-Tec was a disaster; looks & feels cool on the showroom floor, but shockingly starts to *fray* with regular use as if a cat has been scratching at it; after 10,000 miles the seats on the car I was considering looked far more distressed than regular velour would after 50,000 miles.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Hi, I have a Volvo S40 T5 AWD 2005, but i had a an accident and i need parts for this car, may be you can help me in this.
      I need all grills, The air box, and all hoses for turbo.
      I really apreciatte if you can help me.

      Carlos Vasquez.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The stereo and HVAC controls *are* grouped to read left-to-right. Why would you want them arranged side-by-side? If you just want the buttons for each to be in one row, they'd be *very* tiny or stretch across the entire dash.Several studies show that most people are more efficient with the telephone keypad layout vice the calculator layout, or single or dual rows of numbers.
      • 8 Years Ago
      That would be annoying..

      At the NY Auto show, I thought the interior (dash) plastics to be really cheap feeling for a car of this price. Oddly, I found the Scions to be among the best.
      • 8 Years Ago
      #8

      "uninspired air vents"

      -Purely out of curiosity, what would an inspired air vent look like? Or an example of a car with an inspired air vent.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Mr Neff, Volvo design is different because it's Scandinavian which uses distinct design cues. Swedish design in particular is traditionally marked by "simplicity, severity and a funtionalist orientation"; i.e., the minimalism evident in the S40's interior design.

      Unfortunately, many people confuse simple functional aesthetics with poor material quality or "cheapness".
      • 8 Years Ago
      "its clear the interior of the S40 has been developed by designers who march to the beat of a different drum."

      Absolutely! Volvo designers use Etch-A-Sketch boards, walk around the studio with a drumbs over their heads, while assistants walks behind pounding the drumbs.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I've put 12k on a V50 T5 AWD in 4 months. No problems. Very good car. Handling not quite 3 series in tight turns but very good otherwise. High torque at low rpm gives it great usable performance. Geartronic works well. Car feels very solid, not cheap at all. Quiet on the highway. Interior is high quality but simple design, not plush. Premium stereo is super, excellent.
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