• May 3, 2006


Much has been made in the comments about how much (or how little) the Volvo S40 and Mazda3 have in common. We think one particular comment by an Autoblog reader named Mike sums up our feelings on this debate: “Any comparison between the two must be coming from the unfamiliar.” It’s true, these two cars share a platform and various components but the job done differentiating them is far from badge reengineering. Their relationship is less Ford Five Hundred to Mercury Montego than it is Audi A4 to Volkswagen Jetta. We’re talking more than a new grille and taillamps here.

The C1 chassis certainly cleans up well wearing Volvo’s stubby-yet-strong proportions and Scandinavian interior, but does the S40’s on-pavement prowess finally settle any qualms created by its potentially $30k-plus pricetag?

The core of the S40’s fun factor can be found in its turbocharged 2.5L five-cylinder engine that produces 218 horsepower and 236 ft-lbs. of torque. Going with an odd number of cylinders is again one of those quirky, dare-to-be-different traits for which Volvo is well known, especially considering such engines in the past had a reputation for being unbalanced and thrashy.



Those characteristics cannot be applied to Volvo’s five-pot powerplant, which exhibits little harshness in its operation. In fact, for a sporty sedan the S40 T5 is remarkably quiet with engine noise a distant hum until WOT is applied. Volvo’s addition of a light-pressure turbo makes this powerplant feel like a torquey V6 under your toes with all of its 236 ft-lbs. of torque available at a low 1500 rpm. There’s a whisper of turbo lag but the turbine’s relatively small size ensures there’s no whiplash when it comes online.



Our tester’s fuel mileage is rated at 20 city/29 highway, which isn’t bad considering the extra 130 lbs. added by the all-wheel drive system and various other gravity-challenged safety and luxury amenities. Total tonnage is up to 3,447 lbs. for the T5 AWD model, about 169 lbs. more than FWD T5.



Speaking of that AWD system, it’s a bit of a misnomer as the majority of time power is being routed almost entirely to the front wheels. During our dry week with the S40 T5 AWD the car exhibited all the normal FWD tendencies with understeer occurring when the car was pushed in corners. The AWD system is not a performance feature of the S40 T5, but rather a safety feature meant for sure footing in inclement weather. Though the 130 lb. penalty for its presence isn’t severe, those seeking the fastest S40 should opt for the non-AWD model with the six-speed manual.



Our S40 came with said six-speed manual transmission, an inclusion about which we were a bit conflicted. Given the choice we’ll always go standard, but the S40’s clutch was either instant-on or instant-off, which made enjoying the slick shifting six-speed a rarity. With practice the clutch can be mastered, but if you break concentration before the light turns green expect a jolt when leaving the line.



Once underway the tractable engine offers up power in a wide swath and shifting around 4,000 rpm under WOT generates a satisfying surge into the next gear. The S40 T5 AWD gets a tighter suspension than the 2.4i model with anti-roll bars front and aft that control the car well enough in the curves. The speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering is accurate as well, though at around-town speeds the power assist disconnects the driver too much from the road.



Though we’ve dialed back any expectations of the S40 T5 AWD being a thoroughbred sports sedan, it excelled in another area we weren’t expecting. On the highway at cruising speed (or above) the T5 AWD behaves like a car with a much longer wheelbase. The small sedan tracts straight and true while hardly flinching at crosswinds, and the suspension’s ability to soak up broken pavement was a surprise.



All this still begs the question whether or not the essence of an S40 could be found in a Mazda3 for $10k less. We think not, as the Volvo’s 2.5T five-cylinder, all-wheel drive capability, and suspension tuning cannot be had in Mazda’s take on the C1 platform. But wait, here comes the MazdaSpeed3 with a 250-hp 2.3T four-cylinder, six-speed stick from the MazdaSpeed6 and a price tag that will likely fall between $23k and $25k. Though the MazdaSpeed3 lacks all-wheel drive, the Volvo system didn’t convince us that it was worth the extra outlay anyway. In any case, with the advent of the MazdaSpeed3 we’re thinking Volvo's best move would be to create an S40R in the low $30k range that offers a similar or better level of performance as its sport compact sibling from Mazda with more safety, luxury and technology. We've found the range-topping S40 T5 AWD to be a good car for its price, but it'd be even better if the sticker stayed below $30k.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 21 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      #7 Paul Guinnessy: I didn't notice the road noise being bad in the Mazda3 that the friend of mine has... then again, I'll admit, my perceptions of road noise are skewed, as I drive a 1985 Volkswagen Jetta diesel. Transmits every little noise straight into the cabin... and loudly. ;)

      #16 a4 owner: Simple, when VW uses Audi's sloppy seconds, it means less engineering cost to them. And, in 2001.5, they facelifted it, creating the "B5.5" Passat. Still very much a B5, though.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The Audi A4 and Jetta are not related, it WAS the Passat. They'll be seperate platforms with their respective new models now though.
      • 8 Years Ago
      #12

      Hell, if anyone wants to see REAL spamming, take a look at my e-mail INBOX, this is not.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The Volvo and Mazda feel nothing alike, which isn't entirely a good thing for the Volvo. The Mazda steers and handles better, while the Volvo feels like the premium car it is.

