VOLVO launched the 540 back in 2003 with the aim of attracting
younger buyers looking for a compact family car.
And in these environmentally aware times, younger buyers are more often than not looking for the greenest option if possible.
So Volvo have gradually heaped on the eco options, so much so that earlier this year the S40 picked up the prestigious What Car? Green Car of the Year, thanks to features such’as its new stop-start technology, reduced C02 emissions and improved fuel economy – the official figures for the Drive diesel are a whopping 72mpg.
This stop-start technology is appearing in more and more new cars now and although it takes some getting used to, it can only be a matter of time before the vast majority of cars feature this emission-reducing feature.
It’s simple enough. When the driver puts the gear stick into neutral and releases the clutch while at a standstill, the engine switches off.
The next time the driver presses the clutch, the engine starts up again.
Taking things one step further, the system also monitors the “comfort levels” in the cabin
and automatically reactivates the air conditioning if, for instance, the temperature increases in the passenger compartment.
It’s only a matter of time before it combs your hair and tells you that you look great.
Although it can be quite disconcerting for the engine to cut out when you roll to a halt in the traffic queue, you soon become familiar with it.
But the S40, Volvo’s smallest saloon, is more than just eco friendly.
It comes in a number of engine sizes, in both petrol and diesel, from 1.6 through to the 230bhp T5 (or D5 for diesel).
The S40 has a look that still nods back to the boxy Volvos of the past.
Although it has all the clean lines and fluid shape that practically all new cars feature these days, there are still those flattened ridges that run down the side of the car, with a pronounced step up onto the short bonnet.
The wheels-trims are quirky too, all flat and shiny.
It’s a look that might divide opinion but the more you see it the more it grows on you.
Inside the cabin things are along the same lines. On first sight the dash and interior look minimalist, bordering on spartan.
The quality is unmistakeable, with soft plastic everywhere, but there is a large expanse of plastic on the passenger side and the central aluminium console is simplistic.
But take a closer look and the central column which houses the CD player and heating controls is actually very thin, disguising a softly-illuminated area behind where you can fit CDs and the like out of sight.
The more time you spend in the S40 the more impressive the interior becomes. It’s a marvellous design.
Equally, the seats are big
and comfortable and the whole interior, both front and rear, oozes style. The dials are simple to read and the heating system’s easy
to operate, although the push buttons for the window heaters, etc, are a bit fiddly.
Something else that jars a little is the fact that the handbrake is positioned to the far left of the driver, very close to the passenger seat. It doesn’t make for easy operation and one clumsy move could get you a slap in the face from a passenger in ~ short skirt.
On the road, the Volvo is a competent performer. I drove
the 1.6 diesel, which had to be worked hard to get the best out of it from a standstill.
Revs need to be high when changing gear or you have to work hard to get the revs back up. The S40 really felt at home when cruising at higher speeds.
It’s an extremely comfortable ride, with a hushed diesel engine which doesn’t intrude on the calm of the cabin at all, even when the stop-start technology kicks in and the engine is continually being turned on and off.
Road noise is not worth mentioning although I noticed a little wind noise coming though the sides at higher speeds.
The Volvo handles really well, cornering with little body roll and a lot of grip.
Gear change is slick and the steering is light and sensitive, keeping you in touch with the tarmac.
There’s plenty of legroom in the front, a little less in the rear with the seats pushed backwards. Headroom is spacious in the front, once more a little less in the rear.
The boot is a reasonable size although its design means that your case will have to be hoisted to a height before being inserted.
All this quality and style comes at a price, and against rivals like the Golf, the Focus and Skoda’s Octavia it can appear expensive, starting off at just over £14,000 rising up to more than £23,000 for the top-of-the-range models.
The stop-start Drive model I tested was nearly £18,000.
But Volvo has built its reputation on quality and above all reliability, and these are cars which are going to last.
Every S40 comes with a load of goodies as standard, including climate control, electric windows all round, a quality CD / radio, central locking and alloys.
Moving up through the trims you get improved interiors and sporty bits. The S40’s in a hard fought sector, with prestige marques like the BMW battling it out with top value cars like the Octavia.
But the Volvo’s reliability and all that kit thrown in, not to mention the family friendly performance, should allow it to hold its own.
And it’s a sensible choice for the environmentally-conscious, too.
VOLVO S40 1.60 Drive
Engine: 1.6-litre diesel
Transmission: five-speed manual
0-60: 10.8 seconds
Top speed: 118mph
Combined mpg: 72mpg
OTR price: £17,995