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It may not have the prestige or athleticism of its German foes, but the 2008 Volvo S40 costs less while offering plenty of refinement, comfort and hip Swedish style. If you're shopping for a small sedan with a premium feel, this one deserves a look.
Cutting-edge Swedish style inside and out, straightforward controls, excellent seats and driving position, sharper handling than you'd expect from a Volvo, reassuringly long list of safety features, available all-wheel drive.
Mediocre acceleration with non-turbo engine, gets pricey when options start getting piled on, choppy highway ride with optional sport suspension, can't get a manual gearbox on T5, below-average residual value.
Available S40 Sedan Models
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The 2008 Volvo S40 receives significant changes. Styling has been refined and the interior's center console redesigned to increase storage space. Although the base 2.4-liter engine is left untouched, the turbocharged T5 gains nine additional horses for a grand total of 227. An auxiliary input jack is now standard on all S40s, while T5 models gain a standard upgraded sound system with satellite radio. Active bi-xenon headlamps are now an option on the T5, while Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) technology is an option on all S40s. The all-wheel-drive T5 is now only available with an automatic transmission.
Sweden has always been a pretty good place to look for something stylish and well made, yet definitely a little different from the norm. Take Ikea for instance, or perhaps Abba. The 2008 Volvo S40 is yet another Swedish product that meets this description. In fact, it has upped its style quotient even further for this year after a midlife refresh that smoothes out some literal and figurative rough edges.
Outside, the 2008 Volvo S40 has been lightly reshaped front and rear to create a more refined look. Although the original design was always attractive, the changes made to the front grille surround and rear bumper are handsome and look more upscale. Inside, the center console has been redesigned to accommodate an auxiliary audio jack, a redesigned handbrake and most importantly, additional storage space. The minimalist and 100-percent Swedish cabin design has thankfully been left untouched, but a new Nordic Light Oak optional trim brightens the interior with even more of the Svenska style that would be at home in Ikea's premium section.
The turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder of the T5 model has been upgraded by 9 horsepower for 2008, bringing its tally up to a healthy 227. This hardly makes the S40 a rocket, but we'll always endorse more power -- especially when it comes with an engine that gets better than 30 mpg on the highway.
The 2008 Volvo S40 sits wedged between entry-level sport sedans like the BMW 3 Series and well-optioned family sedans like the Nissan Altima. Depending on trim level and selected equipment, the S40 could compete against just about anything in this diverse arena, but the Acura TSX, Saab 9-3 and Volkswagen Jetta/GLI are probably its closest competition. Against them, the S40 stacks up very well, although the TSX does offer better value and a more spirited drive. Still, even against its fellow Swede, the 9-3, the 2008 S40 offers an unmatchable Swedish flair that makes it, Ikea and even Abba so appealing.
The 2008 Volvo S40 is a premium compact sedan available in three trim levels: 2.4i, T5 and T5 AWD. These names refer to each trim's powertrain. The S40 2.4i comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat, a tilt and telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, unusual T-Tec cloth upholstery, manual climate control, full power accessories and a six-speaker Dolby audio system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. In addition to its more powerful engine and available all-wheel drive, the T5 adds foglamps, an eight-way power driver seat, automatic climate control, aluminum trim, a trip computer and an eight-speaker sound system with in-dash CD changer and satellite radio. The T5 AWD differs only in that it includes all-wheel drive.
Popular options for the S40 are grouped into packages. The Select Package for the 2.4i adds 17-inch wheels, foglights, power driver seat, sunroof, Nordic Light Oak wood or aluminum trim, a leather gearshift knob and the T5's upgraded sound system. The T5's Premium Package adds 17-inch wheels, sunroof, leather upholstery, a power passenger seat, driver seat memory, an auto-dimming mirror with compass and Homelink. The T5 also can be equipped with a 12-speaker Dynaudio sound system and the Dynamic Trim Package that adds a performance body kit, a sport steering wheel and a firmer sport suspension on front-wheel-drive versions. The Climate Package available on all S40s includes heated front seats, headlamp washers and rain-sensing wipers.
Stand-alone options for the 2.4i include leather upholstery, while the T5 can be upgraded with keyless ignition, a DVD-based pop-up navigation system and active bi-xenon headlamps. Volvo's blind-spot information system (BLIS) is an option on all S40s.
The 2.4i comes with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-5 rated for 168 hp and 170 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can choose either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic to go with it. The T5 is upgraded for 2008, as its turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-5 now makes 227 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Both front- and all-wheel-drive T5 models come with a five-speed automatic only. Despite the power increase and the EPA's revised testing for 2008, the S40's fuel economy remains very good. The 2.4i gets an estimated 22 mpg city and 30 highway, while the more powerful T5 actually achieves slightly more at 22 and 31. The T5 AWD gets 20 city and 27 highway.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control are standard on all 2008 Volvo S40s. All models include front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags, along with whiplash-reducing head restraints in all outboard positions. For 2008, active bi-xenon headlights that swivel to illuminate curves are optional on the T5, while BLIS is optional on all S40s.
In frontal-impact tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the S40 netted four stars for driver protection and five stars for the front passenger. It received perfect five-star ratings in the NHTSA's side-impact crash tests. In the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety's frontal-offset testing, the S40 earned a top rating of "Good." In IIHS side-impact testing, the car was rated "Acceptable." Additionally, the S40 is one of only a few cars to earn a "Good" head-restraint rating in the IIHS rear-impact test, regardless of whether it is equipped with cloth or leather seats.
If you're looking for a hip environment in your luxury compact sedan, the 2008 Volvo S40 is hard to beat. Aside from the handsome new Nordic Light Oak trim, the ultraslim center stack can be adorned in faux metal, real aluminum or an iMac-like white finish. The S40 has more than good looks going for it, though. That ultraslim center stack features controls that are a model of simplicity, and the materials used throughout are excellent. The ergonomically designed seats are comfortable and supportive, and in concert with the telescoping steering column, offer a very good seating position. While leather is available, we'd save a few bucks and opt for the standard "T-Tec" upholstery, which breathes very well in hot weather and firmly holds occupants in place during cornering. Trunk capacity is ample at 12.6 cubic feet and the rear seat folds 60/40.
Although the turbocharged engine in the Volvo S40 T5 has a somewhat peaky power band and exhibits some lag off the line, it's the better choice for enthusiastic drivers and even gets slightly better fuel economy than the 2.4i. For those looking to keep the price low, the base engine will be perfectly adequate, though. Handling is crisp and entertaining with either the standard or sport-tuned suspension, though the S40 feels a little too soft around the edges compared to other, more sporting sedans. Those who like to drive hard will probably prefer the firmer sport suspension available on the T5's Dynamic Trim package, but the downside is a harsh ride when the pavement falls short of being pristine.
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The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2008 Volvo S40 in WA is: