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Tony O'Kane | Feb 5, 2010 | 2 Comments

2010 Volvo S40 2.0D Road Test Review

EFFICIENCY, DRIVEABILITY and safety. They’re high, so buyer research tells us, on any new car buyer's list of 'must-haves'. We live in safety conscious and planet-friendly days.

And who wants to drive a car that handles like a barge? Well, no-one... (except maybe barge captains).

Volvo reckons its newest S40 variant satisfies on all three of those desirable criteria.

Sure, the S40, being a Volvo, has a better claim than most on 'safety' as a priority. For decades, the Swedish brand has wrapped its models in whatever was the latest in crash-mitigation technology. Who can forget the 'big-bumper-Volvo-bricks' of the seventies and early eighties?

But what of the new S40 2.0D's efficiency and driveability? How well does the new smaller-engined diesel satisfy on those counts?

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When TMR slipped behind the wheel for a week, that's what we set out to find out.

The S40 2.0D was launched in Australia late last year, replacing the larger-capacity D5 in the S40 line up. Power and torque dropped as a result, but so did price and fuel consumption.

Is a lower price tag and improved fuel economy enough to entice more buyers into Volvo’s diesel-burning small sedan? Moreover, with a new twin-clutch gearbox mated to the fuel-sipping engine, has the S40 been changed for the better?

 

Styling

The S40’s exterior was updated for the 2008 model year with a new front bumper, rear bumper and new headlight graphics.

The tail-lights were changed to shorter LED units in the mid-cycle revamp, and the deletion of the front and rear rubbing strips gave the S40 a smoother and less-cluttered appearance.

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While the front bumper no longer carries the black plastic cladding that covered the lower reaches of the pre-facelift model’s nose, the side sills, bottom edge of the doors and the bottom of the rear bumper are still protected by matte black plastic.

Overall, the S40’s body styling is conservative but is not without its endearing features. Volvo’s “Iron Mark” emblem remains a prominent and appealing feature of the front grille.

And the prominent stepped beltline that is now a characteristic of Volvo’s modern designs sweeps along the S40’s flanks and gives the tail-lights their distinctive shape.

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Door sheetmetal is deep, upright, largely flat and framed by flared wheelarches. The arching roofline tops a large glasshouse that features raked-back front and rear windscreens, as well as small C-pillar windows to help illuminate the back seats.

The standard wheel for the S40 2.0D is the 16-inch ‘Ceryx’ alloy, with the 16-inch ‘Cordelia’ wheel design available as a no-cost option.

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The 2.0D rides high in standard trim, however the $800 Sports Chassis package brings a lower sportier stance while 17 and 18-inch alloys can be had for a little extra coin.

Metallic paint is a $1550 option, and buyers looking for some extra visual muscle can opt for the R-Design bodykit which adds a front bumper lip, aerodynamic sideskirts and a rear wing.

 

Interior

The interior of the S40 is a tasteful fusion of style and function, with plenty of storage spaces, good ergonomics and an elegantly simple design aesthetic.

The talking point of the S40’s cabin is its floating centre stack containing radio, climate and telematics controls. A thin ribbon of aluminium, it is a brilliant piece of design and gives the cabin a light and crisply modern feel.

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Alloy trim is also applied to the centre console, which contains two cupholders, a mobile phone holder, 12V power outlet and a sizable centre console bin. The MY2008 update saw storage space in the centre console grow, while the front door cards were reworked to enlarge the map pockets.

Aluminium is the default trim, however white plastic can be had as a no-cost option and Nordic Light Oak trim is available for an extra $425.


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The standard front seats are manually-adjusted with variable lumbar support, and the steering wheel adjusts for both tilt and reach.

Electric front seats can be optioned, but come with a $4150 price tag for both or $2075 for just the driver’s chair. All seats are clad in high-quality black fabric as standard, but leather can be optioned for $3025.

The front seats are firmly padded but offer decent support and comfort, however vision from the driver’s seat is hindered by thick A and B-pillars. The latter in particular are about as thick as a railway sleeper – and probably just as sturdy.

