What's New for 2009
The 2009 Volvo S40 can only be had with a five-speed automatic transmission, as the slow-selling manual transmission has been discontinued. Numerous other changes distinguish the 2009 S40 from its predecessors, including new standard features like Bluetooth compatibility, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a sunroof, a power driver seat and an eight-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer and satellite radio -- accompanied by a base price that has swelled by more than $4,000. Additionally, T5 and T5 AWD models receive standard heated front seats along with sporty "R-Design" exterior and interior styling cues, not to mention substantial price hikes of their own.
We've generally been pretty high on the Volvo S40. It has consistently offered cutting-edge design, reassuring safety and a premium feel for many thousands less than perennial sport-sedan all-stars like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G35. But the 2009 Volvo S40 no longer offers the impressive value it used to -- the base price of the entry-level 2.4i has risen by more than $4,000 to roughly what the turbocharged T5 model cost last year. As for this year's T5, now known as the T5 R-Design, its base price has ballooned to $32,350, which pits it squarely against the aforementioned all-stars.
To be fair, Volvo didn't just arbitrarily jack up the S40's price. A number of formerly optional or unavailable features are standard this year, such as Bluetooth compatibility, a six-CD changer and a sunroof. And as ever, the S40 carries on Volvo's tradition of offering top-notch safety features and superbly designed seats. As such, the base 2.4i is still a viable alternative for car shoppers who want the style and accoutrements of a premium sport sedan without the hefty price tag -- although the Acura TSX does offer more high-tech features and better safety ratings. With just 168 horsepower, the S40 2.4i is not an impressive performer and its fuel economy is hardly stellar, but there's a case to be made for it if styling, comfort and safety are high priorities.
However, it's hard for us to recommend the 227-hp T5 R-Design and T5 AWD R-Design models, given their newly inflated prices. At about $28,000 to start, last year's T5 was an interesting "tweener" of a car, offering zesty performance and European sophistication for the price of a nicely optioned family sedan. But the 2009 S40 T5 R-Design now goes toe-to-toe with the A4 2.0T Quattro in the price column, despite lacking the Audi's handling prowess and all-around sophistication. Along the same lines, for a few grand more you can get a similarly equipped BMW 328i or Infiniti G35. And if it's all-wheel drive you're after, the T5 AWD R-Design, at $33,800, is actually pricier than the superior A4. You'd have to really dig its distinct brand of Swedish style (or get a killer deal) to pick the S40.
There's plenty to be said in the 2009 Volvo S40's favor. It looks sharp inside and out, it offers an impressive roster of standard and optional luxuries, it's safe and it's got some of the best seats in the business. But we find the S40's prodigious price increases for 2009 a bit hard to swallow, given its luxury-sport-sedan competition.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Volvo S40 is a premium compact sedan available in three trim levels: 2.4i, T5 R-Design and T5 AWD R-Design. The new-for-2009 R-Design name refers to a collection of sporty exterior and interior styling cues. The S40 2.4i comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a sunroof, a trip computer, a power driver seat, neoprene-like T-Tec cloth upholstery, a tilt and telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, full power accessories, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. In addition to its more powerful engine, the T5 R-Design adds a sport suspension, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, aluminum pedals, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a sport shift knob, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a memory function for the driver seat, automatic climate control and R-Design styling cues, including a sport steering wheel and a watch-like gauge cluster. The T5 AWD R-Design adds -- you guessed it -- AWD.
Options for the 2.4i model include the Climate Package, which adds heated front seats, headlight washers and rain-sensing wipers. Leather upholstery is a stand-alone option, as are wood inlays. The T5 R-Design and T5 AWD R-Design can be equipped with a Dynaudio Package that includes a 12-speaker sound system. Stand-alone options for these T5 models include keyless ignition and a navigation system (which is not available on the 2.4i). The T5 R-Design offers upgraded 18-inch alloy wheels that are not available on the AWD model. Active bi-xenon headlights and Volvo's blind-spot information system (BLIS) are options on all S40s.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2.4i is equipped with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-5 that generates 168 hp and 170 pound-feet of torque. The T5 R-Design and T5 AWD R-Design receive a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-5 that pumps out a healthy 227 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is mandatory on all models.
According to Volvo, the 2.4i will trot from zero to 60 mph in an unhurried 8.4 seconds. The T5 R-Design accomplishes the same task in a more respectable 6.7 seconds, while the AWD model's added weight results in a 7.0-second sprint. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 20 mpg city/28 highway and 23 combined for the S40 2.4i, while the T5 R-Design comes in at 19/28/23, and the T5 AWD R-Design yields 18/26/21.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control are standard on all 2009 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. BLIS is optional across the lineup.
In frontal-impact tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the S40 was awarded four stars for driver protection and five stars for front-passenger protection. It received perfect five-star ratings in the NHTSA's side-impact crash tests. In the Insurance Institute for 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.
Interior Design and Special Features
If you like to shop at Ikea -- or at least admire the company's über-modern designs -- then the 2009 Volvo S40's interior should strike your fancy. The piece de resistance is the ultraslim "floating" center stack, which is suspended between the console and the dash, but pretty much everything about the S40's interior design is a direct challenge to the relatively austere interiors found in some competing models. Fortunately, there's plenty of function behind the S40's impressive form, as most controls are a model of simplicity. Furthermore, the quality of the interior materials is excellent and the ergonomically designed seats are extraordinarily comfortable and supportive. Trunk capacity is ample at 12.6 cubic feet and the 60/40-split rear seat folds.
The base 2.4-liter engine provides acceleration that's only slightly sprightlier than your typical four-cylinder family sedan. The turbocharged 2.5-liter unit is far superior, though it does have a rather peaky power band, with noticeable turbo lag off the line. Handling is crisp and entertaining with either the standard or sport-tuned suspension, though the S40 isn't as sharp as the A4, 3 Series or G35. The base suspension is firm without being uncomfortable, but the sport suspension can be harsh over broken pavement.