2009 Volvo S40 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
June 3, 2009

The 2009 Volvo S40 is a city-friendly sport sedan with some of today’s best safety features.

The editors of TheCarConnection.com have driven the new Volvo S40 and present their expert opinion, along with a comparison to other choices. TheCarConnection.com's auto experts have also researched available road tests on the new Volvo S40 to produce this conclusive review and help you make sense of differing accounts.

Both versions of the compact Volvo S40 sedan, the 2.4i and T5, carry through with the same sporty yet elegant look as in previous years, but they receive a host of upgrades for the 2009 model year.

The S40’s two variants have pronounced powertrain differences. Higher-powered 2009 Volvo S40 T5 models get the turbocharged, 2.5-liter inline-five, which functions well with the five-speed automatic; the engine picks up a power increase from 218 to 227 horsepower. A six-speed manual gearbox is no longer offered in the T5. The base 2.4i model comes with a 2.4-liter inline five-cylinder engine making 168 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. It doesn’t accelerate quickly, but performance is perky with the standard five-speed manual and gutsy enough for city driving with the five-speed automatic transmission.

The 2009 Volvo S40 is remarkably compact and extremely easy to maneuver and park, yet it has the stability and poise of a larger sport sedan in high-speed cruising and curvy mountain roads, especially in sporty T5 form. Handling in the T5 feels markedly sportier than in Volvo’s larger sedans. Though the ride of the T5 can be somewhat pitchy at lower speeds, road noise is not at all the problem that it can be in other small sedans. The T5 AWD model has the latest version of the Haldex all-wheel-drive system, which is electronically controlled. It relies on an instant of slippage at the front wheels before torque is sent to the rear, but responds well to the S40’s needs on wet or slippery roads.

Review continues below

There’ve been a number of interior changes for 2009. While the cabin feels as airy and welcoming as before, Volvo admits interior storage was an issue, so a new center console and revised set of door panels add more bins and room for miscellaneous items—10 CDs, for example, even though the audio system now includes an iPod jack and MP3 capability. The clock in the 2009 Volvo S40 is newly positioned, and air vents are improved. The S40’s instrument panel design is especially stylish and distinctive, with a thin, “floating” center stack housing audio and climate control functions. In front, generous seats allow an upright, near-perfect position for most, with enough space for taller drivers, but the backseat area is limited in legroom.

Safety features are by no means forgotten; Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which warns the driver when a car is present in the blind spot with a light at the base of the side mirror, is an option on the 2009 Volvo S40, along with a new integrated child booster-seat system—a Volvo exclusive. Active bi-xenon headlamps, which swivel in the direction the car is steered, are available on the T5 AWD, as is a navigation system and keyless drive. The S40 includes front side impact airbags, side curtain bags for front and rear outboard occupants, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control. Despite all these safety considerations, the S40 garners high, but not perfect, crash-test scores; it earns a mix of four- and five-star ratings from the federal government and both Good and Acceptable ratings from the IIHS.

Keyless entry, cruise control, and an 80-watt, six-speaker sound system are on the equipment list of the 2.4i, but the sporty T5 model adds a lot more—including the turbocharged engine, a flashier alloy wheel design, fog lamps, electronic climate control, aluminum trim, and an upgraded audio system. For 2009, numerous features that were previously optional are now standard equipment, including 17-inch Spartacus wheels, Sirius Satellite Radio, a six-disc in-dash CD player, MP3 capability, front fog lights, a power moonroof, and a trip computer.

2009 turbocharged T5 models are now equipped with standard R-Design components. The list of upgraded features include a sport body kit with color-coordinated side skirts and front and rear spoilers, aluminum sport pedals, a sport steering wheel, premium leather seating surfaces with embossed R-Design logo, a sport shift knob, R-Design inlays, and a watch dial instrument cluster.

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2009 Volvo S40

Styling

Still looking fresh and modern as its 2004 introduction, the 2009 Volvo S40 T5 gets a sportier look with the addition of R-Design flair.

While 17-inch Spartacus wheels help jazz up the appearance of the 2009 Volvo S40 2.4i, it’s the turbocharged T5 models, now with standard R-Design equipment, including a sport body kit with color-coordinated side skirts and front and rear spoilers, that look much sportier for the new year.

