Volvo S40 T5

New Young Blood

Reviewed for Drive and Stay Alive by Eddie Wren, February 2004

With the advent of the latest generation S40, Volvo hopes to penetrate further the young adults market here in the USA, and this car may be precisely needed.

Volvo S40, 2004-5 model (All pictures on this page courtesy either of Volvo Cars USA or Volvo UK)

When writing this review, the new 2004-5 S40 is not yet available in the USA, but one T5 is circulating the dealerships in the northeastern states, and we got the opportunity to drive it while it was with the Auto Place in Western New York.


All T5/T6 Volvos are the turbocharged versions of their respective models, so ours came with skirts, spoilers, and some rather lovely 18″ wheels and low-profile tires. It certainly “looked the business.”

All panel gaps on the bodywork appeared consistent and felt perfectly aligned when a finger was run along them. A closer look shows that the headlight clusters (see photo above) has acquired the latest high-tech appearance, complete with a central xenon unit that we assume will be an option on all models.

The rear light cluster is unmistakably Volvo and emphasizes the bodywork “shoulder” in precisely the same way as the units on the S60s and S80s.


When opened, the trunk lid rotates perhaps 130°, almost as far as the glass in the back window, to give easy access to the relatively small but adequate trunk (15.5 cubic feet).

Inside the car, the most noticeable feature is the central instrument console, reminiscent of a small waterfall. It looks neat and very uncluttered, too.

That description applies to the entire dashboard.

The steering wheel is arguably just a little on the large side if a truly sporting impression is sought, but any smaller and it would obscure the instrument binnacle.


The demonstration car in question has not only been brought in from Europe especially — well in advance of model availability here — but bears all the hallmarks of its native country: All illuminated messages on the instrument panel were in Swedish… The blondes, in Sweden, might be delectable, but their written language can have slightly less aesthetic appeal — It could have been telling me to “fire ejector seat” for all I knew!

The manual gearbox (i.e., “stick shift”) was a pleasant surprise, but for me — personally — it promised to have its downside. You see, for all that I’ve been driving regularly in the USA for five years, it has almost always been in automatics, and as I’m 100% British, I’m used to changing gear with my left hand, so this was promising to be “fun!”  With the engine off, I practiced the gear changes for a few minutes. The gear lever positions felt very close, so I was concerned that I might do some crunching and grinding once we rolled.

I needn’t have worried; gear selection proved precise, and the clutch was easy and smooth.

So, off we went. And yes, I do mean off we went. This good-looking but relatively inconspicuous car should not be underrated. Volvo doesn’t give their top cars a ‘T’ suffix for nothing. When you ask the S40 T5 to move you from Point A to Point B, it does precisely that… swiftly. And the handling, en route, is excellent.

And the braking is excellent, too.

volvo_s40_2004-5_interior_01_1811-1 (1)

In terms of comfort, the S40 is certainly a match for all the better small-to-medium-sized sedans and saloons currently available. Driver legroom was superb; I’m 6’2″ and had to have the driver’s seat only part of the way back, which is unusual for me, even in bigger cars. If you see what I mean, I could not have sat behind myself. When I had the driver’s seat far enough back for me to drive, there was not enough room for another person of my height to sit comfortably behind me — I tried it. But unless you are significant and seated behind another equally big person, there is ample rear leg room for comfort.

One of the most significant factors in-car comfort is the suspension, and given this model’s sporting bias, it can be no surprise that it provides a firm ride — firm but by no means uncomfortably so. It did smooth out the potholes and bumps very nicely indeed, without rattling one’s teeth. For most of our test driving, we had three adults in the car, and all three agreed about the comfort and ride quality. I’ve driven several new, much more expensive sedans/saloons that couldn’t match it.

All new Volvos now come with WHIPS whiplash protection seats, and in many ways, these alone justify the decision to buy a car from this Scandinavian automaker. Click here to view a DSA article specifically about Volvo WHIPS seats.


So, is this the car for young drivers?

Regarding safety, I would have no reservations about recommending the new S40 to friends for their kids. Volvo’s commitment to safety is blatant and has been around for several decades longer than in other automotive companies. This car is no exception.

Would I buy an S40 for a teenager of my own? Yes, in a heartbeat, but would it be the T5 version? Probably not — and that’s for two reasons:

— Firstly, despite my driver training proving to me in no uncertain terms that the gas pedal can, on occasion, be an essential safety control, I would find it impossible to justify letting any teenage driver loose with the power that an S40 T5 has, lurking under the hood. That would be my only reservation — I would buy a teenager an S40 any day, and in preference to anything else in its class… it just wouldn’t be a T5, that’s all.

— Secondly, if we had one of these cars in the family, the kids wouldn’t get near it anyway because I’d be far too busy enjoying it myself! Unless — that is — I treat myself to an S60R, meanwhile!

The Volvo S40 T5 used for this review was kindly made available for ‘Drive and Stay Alive’ by Jim Culligan Volvo at the Auto Place, Williamsville, Western New York.