What's New for 2006
For 2006, Volvo has rearranged some of the S40's option packages and revised the cupholders. Steering wheel-mounted satellite audio controls are now standard on the 2.4i trim, and the six-speed manual transmission on T5 models gains a pushdown function to engage reverse. There are also new 16- and 17-inch wheel designs and a new optional air filtration system for the T5 that Volvo says goes beyond traditional carbon filters to help reduce occupant exposure to carbon monoxide.
The Volvo S40 is the smallest and most affordable car in the Volvo lineup. It went on sale in Europe in 1996, but wasn't introduced in the U.S. until the 2000 model year. Thrown into a field of highly qualified German- and Japanese-brand sedans, Volvo's small sedan quickly began to show its age. Though not a bad car, it suffered because of its bland look, lack of powertrain choices and poor packaging.
Midway through the 2004 model year, the prognosis changed: Volvo released a redesigned version of its small sedan. The new S40 offers improved safety, performance and interior room, as well as slick styling inside and out. Although shorter than its predecessor, the current Volvo S40 is wider and has a longer wheelbase, which translates to more interior room. Additionally, it features the coolest center stack design this side of Stockholm. If you like shopping at IKEA, you'll love the look.
Volvo's S40 is available with a normally aspirated 2.4-liter, inline five-cylinder engine or a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline five that comes on the T5 trim. Of the two, the T5 is definitely the car serious drivers will prefer. The 2.4i's acceleration is mediocre for this class of car, but the T5 stacks up well against the Acura TSX, Audi A4 2.0T and BMW 325i. Designed specifically with the U.S. market in mind, the Volvo S40 shares some of its architecture with the Mazda 3 and the second-generation Ford Focus now on sale in Europe. Those skeptical about a Volvo car with a subtle Ford influence need only get behind the wheel of the S40. This car looks, feels and performs exactly the way we think an entry-level Volvo should, and has a completely different personality than the Mazda 3. If you're looking for a premium sedan that doesn't venture far from the $30,000 mark when properly equipped, the 2006 Volvo S40 is a worthwhile addition to your shopping list.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The compact Volvo S40 sedan comes in 2.4i and T5 versions; 2.4s are front-wheel drive only, while T5s are available with all-wheel drive as well. The 2.4i comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with telescope adjustment, a CD player and heated mirrors. In addition to a more powerful engine, the T5 adds front and rear spoilers, faux wood interior trim, foglights, automatic climate control, a power driver seat and a trip computer, all of which are optional on the 2.4i. A host of packages are available, which offer upgrades like leather upholstery, a moonroof, firmer suspension calibrations, a 12-speaker Dolby sound system, an in-dash CD changer and wheel/tire upgrades. Standalone options include a DVD-based navigation system, HID headlights and an upgraded interior air filtration system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2.4i comes with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline five-cylinder rated for 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can choose either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic to go with it. The T5 gets a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline five that makes 218 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. In addition to the automatic, the T5 is eligible for a six-speed manual gearbox.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and traction control are standard on all S40 models. A stability control system is optional. All models include both front-seat side-impact airbags and full-length head-curtain airbags, along with whiplash-reducing seats and seatbelt pre-tensioners in all outboard positions. Built-in child booster seats are optional. The Volvo S40 received perfect five-star ratings in NHTSA side-impact crash tests. In frontal-impact tests, it netted four stars for driver protection and five stars for the front passenger. In IIHS frontal-offset testing, the S40 earned a top rating of "Good" and a "Best Pick" designation; in IIHS side-impact testing, the Volvo car was rated "Acceptable."
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 2006 Volvo S40 is unique and styled to appeal to a young audience. The first thing you'll notice is the ultraslim center stack, which has a distinct Scandinavian design and allows for more storage up front. Interior trim choices include faux metal, faux wood, real aluminum or a transparent material reminiscent of an iMac computer. The ergonomically designed seats are available in different upholstery types, and adults will find adequate legroom in both the front and rear.
Volvo tuned the S40 to take performance much more seriously than the previous-generation model. Handling is crisp and entertaining, though the standard tires are taxed by more aggressive cornering. An unfortunate downside to the S40's sharp reflexes is that cruising comfort suffers a bit, particularly with the optional sport suspension. The 2.4i model offers adequate if uninspiring acceleration, so weekend enthusiasts should head straight for the spirited T5 model.