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LOS ANGELES — When the gen-one S40 (and V40, the equivalent wagon) first appeared in the U.S. market in 1999, as 2000 models, one thought of the two vehicles as pretty good, and identifiably Volvo. Meaning to say, they were very acceptable vehicles that created an economical entry point to the Volvo brand, for a younger or more economy-minded segment of car buyers. As such, since the gen one S40 is currently sold for a base price $500 more than that of this new gen two S40, and since it has sold approximately 150,000 copies to now, one would say the S-for-sedan 40 could be regarded as really pretty good value.
Comes now in these United States a brand new, gen-two 2004.5 S40. This one is something else again, a very good car indeed — so when they bring it in at $500 less than the original S40 — $24,190 for what now becomes a five-cylinder, normally aspirated 2.4i (2.4 liters) with Geartronic, and $26,990 for the 2.5-liter, 218-horsepower turbocharged T5 (also Geartronic), it’s really a very appealing package, a lot more than simply a good value. Besides, Volvo appears to have been working overtime on adding fun-to-drive along with safety in the aggregate brand identity and brand associations. Nothing like brand reality to make brand identity follow along in due course.
First, the physical car. The new S40 is two inches shorter overall than its predecessor, but around two inches wider and taller, with both increased track (more than two inches) and wheelbase (another three inches). All of this adds to increased interior space, on-road stability, and dynamic appearance, due in part to the car’s shortened hood and front. The styling is, to my eye, without flaw, and it looks more like an aggressive driver’s car than it does like a small or compact one. The genetic Volvo “cat walk” shoulder lines have been beefed up, while continuous curves have been subtly but strategically added, so the new S40 has a lot more in common with S60 and S80 than the old one did, and looks like a really professional car. In short, it gives nothing away to lower end compromises in styling.