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Volvo S40 2004 Review

EXPERT RATING
6.5

The worst thing about the all-new Volvo S40 is its badge. No amount of "Bloody Volvo Driver" advertising will convince some anti-Volvo stalwarts that it's worth a look against Audis, BMWs, Jaguars and even Benzes.

But the S40 is simply the best car we've driven with a Volvo badge, including the rorty old 700-series turbos, the latest S80 luxury sedan and even the towering XC90 four-wheel drive.

Volvo has pulled all the pieces together in a car that has a distinctive look, a big cabin, Swedish quality, a solid feel and dynamics that make it a much better drive.

Ford has helped, twinning the S40 with the all-new Focus we'll get in 2005, but it has left Volvo to put its own stamp on the car.

It's much the same deal that Ford has done with Mazda, and that has worked a treat.

The S40 – and its V50 wagon companion – have just arrived and promise big things for Volvo in Australia.

Volvo has been in retreat in recent years, which is the reason for the radical "Bloody Volvo Driver" campaign and its plan to break out of the "boring but safe" box that's restricted the brand since the 1970s.

Volvo has been working on a breakthrough with its latest aggressively styled machines, which share the same family front and sides with pronounced shoulders, but it's the compact S40 and V50 with the biggest jobs.

They have to win newcomers to the prestige car scene and lure defectors from rival brands, which is never going to be easy when an over-full basket of opponents is led by the benchmark 3-Series BMW and everything from the Alfa 156 to the Renault Laguna.

The S40 must become Volvo's best seller in Australia, partly to push the brand back and to justify its share of the $540 million investment on the compact cars.

They have taken over from an underdone S40/V50 combination based on a Mitsubishi design and never felt any more than a Japanese car with a Swedish veneer.

The newcomers' arrival in Australia also means a new approach to selling. Prices are up a little, as you'd expect, but Volvo Cars Australia says the increase is offset by a value boost.

The starting-price S40 2.4, at $45,950 or $47,950 as an auto, has automatic airconditioning, cruise control, six-speaker CD sound, alloy wheels, airbags and anti-skid brakes.

The basic S40 has a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and the range runs up through the SE – from $49,950 with the same engine – to the T5 at $59,950 with a turbocharged five-cylinder motor.

On the road

The S40 has the same strong, aggressive look as the rest of the new-age Volvo family. It's comfortable and roomy, and feels as if it can take anything.

Volvo Cars Australia was smart to stack its test-car line-up with the flagship T5, but we're sure the basic strengths are the same for all S40 models.

The T5 is billed as a performance-ish machine and it gets along very smartly. The five-cylinder turbomotor has plenty of pulling power from very low revs, with a cracking top end that produces a full 162kW of power.

Our test car was a six-speed manual, but the engine is so meaty that we often skipped ratios and still kept up with the traffic.

The car will sprint to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds and it has oodles of overtaking urge, but we were just as impressed with fuel economy of 9.3 litres/100km.

It's what you get with a low-stressed turbo motor that only gives up its go when you need it.

The six-speed manual has one of the slickest shifts we've tried in recent times, and the ride and handling are very classy.

The new Volvo is well equipped, and we're sure it will get a five-star rating for safety.

It has space inside for five adults, with good headroom and plenty of leg space.

The S40 has that tricky-looking centre console, which Volvo says is a design breakthrough. Yes, it's different and the open space behind the switches is a talking point.

But it would have been better if they'd put the effort into the cupholders. They don't have nearly enough space, won't hold a big water bottle, and when you fill them it's hard to change gears.

And the boot, though it's easy to load and very deep, isn't all that tall. You'd have trouble doing a double-decker job with suitcases.

We also wondered about the side support of the front buckets in the sporty T5.

The headlamps are fantastic, the horn is loud, the sound system is excellent and the car has all the right equipment to make life tough for all of its rivals, including the 3-Series and Audi's A4.

The only question now is whether people will be prepared to risk a change. It's a little like the cola wars between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, with the S40 emerging as a tasty new Swedish fizz.

The bottom line

This is one Swedish car that makes you happy and proud to be driving a Volvo.

Pricing guides

$5,860
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$3,800
Highest Price
$7,920

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.0 1.9L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $4,000 – 6,490 2004 Volvo S40 2004 2.0 Pricing and Specs
2.0 SE 1.9L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $4,600 – 7,370 2004 Volvo S40 2004 2.0 SE Pricing and Specs
2.0T 1.9L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $4,200 – 6,820 2004 Volvo S40 2004 2.0T Pricing and Specs
2.4 2.4L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO $4,600 – 7,370 2004 Volvo S40 2004 2.4 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6.5
Pricing Guide

$3,800

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.