      My review of the S40: http://www.epinions.com/content_159675420292
      • 8 Years Ago
      Now to fuel the comparison between Mazda3 and Volvo S40, I thought this was a typo when I read this thing is 3447 lbs. A compact? 3447 lbs? That's a heavy pig (granted, that's the heaviest edition) but still, it's just about 85% of the weight of a (much larger) Dodge Charger V8 (and at 4031 lbs that's a really heavy pig - I picked this Charger as a comparison arbitrarily because I know it's heavy)

      The Mazda3 is between 2685 and 2829 depending on trim and gearbox (that's 66% and 70% of a charger for those who are interested).

      I know the volvo is probably loaded with very heavy safety equipment,like bars of lead to make it slower and reinforced bumber, extra airbags for your ankles and double thick bullet proof glass. But still, it qualifies as heavy in my book.

      Ben, here's the trick I use, for every comment I scan, I start with the bottom, check for posters I don't want to read from, and skip to the next. It's called "the semi-automated brain filter" and saved a lot of grief like:

      This car is very different from the other cars I review. Please check my review at XXX. My own web site: YYY.
      • 8 Years Ago
      With regard to the AWD T5. I decided to forego the weight penalty and the upcharge for the AWD on my V50. Instead, I chose the yaw control option which costs less, adds less weight and improves the gas mileage. In addition, I siped my tires to improve grip during the winter. I can recommend this combination.
      • 8 Years Ago
      i own the 2005 S40 T5 AWD, and after having driven the car for better than a year, all i can say is... what a piece of garbage... at it's 32,000 MSRP, anyway. the sparse interior of the cabin, although i prefer it to the poshy plood and leathery deal found in other cars, is poorly constructed, and riddled with rattles and creaks not to be expected in a 30K dollar volvo... and that t-tech stitching will fray within months of light use (bum on seat). it steers like a pig, and steers into an incline when driving uneven roads... hands on wheel at all times folks! oh, and shift... if you can find the gear. my girlfriend purchased the auto 2.4i model... and is also dis-satisfied with her purchase. we're both on a first name basis with our local dealer's service techs. brake recalls... fuel rail recalls... come on. DO NOT BUY THIS CAR! or buy one... and be sad sammy :(
      • 8 Years Ago
      I purchased my 06' S40 T5 this past month. As a former Volvo employee whose been in the Auto industry for a few years (worked for Cadillac, Volvo, Toyota, Infiniti, Daimler-Chrysler) The value in this vehicle is still up to par IMO.

      A great option for folks is the incentives offered on these vehicles (Especially Lease/Ballon purchase option saves up to $5k extra). Yes the price point is a little ambitious in the Entry Luxury Compact Sedan segment, but after witnessing and being in 6 accidents (5 times I was hit) in other makes and having my own customers who purchased S40's from me walk away from a head-on collision with a semi, this is a car that maybe under-estimated some and overprocessed by others.

      The fact is Volvo is a completely different animal from the German bigs (MB, BMW, Audi) and that is apparent in the design and feel of the vehicle. If you're a Philly guy you won't be satisified with a Santa Monica version of a Tofu-Veggie-Philly Cheesesteak, same goes for those who prefer a different kind of vehicle.

      My advice to those cross comparing a new purchase in this market segment, test the A4, TSX, and S40 in different driving conditions and take away from it what you will. That "thud" sound comes at a 3,278lbs premium, but in an age of defensive driving against cell phones, ipods, and numerous other distractions I have the piece of mind that the S40 will do what it is designed to do and keep me driving for years to come.

      Also note, the torque is ridicilious for highway driving on the T5 30-90 mph. The best among the class and the pickup is very nice. Below is a cross comparison report of the Subaru Legacy GT AWD, Acura TSX, Audi A4 1.8T, and the S40 T5 from 04'.

      http://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/8550/sustainable-sports-sedans.html
      • 8 Years Ago
      No, actually Ben is in the majority. Thanks for speaking up!
      • 8 Years Ago
      I second ben's post. Karesh, you're boring, tiresome, and annoying. Lay off the spam.
      • 8 Years Ago
      You kidding?
      Do you think there is ONE person who is not an automotive writer who will be comparison shopping a Mazda3 and a Volvo?
      How about using the space to compare the S40 to cars it actually competes with?
      • 8 Years Ago
      I believe Volvo T5 is an excelent card. Performance, security and luxury is amazing. I had in the past a mitsubishi eclipse, honda accord coupe and ford mustang. All this card have some decent performance boost, but i like now the volvo T5. people out there don't have any idea about how this car perform on daily by daily basis. is just INCREDIBLE.
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