Last year’s exterior changes include a Volvo logo 50 percent bigger than before, high-intensity LED rear lights, and restyled front projector beam headlights. According to Car and Driver, the S40’s exterior is, “athletic, highlighted by short overhangs and bulging fenders,” Volvo adds, according to Cars.com, a “V-shaped hood bulge [that] runs into a more sculpted nose” and a broader lower air intake for the 2009 model year.

The interior retains “the button-and-knob-infused stack” that “isn't immediately intuitive,” according to Car and Driver, but Volvo has made numerous changes in response to complaints. Chief among the changes are additional storage cubbies for “more storage space in the doors and the center console,” Motor Trend notes. Cars.com comments that “the center armrest is modified for greater comfort, and the handbrake handle is smaller and less intrusive.” Inside, the S40 provides a functional, cool place to work its controls. Kelley Blue Book says the S40’s interior is “Scandinavian in nature” and must surely “qualify as no-frills.”

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2009 Volvo S40

Performance

The 2009 Volvo S40 isn’t at the head of the sport-sedan pack, but most will appreciate its poise and composure.

Among the different versions of the 2009 Volvo S40, reviewers most like the performance of the T5 minus the sport package and all-wheel drive.

The optional 2.5-liter turbo in the T5 brings 227 horses to the table, but perhaps even more significantly, its 236 pound-feet of torque is available from 1,500 to 4,800 rpm, allowing, says Car and Driver, “launches off the line” and great highway passing, all with “no noticeable turbo lag.” Kelley Blue Book feels the “turbocharged engine brings the little S40 to life.” Comments on the S40’s standard 2.4-liter inline-five, which registers 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet, range from “perfectly adequate” (Edmunds) to “unimpressive, especially up long grades” (ConsumerGuide).

The base engine still has a choice of five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. “Go easy on it and the stick can be slid from gear to gear with barely two fingers,” remarks Kelley Blue Book, reflecting general praise for the manual transmission. Of the automatic, they feel it “seemed to work quite well.” Some bemoan the cancellation of the T5’s manual transmission option, leaving a five-speed automatic the lone choice for the turbo engine in 2009: “the Geartronic manual shift mode is not as quick nor as fun to drive as the discontinued six-speed manual,” finds Edmunds.

In regard to suspension, Edmunds reports “most drivers would be more content with the standard setup as it offers a more livable compromise between performance and comfort.” The stiffly sprung sports suspension, standard with AWD models and included with the Sports Package, “makes for an uncomfortably stiff ride,” observes ConsumerGuide. Car and Driver hails the base suspension’s “firm ride that manages to be both comfortable and compliant.” Cars.com agrees: “curves produce only modest body lean, and the sedan corners crisply.”

According to Edmunds, the electro-hydraulically assisted power steering deserves a little praise. It's a willing ally with the S40’s responsive chassis, one that exhibits “high-speed confidence and low-speed ease.” “Just the right amount of effort,” agrees Road & Track.

All-wheel drive, even when you don’t need it, saps fuel economy; it drops mileage figures by 2 mpg on the 2009 S40. But remarkably, the extra performance of the turbo engine is just as efficient; both base and turbo engines achieve identical city/highway fuel-economy ratings of 20/28 mpg with the five-speed automatic.

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2009 Volvo S40

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 S40 belies its upper-20s base price, Ford Focus roots, and entry-level status with comfortable seats, a refined ride, and quality construction.

The 2009 Volvo S40 feels refined, though backseat passengers will be compressed.

Quality defines the interior of the 2009 Volvo S40. “From something as simple as a high-quality headliner to the clean and classy gauges, the S40's cabin conveys an upscale feel from top to bottom,” continues Edmunds. Model year 2009 also addresses a sore point with the interior, as Volvo wisely adds “more storage space in the doors and the center console,” according to Motor Trend. Up front, the S40 sports ergonomically designed chairs, and their “comfort on long drives is undeniable,” remarks Kelley Blue Book. Comparing its interior dimensions to competitors such as Audi’s A4 and BMW’s 3-Series, Edmunds finds the “S40 offers nearly identical interior dimensions.”

Both front and rear seats fold flat, opening up the trunk cavity and allowing the S40 to carry items that extend from the rear bumper to the dash padding. MyRide.com declares that “Volvo has created intelligent ways” to use its interior space. Of the trunk, the same reviewers feel “the chopped-off rear end makes the trunk opening small,” hampering the ability to load big, bulky items.

