Exterior Design ***
The S40 could be the best-worst looking car on the road. On one hand, its design is a thrillingly modern (or postmodern, if you re French) comment on traditional Volvo blockiness; on the other it s an awkward, slabsided mess. And that s not just from different angles - that s the same angle on different days. Go figure.
Don t confuse quickness with satisfaction (just ask Dr. Ruth, if you can find her). The S40 T5 s 2.5-liter inline turbo five won t win the Golden Tuner award for Best Action Hero. It will, however, get the girl.
In a pinch, the robust four-wheel power-assisted discs with ABS could pull the buttons off your coat in less time than it takes to say who s your tailor, sailor?, even in the wet. The stop-pedal s closeness to the accelerator may confound the canoe-footed.
In proper sporting fashion, it ll spare the eggs to save your bacon. That s all that matters.
Compared to prior Volvos, whose adult-onset understeer was the stuff of Norse legend, the S40 has beautiful feet. Bias is to the front, especially at around-town speeds, but when the thrill-ride starts, steering with the right foot brings dramatic results. The Independent Council on Traction-Control Affairs meets regularly.
The S40 s dainty six-speed manual glides like a soup ladle in a bowl of chocolate mousse. The effortless throws are on the long side of perfect, though gear ratios are expertly matched to the car s soup-to-nuts torque curve. It s a pleasure doing business with.
As stock decks go, Volvo s are better than average. Ours had premium sound - an $895 option - the benefits of which are six-disc capability, Surround Sound and some extra wattage. Don t expect bass-thumping demonstrativeness, though - it s strictly about midrange clarity. We detected a pro-rawk bias: Ted Leo hit the spot, as did the first Arcade Fire album, but Andre was downgraded to 2995.
Get too aggressive with the options list and the final price on this Belgium-built Ford can broach Rose Bowl—float territory.
Perfect for a weekend away with friends, not perfect for moving to Cleveland.
[by Mike Spinelli]