2008 Volvo S40 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2008

The 2008 Volvo S40 has the efficiency and compactness of a small car with the available safety features and poise of a larger sport sedan.

To bring you this review covering the 2008 Volvo S40, the experts at TheCarConnection.com have read what some of the most respected reviewers have to say, then TheCarConnection.com’s editors added their own firsthand driving experience with the new S40.

The compact 2008 Volvo S40 sedan, which is closely related to the V50 wagon, returns for the 2008 model year with some new features and a slightly revised appearance. The center console and door panels get more storage space and the audio system has been updated, while a new front-end appearance and taillamps impart the S40 with a more “grown-up” look, and turbocharged T5 models get a bump in power.

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 have fast acceleration, but performance is perky with the standard five-speed manual and gutsy enough for city driving with the five-speed automatic transmission. Higher-powered 2008 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 top 2008 Volvo S40 T5 AWD model has the latest version of the Haldex all-wheel-drive system, which is electronically controlled. It relies on the instant of slippage from the front wheels before torque is sent to the rear, but responds well to the S40’s needs on wet or slippery roads.

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The 2008 Volvo S40 is remarkably compact, making it 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 S40’s instrument panel design is especially stylish and distinctive, with a thin, “floating” center control 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. Where Volvo admits interior storage was an issue, 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 2008 Volvo S40 is newly positioned, and air vents are improved.

The base 2008 Volvo S40 model is decently equipped, with keyless entry, cruise control, and an 80-watt, six-speaker sound system included. 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, an upgraded audio system, and six months of Sirius Satellite Radio—for a modest amount.

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. 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 2008 Volvo S40, along with a new integrated child booster-seat system—a Volvo exclusive.

The 2008 Volvo S40 has not been crash tested, but standard safety features on the S40 include front side impact airbags, side curtain bags for front and rear outboard occupants, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control.

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2008 Volvo S40

Styling

Subtle changes inside and out make the 2008 Volvo S40 an even more aesthetically pleasing ride.

Fresh and modern at its 2004 introduction, the 2008 Volvo S40 welcomes exterior and interior tweaks to keep it competitive and address some niggles with the interior.

With an exterior described by Car and Driver as “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 2008 model year. Additional exterior changes include a Volvo logo 50 percent bigger than before, high-intensity LED rear lights, and restyled front projector beam headlights.

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 that it must surely “qualify as no-frills.” 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.”

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2008 Volvo S40

Performance

The best choice among the different versions of the 2008 Volvo S40 seems to be a T5 minus the sport package and all-wheel drive.

The 2008 Volvo S40’s mechanical bits are all over the map, from sedate to ferocious, comforting to kidney-jarring, according to reviews from around the Web.

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 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.”

Some bemoan the cancellation of the T5’s manual transmission option, with a five-speed automatic the lone choice for the turbo engine in 2008: “the Geartronic manual shift mode is not as quick nor as fun to drive as the discontinued six-speed manual,” finds Edmunds. 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.”

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.” The stiffly sprung sports suspension, standard with AWD models and included with the Sports Package, “makes for an uncomfortably stiff ride,” observes ConsumerGuide. Edmunds concludes, “most drivers would be more content with the standard setup as it offers a more livable compromise between performance and comfort.” Of note is the electro-hydraulically assisted power steering standard across the board. It's a willing ally with the S40’s responsive chassis, one that exhibits “high-speed confidence and low-speed ease,” according to Edmunds. “Just the right amount of effort,” agrees Road & Track.

Remarkably, both base and turbo engines achieve identical city/highway fuel-economy ratings of 20/28 mpg with the five-speed automatic. All-wheel drive drops both figures by 2 mpg.

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2008 Volvo S40

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Volvo S40 feels refined, though backseat passengers will be compressed.

Following Volvo tradition, the 2008 Volvo S40 belies its mid-20s base price, Ford Focus roots, and entry-level status across the model spectrum with comfortable seats and quality construction.

Up front, the S40 sports ergonomically designed chairs whose “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.” And the high quality of that square footage is undisputed: “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 2008 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.

Alas, the rear seat isn’t as hospitable, but none of its European rivals have Cadillac-large backseats either. Kelley Blue Book criticizes a “cramped rear seat and moderate headroom.” ConsumerGuide is kinder, stating, “two adults get decent head and elbow space, but three will feel pinched.”

MyRide.com declares that “Volvo has created intelligent ways” to use its interior space. Both front and rear seats fold flat, opening up the trunk cavity and allowing items that extend from rear bumper to dash padding to be carried in the S40. 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.

As to its value in the marketplace, the S40's pricing makes it a strong competitor. “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.” The pricing starts in the mid-20s for a base 2.4i all the way to the low 40s for a loaded T5 AWD.

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2008 Volvo S40

Safety

Building on an already safe vehicle and a stout chassis, incremental upgrades to the 2008 Volvo S40 make it an even better choice for the safety-conscious buyer.

Staying true to its safety roots even in the smallest entry-level sedan, Volvo has upgraded the 2008 S40 with standard and optional, as well as active and passive, safety features found on many of its newer platforms.

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

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. For 2008, 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.

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. 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 only when front wheel slip is detected and includes the rough-riding Sport Package.

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. That 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).

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2008 Volvo S40

Features

The 2008 Volvo S40 offers brilliant audio systems, navigation, and other technophile features—but you better be happy with the factory sound.

Says Kelley Blue Book about the S40’s standard roster of equipment: “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.”

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 mentions “popular options are mostly bundled into packages,” such as the Climate Package and Select Package. Stand-alone options include leather seating (2.4i), 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.

The biggest changes for technogeeks and audiophiles seem to center around the updated--and iconic--floating Volvo center stack, which can now be ordered in Nordic Light Oak or Virtual White (think Steve Jobs). 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.”

Navigation is standard on T5 models but not available on the 2.4i. Bluetooth is standard across the board. But 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.”

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