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2004 Volvo S40 Compact Near Luxury Sedan

Car Review Of The 2004 Volvo S40 Compact Near Luxury Sedan

Base MSRP Range: $24,190 - $28,845

Base Invoice Range: $22,846 - $27,147

MSRP As Tested: Not Available

Versions: 2.4i, T5, LSE

Vehicle Category: Compact Near Luxury Sedan

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: <Front Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested 2.4i: 2.4-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, I-5 cylinder, 168-horsepower at 5,000rpm and 166 lb-ft torque at between 1,500 - 4,800 rpm.

Engine As Tested T5: 2.5-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, I-5 cylinder, 218-horsepower at 5,000rpm and 236 lb-ft torque at between 1,500 - 4,800 rpm.

Transmission As Tested: 2.4I 5-speed automatic, 5-speed manual, T5 5-speed automatic, 6-speed manual. .

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 20/29

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger airbags, power-assisted disc brakes, ">Antilock Braking System (ABS).

Competition: Infiniti I35, Infiniti G35, Acura TSX, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Passat, BMW 325I, Audi A4 1.8T, Lexus IS 300, Lexus GS300.


Some of the staff at Volvo will laugh when they read our first comment on the S40 because it has been the focus of some spirited dinner conversations over the years: it’s high-time Volvo applied Swedish furniture design to their own vehicles. We’re glad to see them begin to do it. What could be more elegant and comfortable than the flowing lines and quality materials produced by Swedish furniture artisans. The vertical dash panel in the S40 is the height of cool - they iMaced it. You’ll see what we mean in a minute.

The success of the S40 is in rooted in design, quality and “sweet” factor. The design is closer to perfect than it has ever been. The build and material quality has been vastly improved. The S40 is a premium compact car built on the same platform as the Mazda 3 economy compact. Within the segment, Volvo appears to have done a better job removing the “economy” feel from the equation, than Saab has up-scaling the Subaru WRX into the 9-2x.

2000 saw the arrival of the S (sedan) and V 40 (wagon) in the US market. At that time, they had long been for sale in Europe, and the design was long in the tooth. The redesign was done with the US market in mind, and the acceptance that the states would be where the bulk of sales would occur.

Pre-family adults are Volvo’s target. For the long-term health of the brand the company must attract single women and men to their products earlier than the age when kids arrive. Hence the need to young-up the buyer base. The result has been some weird television advertising that attempts to accomplish that, to an annoying, no-good end.

The television ad is a teenager’s, video gameish, smash-bang-roll-‘em-around, road-rally animation. It’s a little young for the intended buyer; though our 13 and 14 year old nephews think it’s “da bomb.” But it’s completely contrary to Volvo’s safety message. And the new ad, has a new character in it. That also doesn’t make sense since Volvo already has a perfectly good, hipster spokes-character named Clive, a crash-test dummy. He would be perfect to have step out of the animated rally car.

And this is all odd because in reality Volvo is investing heavily in sedan racing in the United States. What could be better than showing young American men - and hopefully a few women - that the cars can really to it. Volvo is going into the Speed World Challenge where they’ll be competing against the series champion Audi, along with apt competitors Porsche, BMW, and (yes I hate to have to say the word) Cadillac, who finished one-two in the first race of the 2004 season.

Vehicle Exterior

Sweet. It definitely is. The S40 is a sexy, Swedish BMW 3, Audi A4, Infiniti G35, but for the price of upscale Camrys and Accords. The S40 is a little less about performance, and more about appointments and build, then the upmarket competition. But it has a distinct advantage over cookie-cutter Japanese and Korean sedans.

The S40 design is distinctly European, with American proportions. Volvo’s distinctive back-slash V grill and V-shaped hood make the S40 look solid and refined. The S40 roof line is a long, low arch into a short trunk lid necessary for a sporty, aerodynamic product. With the short rear deck, it has a bit of the “coupe” thing going on. It looks good, especially with the optional 17” wheels.

Vehicle Interior

Of all the companies who have tried to clean up the buttons, switches, knobs, vents and garbage on their dashboards, Volvo has done one of the very best jobs. And they did it on their least-expensive product. The interior of a car has got to be great, it’s where you live after all. The S40 interior, in its price range, is among the very best.

The center stack is the focus of the vehicle’s interior. It reminds us of chairs built by the fabulous Swedish furniture designer Arne Jacobsen in the 1950s, 60s and 70s - specifically the Oxford Chair, High Version (for high-back chair.) Volvo takes that fluid design and merges it with an entertainment-focused, rather than climate-focused, control layout.

