I am not including a batch of No-Doz in this review. There are no warning signs attached to the column that say, "Reading This Could Make You Very Sleepy." Bear with us, please. It's common knowledge that combining the words "Volvo" and
"station wagon" will not get your blood pressure at a dangerous level, get you a speeding ticket or get you a hot date. But give it a chance. If you're in the market for a wagon, that's all the new Volvo asks. And if you think this is still the
old Volvo, think again. Snide comments and bad jokes are passe. Comparisons to "refrigerators on wheels" will get you nowhere. And don't even think about rolling your eyes (that's if you can keep them open; I hear you giggling). Well, call me crazy,
but I couldn't keep my eyes off the new V40. It's stylish, it's sleek and - ready for this? - it's a Volvo. The Swedes have come a long way since the days of the moving desk (uh, just kidding, Volvo). Now, this new Volvo just moves.
Actually, the V40 has been moving in Europe for some time now. Volvo introduced its "40" lineup overseas in 1996, then made a move into the American market three years ago. Built in a factory in Born, Holland, Volvo was hoping it could deliver (no pun
intended) in a whole new market. The thinking was downright un-Volvo: Attract younger, more affluent buyers who had never seen the original Volvo. Get them into one; hope they never leave. Does it work? The V40 comes close. From the
outside, it bears no resemblance to the Volvo your professor drove - as stylish as the old models were homely. Inside, it could use a lecture in a few important family things, like more room. With a new V40 on the way in a couple of years, it's at
least a solid start for a station wagon with a Volvo emblem on the grille. (Hey! Wake up!) As Volvo's smallest and most affordable wagon, the V40 starts at a very deceiving $25,000 - deceiving because it feels more expensive, from the gas pedal
to the level of safety to the feel of the interior. All V40s are equipped with a turbocharged 170-horsepower, 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine, an improvement of 10 ponies over the 2002 model. The only transmission choice is a five-speed automatic,
which drives the front wheels. And while a four cylinder might sound as invigorating as a slow stroll through an empty parking lot, the V40 really delivers. It's a sneaky kind of fast - aggressive when you punch the pedal and certainly capable of
putting you up to speed on highway merges. In the city, it's a delight - a quick zip out of boredom, around traffic or in and out of congestion. Volvo's turbos have always been a blast, and the V40 is no different. With a multi-link rear suspension
and a thick torque level that pushes you into the seat at low speeds, the V40 also handles like a sports sedan, with a supple ride
that can handle rough road as well as smooth pavement. On safety, as with other Volvos, the greatest assets of the line shine through. The V40 falls in with the Volvo tradition of safety first. Every vehicle comes with an extensive menu of air bags,
an inflatable curtain head protection system for front and rear passengers, side air bags, whiplash-reducing front seats and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. If there is another vehicle on the road for this price, with this much advanced equipment, I
haven't found it. If there are seats that are more comfortable for this price, we're still searching. From the interior materials to the supportive chairs, there is no doubt this is the new-age Volvo. A respectable combination of luxury and
value gives you something you might expect in a ride that costs much more. Sport seats. Classy finish. Lots of cargo room. The only problem? We'd also like more. The V40 feels small and is really only
ut the same size as the Hyundai Elantra, except narrower. It's overall width is less than the Audi A4, its main competitor, and its rear-seat legroom loses out to the competition. A six-footer struggled with the front headroom (with a sunroof
installed), and three adults in the back are a tight squeeze, especially on long trips. But the V40 does win out on maximum cargo capacity (68 cubic feet), and with the seats down it's able to handle all of your weekend gardening needs - 10 bags of
mulch fit fine. On gasoline mileage, the V40 was OK. I managed 22 miles per gallon in about 50 percent highway-city driving. The EPA says it will hit 28 on the highway. So why would you ever get overly psyched about a Volvo station wagon?
Overall, it is a compact wagon with a kick. Instead of the old trucky feel of the earlier Volvos, the V40 takes the road with a precise feel and good stability. It has a sporty ride, meaning firm, and it looks good from the inside-out. The
warranty is healthy (four years/50,000 mile basic) and the track record for reliability and stability is a long one. If you can deal with dimensions that are on the smallish side, you can deal with a Volvo station wagon that won't put you to sleep.
(That's if you're still awake.) 2003 Volvo V40 Rating: 3 High gear: With fashionable styling inside and out, a smooth automatic transmission and a healthy kick out of a four-cylinder turbo, Volvo may start redesigning first impressions.
Low gear: Interior room can be a little tight, especially head room in the front and leg room in the rear. A five-speed manual would be a nice option in future models. Vehicle type: Front-wheel-drive, front-engine, four-door, five-passenger
wagon. Key standard equipment: Five-speed automatic transmission; 15-inch alloy wheels; four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes; anti-lock braking system; inflatable side curtain head protection; driver and front passenger side impact air bags; driver
and passenger front air bags; whiplash protection; anti-theft system; eight-way power driver's seat; automatic climate control; power windows, heated power mirrors and power locks; cruise control; AM/FM/CD and cassette radio with seven speakers. Key
competition: Audi A4, Subaru Outback, Volkswagen Jetta, BMW 3-Series Base engine: 170 horsepower, 1.9-liter four-cylinder turbo Torque: 177 ft.-lbs. @ 1800 rpm Wheelbase: 100.9 inches Length: 180.2 inches MPG rating: 22 city/20
highway Manufactured: Born, Holland Warranty: Basic warranty is four years/50,000 miles; drivetrain is four years/50,000 miles; roadside assistance is four years/unlimited miles; and rust is eight years/unlimited miles. Base price: $24,900
Price as tested (including options, destination and delivery): $29,355