Used car buyer's guide: Volvo S40
VOLVO has a lot to thank the S60 for. This was the first car to make small Volvos respectable and paved the way for Volvo to reach into a new market niche with the second-generation S40, launched in 2004. But what about the Mk I S40? Well, despite Volvo's perseverance, that car never really stood up to intense scrutiny.
The Mk II S40 is a vastly different and massively superior proposition. As a used buy, it stacks up extremely well, a previous owner taking the sting out of the upfront price for you yet leaving you with a whole host of classic Volvo values.
What does this S40 owe to its predecessor? Virtually nothing bar some wisdom on the part of its designers. Whereas the old S40 was a car that never eked out its own niche, the Mk II looks a whole lot better equipped.
The key lesson was not to separate the S40 so far from the rest of the Volvo line-up. The old S40 seemed something rather un-Volvo when the next model up was hugely bigger and more expensive.
The latest S40 doesn't make that mistake, looking for all the world like an S60 after a hot wash. Sold alongside its V50 estate sibling, the S40 was introduced in February 2004 and quickly proved a steady seller among those looking for a prestige car without a big price tag.
The range kicked off with 1.8-litre petrol, 2.0-litre petrol and diesel variants and a beefier 2.4-litre petrol version.
The sporting 220bhp T5 version topped out the range and, in early 2005, the budget 1.6-litre petrol and diesel models were slotted into the range. The next engine to materialise came in mid-2006, a five-cylinder 180bhp diesel known as the D5. It was priced equivalently to the T5 but featured the Geartronic automatic gearbox as standard. The 2.0-litre 145bhp powerplant came on the scene at around the same time.
A range reshuffle at the start of 2007 saw prices cut across the S40 line-up. Trim levels were also tweaked, the SE gaining a powered driver's seat and an upgraded stereo.
Insurance for the S40 is inexpensive, due in no small part to Volvo's enviable safety record. The 1.6-litre models are rated at group 7 and even the pacey 2.5-litre T5 variants are only ranked at group 15.
The S40 is impeccably built and owners report few significant problems. Even in the hands of motoring journalists – traditionally some of the most neglectful drivers around – the S40 has proven a doughty counterpart.
The Mk II Volvo S40 is probably the first small Volvo that really upholds the marque's values. Although some may sniff that underneath that pretty bodywork is the bones of a Ford Focus, anybody who knows anything about modern motoring will realise what a boon this is.
If you want the driving manners of a Focus with the design and image of something a little more chi-chi, this Volvo S40 is the perfect pick. Reliable, refined and getting affordable, the S40 is a very clever used buy.