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German car companies have long been the dominant players in the compact sport sedan market. The Volvo S40, introduced to the North American market in 2000, was the Swedish brand's first stab at stealing some market share. Though it had its shortcomings, the S40 was a decent small sedan that helped redefine Volvo's image. Instead of the standard boxy shape once associated with Volvos, the S40 had a sleeker silhouette and was relatively fun to drive.
Volvo released the improved second-generation S40 midway through 2004. Styling was sportier and more refined, as was the car's handling. Additionally, there were two engine choices, including a turbocharged five-cylinder. Though it still didn't have the prestige or athleticism of its German competition, the newer Volvo S40 cost less and still offered plenty of refinement, comfort and style.
Used Volvo S40 models
Introduced midway through the 2004 model year (hence its 2004.5 status) and produced through 2011, the second and most recent generation of the Volvo S40 compact sport sedan changed little throughout the years. Still, used car shoppers will want to pay attention to the various updates over the years as they may see a desired feature or powertrain configuration that was available only certain years. There was also a wagon version of the S40 called the V50 that's covered in a separate review.
Up until 2011, Volvo offered a base 2.4i model with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-5 rated for 168 hp. There was also the turbocharged T5 that made 218 hp until 2008 when Volvo pumped up to 227 horses. The sportier T5 R-Design essentially replaced the T5 for 2009. A manual transmission was offered sporadically throughout the years for both engines, though most S40s you come across will likely have a five-speed automatic. All-wheel drive was also available for the T5 and T5 R-Design through 2010.
The few notable equipment changes include stability control becoming standard on all S40s for 2007 while upgraded audio components and a blind-spot monitoring system joined the roster the following year. For '09 the S40 received a slew of former options -- including Bluetooth compatibility, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, a power driver seat and an eight-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer and satellite radio -- as standard equipment. Options included leather seating, heated seats, a navigation system and a 12-speaker premium sound system.
This S40's styling reflects Volvo's more curvaceous aesthetic while the cabin featured an upscale vibe along with the company's trademark ultra-slim center stack design. The driving position was snug and comfortable, but adults seated in the rear might find legroom tight.
In reviews at the time, our editors found the Volvo S40 entertaining to drive thanks to its turbocharged engine and lively handling. But the S40 just didn't do much else to distinguish itself and the ride quality was rather stiff. Whether you're looking for the latest technology features, sportier performance, better fuel economy or just a more prestigious image, you'll likely find a better choice for a premium or entry-level luxury sedan.
The first-generation Volvo S40 sport sedan debuted for 2000. It came with a turbocharged 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine that made 160 hp and 170 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission delivered power to the front wheels, and there was no manual transmission or AWD option. Standard features included ABS, automatic climate control, power windows and locks, and heated mirrors, while features like leather upholstery and a power driver seat were optional.
In 2001, Volvo added safety features to the S40 and made minor styling changes to the headlights and interior. The company also brought out a new five-speed automatic transmission. For 2003, power was increased to 170 hp, and a CD player became standard. In 2004, Volvo added an LSE trim to the lineup to sustain interest in the car until the current generation launched later in the year.
In reviews of the first-generation Volvo S40, we noted that it was a competent small sedan but nonetheless a tough sell over the less expensive but comparably upscale turbocharged or V6-powered Volkswagen Jetta. If you're interested in buying a used S40 of this vintage, we'd recommend going with one from '03 or later, as these models benefited from the abovementioned mild power bump.