I had the chance to drive the 2011 Volvo S40, a luxury car that offers solid, well rounded performance and style but not to any excess. It’s Volvo’s smallest sedan and comes in T5 and T5 R trim levels. Both share a 227 horsepower (236 lb/ft of torque) turbocharged 2.5 liter five-cylinder that left me wanting and wondering what could be had with Volvo’s larger twin turbocharged engine options in the S60.
The get up and go was adequate, with a 7.2 second 0 to 60 mph, but the power band was limited and the automatic with Geartronic manual shifting had me wishing for a 6 speed manual to help get into the S40’s relatively narrow power band.
The power band is the acceleration sweet spot, if you will, where you get that ‘planted in the seat of your pants’ feel. Like all cars, the Volvo S40 has it but it could be more available to provide a more exciting driving experience.
Once you are up to highway speed, the higher revving five-cylinder makes a slightly noticeable thrumming sound that likely wouldn’t be the case at a lower rpm that a sixth gear or an additional cylinder could provide. It still provides ample power and, as it is the base model, it makes sense that it doesn’t punish you at the pumps in return for a less exciting driving experience.
It handles well for a front wheeled drive car and feels firm on the road but anyone can appreciate having AWD when the snow sets in. Unfortunately, along with the manual transmission option, the AWD option on the S40 was also dropped for the 2011 model year.
Though the handling is firm, it does not have the feel you come to expect from European cars that really makes you feel connected to the road you’re on. In this case, the steering feels lighter than it should be, which does not appeal to me. Unfortunately, the Volvo treatment just doesn’t seem to be enough to set the S40 apart from the Mazda3 or the Ford Focus, which share the same chassis backbone.
Regardless of this, the suspension still handles curves and tight turns with concise authority that you would expect from a European luxury car.
In terms of interior aesthetics, it keeps to the minimalist Swedish tradition that favours simple, high-quality design and materials. It has plenty of head and legroom and a driver’s seat that is supportive and comfortable. Though the center console controls take some getting used to, as some buttons are easy to hit by accident, it is elegantly concise and goes well with the rest of the interior. From a driving perspective, the only noticeable shortcoming is slight lack of visibility out the rear but it’s certainly easy to overlook.
Overall, the 2011 Volvo S40 is a well rounded base model that offers one of the safest luxury cars on the road. Though it doesn’t inspire the same excitement as a comparable sedan in its segment, it still delivers a good driving experience and the all around quality and safety you’d come to expect from a Volvo.