What's New for 2011
For the 2011 Volvo S40, the base 2.4i model has been discontinued, as has the all-wheel-drive T5 R-Design. Some features have been added and shuffled between the surviving trim levels.
There used to be a distinct gap between premium and non-premium sedans. In recent years, that gap has been filling up with attractively priced four-doors with luxury aspirations. The 2011 Volvo S40 is such a sedan, with more prestige than your run-of-the-mill domestic model, but not quite as much sophistication as the established European competitors. The niche positioning, however, presents some problems.
On the positive side, the Volvo S40 certainly looks the part of a European sport sedan. Even though this latest generation has been in production for seven years now, the S40 manages to still look fresh. This is especially true on the inside, where the sleek "floating waterfall" center stack and available two-tone upholstery continue to set this car apart from its more conservative rivals. Under the hood you'll find a standard 227-horsepower turbocharged five-cylinder engine that provides livelier acceleration than you'll find in the typical four-cylinder sedan.
Beyond this, the S40 just doesn't do much else to distinguish itself. Whether you're looking for the latest technology features, sportier performance, higher fuel economy or just a more prestigious image, you'll likely find a better choice. In the S40's price range, models like the sporty Acura TSX V6, the stylish Buick Regal and the well-equipped Volkswagen CC are more appealing. Similarly, the BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G Sedan justify their higher costs through added performance and prestige. Overall, the S40 is a fine car on its own merits, but you'll definitely want to shop around.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Volvo S40 Sedan is available in two trim levels: T5 and T5 R-Design.
The base T5 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated outside mirrors, air-conditioning, an eight-way power driver seat with memory, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, neoprene-like T-Tec upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, cruise control, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker stereo with a CD player, HD radio and USB/auxiliary input jacks. Adding the optional Preferred package will also get you a sunroof, leather upholstery and a power passenger seat.
The T5 R-Design includes all of the above and spices things up with front and rear spoilers, side skirts, a sport steering wheel, unique watch-dial gauges and aluminum pedals.
Both trims are available with the Climate package, which adds heated front seats, headlight washers, automatic wipers and automatic climate control. The Multimedia package adds a premium 10-speaker stereo and a navigation system with real-time traffic. Stand-alone options include 18-inch wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, satellite radio, keyless ignition/entry, rear parking sensors and a blind-spot detection system paired with power-folding mirrors.
Powertrains and Performance
With the cancellation of last year's base engine, the S40 is now offered solely with a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-5 that pumps out 227 hp and 236 pound-feet of torque. A standard five-speed automatic routes power to the front wheels -- all-wheel drive is no longer available. Zero to 60 mph is reached in 6.7 seconds. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 24 mpg in combined driving.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control are standard on all 2011 Volvo S40s. Also included are front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags, along with whiplash-reducing front head restraints. A blind-spot warning system (BLIS) is optional across the lineup.
The S40 has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) resulted in ratings of four out of five stars for driver protection in a frontal crash, five stars for front passenger protection and five stars for front and rear side-impact protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the S40 was awarded the best rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset test and the second-best "Acceptable" rating in the side-impact test.
Interior Design and Special Features
Fans of modern Scandinavian design will likely find the 2011 S40's interior to their liking. The floating waterfall center stack is unique to Volvo models, and is indicative of the manufacturer's novel aesthetic; it's a look that helps set the S40's cabin apart from those seen in other sedans. The R-Design's two-tone leather interior -- with its generous serving of youthful spirit -- makes for an even more intriguing space. The climate controls are easy to operate and attractive in their simplicity, but the optional navigation system is burdened with unintuitive controls and outdated graphics and menus.
The interior itself is well constructed, with excellent materials. The seats are well-shaped for comfortable long-distance motoring, with plenty of support. The T-Tec upholstery in the base S40 breathes well in hot weather and also holds passengers in place when cornering, making it a fine substitute for the leather option. Trunk capacity, on the other hand, is a bit of a disappointment, at just 12.6 cubic feet.
The 2011 Volvo S40's turbocharged five-cylinder provides enough power to entertain most drivers, but there is a noticeable amount of turbo lag off the line. On curvy roads, the S40 is stable and confidence-inspiring, though the competing BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G37 are quite a bit more fun to drive.