Along with the V40, the Volvo S40 was the first Volvo that broke the design mould with people who thought they were a bit boxy and uninspired for most car buyers. This was a wholly new car, which was designed from the ground up, and only one engine was carried over for the launch. They are still called conservative by some, while others call the exterior design understated.
The design itself picked up awards when it was unveiled, and it replaced the unloved and underrated 440. In its place, Volvo created a game-changer, which was to broaden its customer appeal around the world. As a sedan, it’s a great performer, looks good, and lasts for many kilometres of motoring.
The first version came out in 1995 before being revamped in 2004, and it was assembled in various factories around the world. The S40 is a four-door sedan while the V40 is a five-door station wagon. The car is confident in its handling though some models are prone to body roll on corners, but it’s a sturdy car with high levels of safety.
When it was launched, Volvo unveiled a new range of 4-cylinder engines, which included an impressive 1.9L turbodiesel, while the 1.6L petrol version is relatively underpowered for the size of the car. The 1.6L engine’s underwhelming 77kW at 5500rpm leaves a lot to be desired, though the 143Nm of torque at 4200rpm is decent for a car of its size. If you have the smaller engine, be prepared to give it a lot of push to keep it up to speed. The 1.8L provides a better 85kW at 5500rpm and 165Nm at 4100rpm, which is a more reasonable amount of power and torque for a compact executive car. The 2.0L is where Volvo enthusiasts will want to start putting their money, as it can provide 103kW of power at 6000rpm and 183Nm of torque at 4500rpm. These numbers get even better once you step up to the turbodiesel range of engines available in the S40. The 1.9L T4 diesel engine delivers in a big way with 147kW of power at 5500rpm and 300Nm of torque from 2400-3600rpm.
The second generation saw a slight change in the engine line-up for the Volvo S40. The underwhelming 1.6L is still there, but the most impressive of the engines is the S40 T5, a 2.5L 5-cylinder Turbo engine capable of providing 169kW of power at 5000rpm and 320Nm at a leisurely 1500-5000rpm.
Volvo is notable for its safety standards for its cars, but with the S40 it introduced some very impressive engine management additions. In the early days, the S40 shared the same platform as the Mitsubishi Charisma and also offered their 1.8L gasoline direct engine, known as the GDI, but the engine itself never returned the same sort of performance promised by Mitsubishi, and it was later dropped from the line-up.
Volvo put a lot of effort into the S40, which also included extra safety features, bigger tyres, and improved rear suspension and very impressive braking. As with most Volvos, there is a very impressive options list, which also includes alloy wheels, air-conditioning, and cruise control. Like many other models in the range, the S40 features lots of wood in the cabin.
Other options included traction control, a nice wood and leather steering wheel, as well as sports suspension – but this doesn’t really perform as well in the sedan as the designers probably hoped for. The S40 also came with an optional range of roof bars and was great for towing small loads.
Essentially, the Volvo S40 in all its guises comes with a decent level of kit with the carmaker’s usual airbags including a side impact protection, anti-lock brakes, and a very good immobiliser.
The Volvo is as solid car; it’s built to last, and Volvo always takes pride in its safety levels so comparing the earlier models to equivalent competitors is rather hard to do. Many manufacturers have now implemented their own high levels of safety. From the 2006 spec onwards, the S40’s competition would include cars such as the Kia Optima, the Mazda6, and, possibly, the Suzuki Kizashi. The Audi A3 is a more expensive option but manages to do some things the Volvo S40 can’t, even with the lower level engine. The smallest of its engines, a 1.4L, manages a decent 92kW at 5000rpm and a truly impressive 200Nm anywhere between 1500 and 4000rpm. The 2.0 Turbo can provide 147kW of power at 195kW of power at 6000rpm, and 350Nm of torque at 2500-5000rpm.