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Rear seating is decent for a car of this size, with good under-thigh support. However, the width of the S40 means the centre seat is only suitable for children (an adult will likely to find the higher, firmer seating position uncomfortable).

Legroom is good for the outboard rear seats, but the downward slope of the roof can make the back of the S40’s cabin feel a little claustrophobic for taller passengers.

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There’s no fold-down centre armrest for the rear seats and no cupholders either, but there is at least a 12V power outlet on the rear of the centre console. A rear armrest with integrated cupholders is available for an extra $275.

The S40 does have a party trick in its back seat however. By pulling a handle at the front of the outboard seat squabs, the front cushion articulates up and rearward to sit atop the rest of the seat cushion, creating an integrated child booster seat for young children.

The rear backrest features a 60/40 split, and folds reasonably flat when the rear seat squabs are flipped up against the front seatbacks.

There is a slight step between the boot floor and the folded seatback, but the generously-sized aperture enables large loads to be easily carried within the S40’s cabin.

With the rear seats up, luggage space is still a handy 404 litres.

 

Equipment and Features

In standard form the S40 comes reasonably well-equipped, but a lengthy options list means the small sedan can be tricked out to a very high specification.

The standard equipment list includes a trip computer, foglights, heated wing mirrors, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and a six-speaker AM/FM CD tuner with an auxillary audio input.

There is a load of options: bi-xenon headlights, active cornering lights, rain sensing wipers, rear parking sensors and Volvo’s BLIS blind-spot monitoring system are available for extra cost.

Meanwhile, heated front seats, power retractable wing mirrors with puddle lights, a sunroof, satnav, keyless entry, keyless ignition, Bluetooth and an 8 or 12-speaker premium sound system with iPod connectivity lift comfort levels.

Since its early days Volvo has built a reputation as a leader in automotive safety, and the S40 clearly benefits from the company’s sizable investment in safety technology.

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Active electronic safety aids include stability control, traction control and ABS with brake assist. Those systems are backed up by a suite of passive safety hardware that works to protect occupants in a crash, including Volvo’s SIPS side impact absorption structures, anti-whiplash headrests and the usual front, front side and full-length curtain airbags.

All seats are equipped with three-point safety belts, with both front belts fitted with pretensioner devices.

 

Mechanical Package

Mechanically, the S40 2.0D is a very close relative to the new Ford Focus TDCi. Aside from riding on a similar platform and sharing much of its undercarriage with the Ford, the S40 uses the exact same powertrain and FWD drivetrain as the Focus.

A 2.0 litre turbodiesel engine produces 100kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm at 2000rpm, and replaces the old D5 turbodiesel.

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Power is fed to a six-speed twin-clutch automated manual gearbox, which is built by Getrag and marketed by both Ford and Volvo under the Powershift moniker. A far more sophisticated unit than the old Geartronic automatic, the Powershift combines the ease of use of a traditional auto with the mechanical efficiency of a manual gearbox.

The Powershift transmission is the only gearbox offered in the S40 2.0D, but a tiptronic manual mode is a good compromise for drivers who like to occasionally select their own gears.

The combination of the smaller turbodiesel engine and high-tech gearbox endow the S40 2.0D with a greatly improved fuel economy figure of 6.0 l/100km on the combined cycle – a full litre less than the old S40 D5 automatic. Our testing, conducted mainly in urban areas, saw an average of 6.8 l/100km.


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With less engine capacity to play with however, sprint times are slower. While the D5 manual could get to 100km/h in 7.9 seconds, the 2.0D requires 9.6 seconds to hit triple-digit speeds.

The 2.0D also has another potential handicap. While the petrol-powered S40 variants are fitted with a 62 litre fuel tank, the 2.0D can only carry 52 litres. It’s good enough for a theoretical range of 866km, but having an extra ten litres of diesel on board could have extended the range to well over 1000km.

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The S40 is suspended on MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link system at the rear, with anti-roll bars fitted to each. A Sports Chassis and Dynamic Chassis package can be fitted to the S40, which brings improvements to handling at the expense of a firmer ride.

Braking is handled by ventilated discs up front and solid discs at the rear, all of which are clamped by sliding calipers.

