Volvo’s smallest sedan, the compact S40, comes in 2.4i and T5 trim levels, the latter offered in all- as well as front-wheel drive. A few years past a full redesign, the S40 and its V50 wagon sister have been substantially freshened for 2008. The exterior is refinished, cabin storage is improved and there are new safety and convenience features. The T5 gets more power from the same engine but loses its choice of transmissions. Competitors include the Audi A3, Subaru WRX and Volkswagen GTI.
For 2008, the nose and tail are modified, and though Volvo says it has changed the headlights and taillights, it seems limited to the elements within, such as taillamp LEDs and lens colors, and not a change in overall shape. The V-shaped hood bulge runs down into a more sculpted nose, and the lower air intake is broader. The unmistakable diagonal cross-member grille is even less mistakable, with a 50 percent larger Volvo logo. In contrast to the nose, the door sill and bumper extensions have been smoothed out. A Dynamic Trim Package option for the T5 adds a trunklid spoiler, side skirts and spoilers for the “chin” and below the rear bumper.
The S40 was an early adopter of side mirrors with integrated turn signals. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, but 17-inchers are available on either trim level.
The standard upholstery in the five-occupant interior has a slightly coarse woven feel said to be inspired by sportswear. Leather upholstery is available. Volvo says storage space is improved both in the door pockets and center console. The center armrest is modified for greater comfort, and the handbrake handle is smaller and less intrusive. The T5’s instruments are redesigned for 2008 with watch-style gauges. Nordic Light Oak trim is now optional on the 2.4i; the T5 has aluminum trim.
The rear seatbacks fold down separately, and the front passenger seat’s backrest also folds flat. Standard 2.4i equipment includes air conditioning, power windows, power locks with remote keyless entry, and a leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The S40’s auxiliary stereo input for MP3 players is now standard equipment. A single-CD player with steering-wheel stereo controls is standard, but buyers can upgrade to an in-dash six-CD changer. Sirius Satellite Radio is standard on the T5 and optional on the 2.4i and includes six months of free service.
The T5 sedan adds a power driver’s seat, electronic climate control, a trip computer and aluminum interior trim. An optional Premium Package for the T5 includes leather seating surfaces, a power sunroof and a power passenger seat, among other items. T5 options include keyless ignition, a sport steering wheel and gearshift knob, a new premium stereo, a GPS navigation system and active xenon headlights that swivel in the direction of a turn. The previous option’s were fixed.
A 2.4-liter inline-five-cylinder produces 168 horsepower in the 2.4i. High-performance T5 editions employ a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder that now generates 227 hp (up from 218 hp) and 236 pounds-feet of torque. The 2.4i comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission, while the T5 comes with a standard five-speed automatic that includes Geartronic operation for manually selected gear changes. All-wheel-drive T5s now come only with a Geartronic five-speed automatic. The six-speed manual has been discontinued. With the addition of the Dynamic Trim Package, T5 models gain a sport suspension, sport steering wheel and a shift knob with aluminum trim.
The S40 has earned good crash-test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Specifically, it scores Good (the best possible) in frontal and rear impacts and Acceptable (one ranking below) in the side-impact test.
The wealth of standard safety features includes side-impact and side curtain airbags, all-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control and a tire pressure monitoring system. Advanced options include the Blind Spot Information System, which lights an indicator just inboard of either of the S40’s side mirrors when a car occupies its corresponding blind spot.
Even when equipped with the automatic transmission, the S40 2.4i accelerates with spirit, though the engine growls when pushed. Despite a taut suspension, ride comfort is generally satisfactory, but the sedan can hit some bumps rather hard. We have yet to drive the newly upgraded T5.
Stable on the road, the S40 maneuvers easily and delivers appealing control. Curves produce only modest body lean, and the sedan corners crisply. Occupants tend to sit on top of the seats rather than in them, but they still prove supportive and comfortable during long drives. The cabin is impressively roomy — roughly the same volume as the larger S60 sedan.