With a model range that runs from compact saloon to high-riding off-roader, the darling of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group can seemingly do no wrong. The next piece in Volvo’s fleet jigsaw is the launch of two new 1.6-litre engines – a choice of a petrol and a diesel – in its small S40 saloon.
These smaller-engined options offer drivers an aggressively priced first foothold on the Volvo ladder – hooking them into the marque so they progress further up the range and creates that all-important brand loyalty. And the inclusion of these new entry-level models further broadens Volvo’s one-marque fleet appeal, offering everything from a £15,300 saloon to a £45,000 off-roader.
Like other models in the Volvo line-up, the S40 will come in both S and SE trim but given their rather diminutive power outputs, there won’t, understandably, be Sport versions. The 1.6-litre petrol S costs £15,298 with the SE commanding a further £2,250. The diesel is more expensive – prices start at £16,658 for the S and top out at £18,818 for the SE.
That’s a lot of wedge for a 1.6-litre saloon. Both the petrol and diesel will be supplied in the S40 saloon only and not the sexier V50 estate.
Volvo is not too concerned about that – it wants to pitch the V50 above the S40 anyway and a 1.6-litre petrol doesn’t fit in with its marketing programme. There is a slight possibility that the diesel might make an appearance in the estate towards the end of 2006, but no sooner as supply of the PSA Peugeot-Citroen-sourced engine is battling to meet demand.
Nor, rather surprisingly, will the diesel qualify for Euro IV compliance until the end of this year. No reliable supplier of particulate traps means 1.6-diesel S40 buyers will have to pay an extra 3% tax in 2005 and in 2008 the 3% supplement applies to all diesels again anyway.
The 1.6-litre petrol – a Ford-sourced engine – develops 100bhp at 6,000rpm and 111lb -ft of torque at 4,000rpm, enough for a leisurely 11.9 second jog through its five-speed box to 60mph and a 115mph top speed.
It returns 39.2mpg on the combined cycle and has a CO2 rating of 171g/km for a 21% 05/06 BIK tax and VED band C classification.
Dig deeper into the S40’s figures though and you’ll see that the bigger engined 1.8-litre model returns exactly the same combined fuel economy and only a marginally higher 172g/km CO2 rating. Which means your fleet manager will have his work cut out for him when choosing between the two.
The common-rail turbo diesel pushes out 110bhp at 4,000rpm and an impressive 177lb-ft of torque – good for a 12 second 0-60mph sprint and a top speed of 127mph.
On the combined cycle it will sip a gallon every 57.6 miles and has a low CO2 rating of 129g/km. It falls into the 18% BIK tax bracket and VED band A.
They may be regularly spotted on the road these days, but their ubiquity has done little to diminish the visual appeal of the S40 and V50. They successfully combine Volvo’s inimitable chunky looks with a healthy helping of urban sleekness and style.
The estate in particular drips ‘want-one’ desirability from every tight shutline. The intelligently configured cabin reinforces that traditional contemporary image. The layout of the controls is a lesson in ergonomically sound design, while neat touches, including the Bang and Olufsen-inspired ‘floating’ centre console, anodised metal highlights and keyless ignition lift it beyond the ordinary.
Wider, taller and with a much longer wheelbase than the models they replace, both S40 and V50 offer decent front and rear accommodation space although squeezing five adults, as well as their luggage, into either car will prove a tight fit.
The S40 and V50 may not quite have the cachet or carpark kudos of the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes Benz C-class, but as a slightly left-wing choice they will give rivals like Saab, Lexus and Honda a headache.
And despite their low ranking in the Volvo line-up, many drivers will find them more appealing than top-drawer models from more blue-collar marques.
And don’t forget, these two new editions to the Volvo menu are made even sweeter by the recent announcement that all S40 and V50 models with a registered fleet operator number from Volvo will automatically be given free servicing for three years and 60,000 miles.
That’s a transferable saving worth up to £1,600 depending on the model, which should slash leasing rates by about £30 a month as well as boost residual values.
Behind the wheel
IT’S the diesel that impresses. It’s hard to believe that there’s only a small 1.6-litre engine under that scalloped bonnet.
The common-rail diesel engine pulls strongly once its spins past the 1,750rpm torque peak, providing effortless acceleration at urban speeds and on the motorway. It’s quiet too. Around town there’s little of the expected tell-tale clatter to be heard, and once up to speed the engine noise fades to a background hum. Accelerate briskly through the gears, tap into the engine’s deep torque reservoir and you can easily embarrass more performance-oriented cars.
The petrol is nowhere near as impressive. The 1596cc engine is sadly not Ford’s advanced 1.6-litre Duratec Ti-VCT unit with its twin independent variable camshaft technology, but the Blue Oval’s more prosaic all-alloy 16v unit. As you’d expect with 100bhp to call on and a hefty 1,295kg kerb weight to haul along, the petrol S40 is no speed demon. Short gearing helps matters somewhat, keeping the engine close to its torque peak at motorway speeds.
The downside is constantly reaching for a non-existent sixth gear to lower the engine revs and noise.
While the power delivery is clean and linear this engine constantly needs to be worked hard to make decent progress. It is a vocal and intrusive-sounding engine – like a diesel at tickover and no better at speed.
Although the cabin is well insulated from noise, the engine’s gritty and gravelly soundtrack is always present. However, you never feel it. The pedals, steering shaft and gearlever remain vibration-free no matter what the engine or road speeds. But at motorway speeds the engine sounds strained and gruff under load. Both cars ride and handle with composure and poise – thank the Ford Focus underpinnings for that. The suspension effectively sponges and damps away most intrusions, and it’s only over rough, urban blacktop that the ride feels occasionally brittle.
The chassis feels alert and quick-witted with good body control and balance.
It’s a chassis and suspension set-up that lets you fully exploit the engines, aided by a light, positive clutch and a gearlever that slips through the gate with a firm and precise action. Pity that the steering lets the dynamic side down – it feels vague and removed from the wheels.
If you can stretch that bit extra for it, the diesel is easily the S40 to go for. It’s arguably the pick of the S40 range, combining exceptional economy and refinement with bargain basement running costs.
|Model||1.6 Petrol||1.6 Diesel|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||100/6,000||110/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||111/4,000||177/1750|
|Max speed (mph):||115||127|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||39.2||57.6|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||171||129|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||62/13.6|
|Service interval (miles):||12,000/one year|
|Price (OTR):||£15,298 - £17,548||£16,568 - £18,818|