Autoblog Take the Wheel

Thanks to all that participated in the Take the Wheel contest. We apologize for the length of time that it has take to come up with a winner, but if you are an avid reader of Autoblog, you may have witnessed some changes and four new bloggers that have been tearing up our pages. Today we will announce the $100 grand prize winner, and in the next three days we will print the three $50 runners-up. Congratulations to Jordi Weinstock with a review of the 2005 Volvo S40 T5. The winning review can be read at the link. Stayed tuned tomorrow for the first runner-up winner.

2005 Volvo S40 T5 (FWD, Automatic)<a class=Volvo S40" hspace="4" src="" width="250" align="right" vspace="4" border="1" />

The Volvo thud. That?s what I used to call the sound from a closed door on my father?s 1994 Volvo 850 Turbo. To me, the car was no more than a highly portable bomb shelter. Sure, it had a little giddy-up thanks to its 220 hp turbo. But you?d be hard-pressed to say that driving our angular Volvo was anything more than pleasant.

Since I left home I?ve owned a few cars, all sharing our Volvo?s lack of excitement. So when it came time to get a new car last year I decided that this time, excitement would be the name of the game. A rocket from the stop sign. Glued to the road. You know, all the sports car clich?s. I drove the Acura RSX, the Mini S, and pretty much anything else under 30k described in the press as ?fun.? Many of these cars were, in fact, fun. I put the fear of Toyota in pretty much every dealer who came along on my test-drives. But at the end of the day I wasn?t satisfied. Something was missing. It was that darn thud.

And so I went to my local Volvo dealer and test-drove a shiny red 2004.5 S40 T5. This, as they say, was not my father?s car. It was nimble. A few twists and an on-ramp gas-stomp later, I was convinced. ?When can I pick one of these things up??

In the subsequent 6 months I have learned a lot of things about my little S40, some good, some bad. First the good stuff.

Let me say right off that the thud is alive and well and living in my S40. Even though the car shares a platform with the Mazda 3 and the European Ford Focus, this is most definitely a Volvo. You can read about all the safety features (oodles of airbags, the transverse engine layout, etc) on Volvo?s website. But one thing you just have got to experience for yourself is the general sense that when you get inside this [admittedly small] car, you feel safe. The doors are heftier, the belts are tighter and the seats are more secure than what we?re all used to. It?s a marvelously tranquil state to sit in a Volvo at rest.

And while we?re talking about sitting, I have to give a round of applause to whoever it is that designed the S40?s seats. I have never touched such a supportive, enveloping seat. Part of me wants to rip the passenger one out and put it in my living room. Driving alone is a small price to pay for being able to bring such comfort to television viewing.

Then again it would be a shame for seats destined for careening to be relegated to such a sedimentary lifestyle. The Volvo S40 T5 is meant to drive and drive fast. The 218 hp 5-cylinder has some turbo lag but in that great slingshot way that makes the car seem even more powerful than it is. The handling is tight, although not quite good as some other cars I have driven, such as the Mini (but what is?).

Perhaps more than anything, however, I have been pleasantly surprised?shocked, even?by my T5?s fuel efficiency. In my experience, the EPA?s city number (22) is right on the money. What has amazed me, however, is that the highway number (31) is not high, as usually is claimed of EPA numbers. It?s low. Using the T5?s handy mileage calculator I have consistently driven 34 miles on highway trips for every gallon of gas at the pump. How could a car with such verve get the same mileage as a Chevy Aveo? But I double-checked by hand. It?s the real deal.

My only major gripe about the Volvo is that the electrical system does not always work correctly. The otherwise fabulous stereo will, on rare occasions, mysteriously raise the volume dramatically, as if possessed by Pete Townsend. I also had a rather scary moment early on when absolutely nothing would happen when I turned my key. It seems that the stock battery was defective and had completely died in 10 minutes. The Volvo Care people handled the problem ably, but these electrical issues give reason to pause.

Fortunately, I have not had any problems since the 3000-mile mark. Overall I am extremely happy with my 2005 S40 T5. It?s got class, it?s got comfort, and it?s got performance. And much to my satisfaction, it?s got the thud.

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