At the top of the center stack is a screen displaying the radio, trip computer, temperature controls, and sound system readouts. Below are two knobs for volume and tuning. At the bottom are two knobs controlling the fan and temperature. Between the knob sets is a slender key pad -like on a computer or cell phone - containing the controls for the sound system, trip computer, etc. The entire center stack is extremely thin. It doesn’t connect to the back of the foot well. That area is left open for storage and is perfect for a handbag or backpack.

The center-stack panel is the perfect place to start making a Volvo S40 unique. The panels come in brushed aluminum, iMac see-through plastic in a variety of colors, and who knows what else the aftermarket will come up with. It could be anything -- but please SEMA, no Christmas Tree motifs.

The interior is roomy. Volvo made the new S40 both longer and wider, because Americans are both longer and wider. It has a split-folding rear bench seat that makes it possible to carry odd size or larger items when needed.

The seats are comfortable. They hold you in place on twisty roads and feel good on long drives. And their design is attractive. We still want them to take the Swedish furniture design theme further with the seating surfaces though.


The S40 comes standard with a 2.4-liter, inline 5-cylinder engine, with 4-valves per cylinder. The engine puts out 168-horsepower at 6,000 rpm, with 166 lb.-ft. torque at 4,400 rpm.

The optional T5 is a turbocharged, 2.5-liter, inline 5-cylinder engine, with 4 valves per cylinder. The engine puts out 218-horsepower at 5,000 rpm, with 236 lb.-ft. torque between 1,500 and 4,800 rpm.

The T5 is the engine to purchase for the S40. The manual goes from 0 to 60 in 6.3 seconds, comparable to a BMW 3 Series or an Audi A4. If you want one of these cars with an automatic transmission, buy the T5. Otherwise you won’t have enough power to get out of your own way, let alone someone else’s. The automatic T5 goes from 0 to 60 in 6.7 seconds, whereas the 2.4i does it in 8.4 seconds. That’s a big difference when you are trying to merge onto a highway, or trying to pass another vehicle.

The T5’s acceleration was a lot of fun with the 6-speed manual transmission. It’s the same transmission as in the Volvo S60R, their high-performance sedan. The 2.4 S40 has a 5-speed manual transmission. There is also a 4-speed automatic. But we don’t recommend it, unless it is on the T5.

Ride and Handling

We drove the S40 on some of our most familiar test drive routes in the counties north of Los Angeles. This was a good test with twisting, mountain roads running from sea level to around 6,000 feet.

The handling is much better than that of the previous version. It is much closer to a BMW, or an Audi. The ride quality is balanced to comfort, so passengers can enjoy a mountain road as well. And if passengers are comfortable on mountain roads, everyone is happy on the highway.

We look forward to testing an R version of the S40, if it is ever produced. As in that case, we expect to drive a Volvo that is about as nimble on the road as a BMW.


It’s a Volvo, so safety is important. As usual Volvo packs their car with standard safety features including 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, driver and front-passenger side-impact airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, crush zones, head curtains for four, and both stability and traction control. As an option you can get Volvo’s Dynamic Stability and Traction Control System.

The engine is very streamlined. This allows more room between the engine and the passenger compartment. This open space enables the crumple zones in the frame to deform properly, rather than being contorted by the mass of the engine.

The Volvo Intelligent Driver Information System, introduced in the S40, provides data in a less obtrusive manner. If the driver is braking or accelerating the data is delayed until it is safe to display it. It is inspired by fighter aircraft technology.

In Conclusion

Volvo talks about the S40 as a balanced combination of design, driving dynamics and class leading safety. We agree with them. While this is not the hottest rod on the planet, it is a fun-to-drive, near-luxury sedan, any adult would enjoy owning, especially the T5. The styling is rich, distinctive and the interior a pleasure to live in. Along with Volvo’s cutting edge safety technology, they have produced another great product.

Editors Ratings

Pros: Great styling for the money. The best interior in the price range. Good performance in the T5. Cool Swedish design cues. Affordable. Great racing program.

Cons: Not quite a BMW -- which it doesn’t need to be. We want more Swedish in the design.

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 8
  • Performance: 7
  • Price: 8
  • Handling: 8
  • Ride: 8
  • Comfort: 9
  • Quality: 9
  • *Overall: 8.1

More Data

Where Built: Ghent Belgium.

Major Options: Premium Package, Audio Package, Navigation System,Power glass moonroof,Automatic transmission, Leather seating surfaces.

Seating: 5

Number of Rows: 2

Length in Inches: 175.9

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 Comprehensive warranty, 8 years/unlimited corrosion, 4 years/unlimited free scheduled maintenance.

Weight in Pounds: 3,304 T5, 3,084 2.4i.

Maximum Payload in Pounds: 992.

Maximum Gross Vehicle Weigh in Pounds: Not Available

Towing Capacity in Pounds: 3,330.

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 16.3

Destination Charge: $685