 

The Drive

Although it shares a great deal of its mechanical hardware with the more prosaic Focus TDCi, the S40 2.0D still has its own unique flavour.

Behind the wheel, the car feels solid and unshakeable. A great deal of this is probably down to the Volvo’s impeccable build quality (the Focus, by contrast, carries some hard and unappealing plastics). The S40 also exhibits a more planted ride than the softly-sprung Focus.

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The steering is nicely weighted, turn-in is fairly sharp for a non-performance sedan and the ride – although firmer than the Ford – is far from tooth-rattlingly hard.

Indeed, our tester (which was fitted with the standard Comfort suspension) was great on urban roads of varying quality, and dealt with everyday obstacles such as speed humps, potholes and poor-condition tarmac without excessive jarring or thumping.

The engine is a strong performer and also gets a tick. Although it lacks the power of the motor it replaces, the 2.0D has more than enough torque low in the rev range to motivate the S40’s bulk without having to work too hard.

While we're ticking boxes, the Powershift transmission scores another and is an excellent partner to the 2.0 litre turbodiesel. Unlike VW’s DSG and Mitsubishi’s SST twin-clutch ‘boxes, the Powershift is smooth off the line and doesn’t ‘snatch’ first gear. In fact, under gentle driving there’s little tangible difference between it and a conventional automatic.

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Drive it harder though, and the Powershift responds with crisper gearchanges and a greater willingness to hold gears. There is no sport mode, but rowing through the ratios via the shifter’s plus-minus plane gives direct control over the gearbox.

There are minor complaints though. Engine vibration is noticeable at idle, forward and over-the-shoulder vision is compromised by the chunky A and B-pillars, and the tiptronic shifter uses the less-than-logical “pull to downshift, push to upshift” layout.

Rear parking sensors are (in our opinion) a must as well, thanks to the S40’s high bootline and its ability to hide low walls, bollards and children. They’re small niggles, but niggles nonetheless.

The Verdict

It might be looking a little old by now, but the S40 has still got a lot of appeal.

Aficionados of minimalist Nordic design will no doubt appreciate the S40’s interior and exterior styling, while family buyers should be impressed by Volvo’s safety credentials and the S40’s new fuel-efficient mechanical package.

With the lower-powered 2.0D replacing the D5, prices have also dropped for the diesel-burning S40, falling from just over $46,000 to $42,950.

But no matter how well built, that’s a still a lot of money for a smallish sedan. That pricetag is perhaps the S40 2.0D’s Achilles heel.

Most buyers would perhaps also expect a $43,000 spend to bring a great deal more equipment. The S40’s cabin is devoid of niceties like powered seats and Bluetooth phone integration – unless you’re prepared to fork out large sums for the added luxury.

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Of course, a Volvo S40 is not about gadgets. Instead you're buying into Volvo’s faultless reputation for safety, build quality and dependability. Yes, a Focus might offer the same thrifty diesel and twin-clutch gearbox for almost $15,000 less, but it doesn't feel as solid, safe or exotic as the Volvo.

The Ford Mondeo Zetec TDCi is a natural competitor to the S40 and costs nearly $3,000 less, but it uses more fuel, has slightly less power and is only available as a hatch. The Holden Cruze CDX diesel auto savages the S40 with its $28,990 price, but it consumes 6.8l/100km and has an interior that is comprehensively outclassed by the Volvo’s.

In fact, the S40 2.0D’s only proper competitor comes from France: the Peugeot 407. The Peugeot’s 5.9 l/100km rating bests the Volvo and power output from its 2.0 litre turbodiesel four is identical, but at $40,990 it’s two grand cheaper.

Me? On balance I’d take the Volvo.

 

Likes

  • Architectural interior looks great
  • solid build
  • Volvo reputation for safety
  • great handling
  • excellent Powershift transmission is one of the best twin-clutches out there.
 

Dislikes

  • Exterior styling is starting to date
  • engine vibration at idle doesn’t feel as refined as rest of the car
  • thick pillars hamper driver’s vision
  • extensive (and expensive) options list, high base price.
Get the best deal on this car!
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