- Big-car refinement
- Maneuverable around town
- Comfy, upmarket cabin
- Harsh ride
- Tight back seat
- Unremarkable safety scores
All-wheel drive no longer offered
While safety-minded family shoppers often consider Volvo's larger sedans and crossover wagons, the S40 compact sedan isn't nearly as popular. Yet—together with the V50 wagon—they're respectable choices that straddle the line between fuel efficiency, refinement, luxury, and sportiness in a package that doesn't completely betray Volvo's traditional standards of practicality and safety. For 2011, the base Volvo S40 2.4i model has been discontinued, leaving only the sporty T5 and T5 R-Design.
The 2011 Volvo S40 is unremarkable from a styling standpoint, though it's even by today's fashion sense a well-sculpted small sport sedan. While it looked fresh many years ago when first introduced, its proportions are now rather familiar, but athletic. Large alloy wheels and nicely done detailing give the S40 a nice visual punch compared to other sporty sedans—especially in R-Design form where the S40 gets a sport body kit and added side skirts plus front and rear spoilers. The S40 and its wagon counterpart the V50 were among the first models to get the 'floating' center stack—a thin control panel that houses climate control and audio functions, with storage space behind. The instrument panel was ahead of its time—modeled after electronics and thin monitors—and still looks great today. Up close, the design is of course very Scandinavian-influenced, with stark contrasts between light and dark trim, and the center stack trimmed with a matte-metallic surface.
With the former base S40 2.4i models discontinued, as well as available all-wheel drive, only front-wheel-drive S40 T5 and T5 R-Design remain, both offering the higher-power 2.5-liter turbocharged in-line five-cylinder engine. It makes 227 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque in the 2011 Volvo S40, and is available with either front- or all-wheel-drive configurations; it provides strong acceleration without the need to rev it to excess and pairs well with the five-speed automatic. According to official Volvo specs, the S40 can get to 60 mpg in 7.1 seconds. The S40 has a driving feel that combines the best of both worlds—offering the feel and stability of a larger German thoroughbred, yet allowing easy maneuverability and ease in fitting into tight parking spaces. Handling along country roads and high-speed cruising is safe and not inspiring in the same way as world-class sport sedans, but it's very capable.
Comfort and quality are top-notch in the 2011 Volvo S40, along with the V50 wagon, but the cramped backseat could be a deal-breaker for family shoppers. The Volvo S40 offers a level of comfort that near that of the brand's larger sedans in the front seats—though seat cushions don't seem quite as ample—however, in back legroom is tight and those around six feet or taller will have headroom issues. There's also only space for two adults in back; three won't have elbow or shoulder room. Compared to other small sedans, the S40 has levels of road noise that are well under control, though at lower speeds especially the ride can be rather hard and busy.
Volvo has a stellar reputation for safety, established with generations of vehicles that have performed above their peers for occupant protection. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the 2011 Volvo S40 is unimpressive with respect to safety. While the S40 hasn't yet been tested under the revised, more stringent federal tests, it's earned mixed ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—including 'good' for frontal and rear impact but only 'acceptable' for side impact and the new roof strength test. Its list of safety features is top-notch, though: Active bi-xenon headlamps—which help illuminate into dark corners—are an option, as is Volvo's BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), which notes vehicles in the blind spot with a warning light just inside the side mirror.
Over the past several years, Volvo has ramped up feature content in the S40, while only modestly increasing prices, so the remaining S40 T5 now stand as reasonably well-equipped and decent values in the tight entry luxury class. Now that the former 2.4i trims have been eliminated from the lineup for 2011, there are no base-model S40 models. All S40 T5 models include 17-inch Spartacus wheels, eight-speaker sound, Sirius Satellite Radio, HD Radio, auxiliary and USB inputs, power driver's seat, front fog lights, a power moonroof, and a trip computer. Bluetooth hands-free is also standard on all S40 models. Options on the S40 are mainly consolidated into a few major packages, but they include a high-end sound system, a nav system with real-time traffic info, automatic climate control, and rain-sensor wipers.