ConsumerGuide kindly comments “two adults get decent head and elbow space, but three will feel pinched” in the S40's rear seat. On the flip side, Kelley Blue Book criticizes a “cramped rear seat and moderate headroom.”

The pricing starts in the mid-20s for a base 2.4i all the way to the low 40s for a loaded T5 AWD. “The S40 undercuts the base Audi A4, BMW 335, and Lexus IS by a good margin,” remarks Kelley Blue Book, “but the pricing gap closes quickly once comparable features are added.”

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2009 Volvo S40

Safety

Staying true to its safety roots, Volvo has provided the 2009 S40 with standard and optional, as well as active and passive, safety features, but its crash-test ratings are slightly disappointing.

Building on an already safe vehicle and a stout chassis, incremental upgrades to the 2009 Volvo S40 result in a solid choice for the safety-conscious buyer—though its crash-test ratings are imperfect.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the S40 “good” for its frontal offset test, but  "acceptable" in side impact. The S40 merits five stars for side impact testing for both front and rear seat passengers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and scores four stars for the driver and five for the passenger in frontal crash tests.

For 2009, the hazard lights now automatically engage any time the airbags are deployed. And with standard EBL (Emergency Brake Light) functionality, the new, brighter LED rear lights will flash rapidly in a panic braking situation. Standard active safety features include side impact and side curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control, and tire pressure monitoring.

Self-steering bi-xenon headlamps are an option in T5 models. The Haldex AWD system can be had only on the T5 AWD for a premium of about $2,000. It engages when front wheel slip is detected and includes the rough-riding Sport Package. Volvo’s BLIS (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,” according to Cars.com, is a stand-alone option.

The 2009 Volvo S40 includes four grades of steel in the front structure “to create optimal crumple zones” (Car and Driver) and “extremely rigid cross members for side-impact protection” (Kelley Blue Book). Building on the foundation of what Volvo dubs “Intelligent Vehicle Architecture,” it seems the company has attempted to “stuff the levels of safety found in the flagship S80 luxury sedan into the S40's small package,” according to MyRide.com.

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2009 Volvo S40

Features

For 2009, the Volvo S40 2.4i gets more standard equipment, but it’s not much of a bargain as the price goes way up.

Both versions of the Volvo S40, the 2.4i and T5, receive a host of upgrades for the 2009 model year, but prices go up by several thousand dollars, so there’s no better deal here; if you want a more basic model, you’re now out of luck. Beginning with the 2.4i, numerous features that were previously optional are now standard equipment, including 17-inch Spartacus wheels, Sirius Satellite Radio, a six-disc in-dash CD player, MP3 capability, front fog lights, a power moonroof, and a trip computer. 2009 turbocharged T5 models, front-wheel drive and AWD, are now equipped with standard R-Design components that dress up the S40’s appearance inside and out.

“Even in the base 2.4i trim, the S40 features air conditioning, side-curtain airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), an engine immobilizer, traction control, rear fog lamp, keyless remote entry, heated power mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels, a single CD player and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel,” says Kelley Blue Book.

Stand-alone options include leather seating (2.4i), the Blind Spot Information System, and the five-speed Geartronic automatic transmission (2.4i). The T5 offers active bi-xenon headlamps, sport steering wheel, sport suspension, 17-inch Zaurak wheels, navigation, and Volvo's Keyless Drive remote start system. Volvo’s Dynamic Trim package is described as “a $1,895 bundle of body kit baubles we would normally forego” by Autoblog. It includes front and rear spoilers, rear valance panel, side sills, and lower moldings at the doors’ edges. Kelley Blue Book remarks “popular options are mostly bundled into packages,” such as the Climate Package and Select Package.

The Auto Channel mentions “more dynamically styled instrument panels for the T5 model, Dynaudio speakers for the Premium Sound system, a new hard drive-based RTI road traffic information and satellite navigation system and a redesigned remote key fob with Auto Open and Auto Close for all side windows and sunroof.”

Inherent in the Volvo’s unique center panel design is the inability to upgrade to an aftermarket radio. Of the optional stereo, Jalopnik warns, “Don’t expect bass-thumping demonstrativeness…it’s strictly about midrange clarity.” Navigation is standard on T5 models but not available on the 2.4i. Bluetooth is standard across the board.

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