Road Test: Volvo S40

The 850 proved that Volvos did not have to be dull to be safe. Volvo's quest to sharpen its image has now been taken a step further with the launch of two glamorous new mid-range models. Out goes the traditional chisel-edged styling and in come chic and sensuous curves.

Bridging the gap in price and size between the 400 and 850, the new 40s are the product of a collaboration with Mitsubishi. The four-door S40 and five-door V40 live up to expectations on most fronts, including packaging, roominess, quality, appointments and comfort.

The seats (based on the 850's) and driving position are first class and the safety features, which include anti-lock brakes and front and side airbags, are unsurpassed at this level.

Dynamically, however, the new Volvos struggle to meet class benchmarks. Performance of the top 2.0, powered by a four-cylinder version of Volvos modular fives and sixes, is no longer competitive. Acceleration is spirited only when the rather vocal engine is extended.

With optional stiff sports suspension and wide tyres, the Volvo handles crisply. Normally sprung and shod, however, they feel a bit vague and ungainly on the corners, though never less than unerringly secure. Tyres, it seems, are the key to sharp handling. Various option packs (Comfort, Luxury, Audio, Sport, Family) mean buyers can specify what suits their needs and pocket.

Roger Bell

Specifications

Volvo S40 four-door 1.8, from about pounds 14,000. Engine: 1731 cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 115bhp at 6000rpm (137bhp for 2.0). Five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed 121mph (130mph 2.0), 0-60mph in 10.3 seconds (9.1), fuel consumption 34.7mpg.

Rivals

Audi A4, BMW 3-series, Citroen Xantia 1.8, Ford Mondeo 1.8, Mitsubishi Carisma 1.8GLS, Peugeot 406 1.8, Vauxhall Vectra 1.8.

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