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Volvo S40 Review & Road Test: Volvo S40 SE DRIVe Start/Stop (2011) Part 2

Thu, 17 Mar 2011

Volvo S40 DRIVe Interior - a decent place to be

As already noted, the Volvo S40 DRIVe is pretty much a Ford Focus under the skin, which is a more than decent starting point. The Focus has a very good set of road manners and the ability to produce an enjoyable drive.

Yet somehow the S40 conspires to be not quite as good as the Focus; much more average than you’d expect when you start to push on. The lower gears seem very short – doubtless to get you changing up as soon as possible – and the higher gears very long – doubtless for economy reasons too.

Which makes for a disjointed driving experience, unless you’re happy just to poodle everywhere, with the engine feeling revvy and a bit short on grunt in low gears and having too little pull higher up the range without changing down.

Yet despite the distinct focus on economy instead of driveability, the S40 handles pretty well. The chassis is – as you’d expect – perfectly able and capable of playing with far more than the 1.6 litre diesel we have here is able to muster.

There’s also plenty of grip on offer and you’d have to be very stupid to get in to real trouble. The S40 isn’t exactly a spine-tingling drive, but it is more than just competent.

Still, the less than scintillating drive is the price you pay for frugality, and we have no doubt that the S40 DRIVe can produce some superb feats of economy. The headline economy is a 74.3mpg average, although we only got 55.8mpg.

That’s partly down to the stop/start not kicking in for us (our fault; it only works if you sit in traffic in neutral – which none of us do) and partly down to the fact we drove enthusiastically most of the time – not something most owners would do.

As well as the decent economy if you drive sensibly and use the start/stop, Volvo has managed to sneak the S40 DRIVe in to the sub 100g/km category with all the benefits that yields, from zero-rate VED and congestion charging to low BIK rates. All of which is very hard to argue against in these economically challenging times, and a very commendable achievement from a  decent-sized quality car like the S40.

On balance we understand the S40 DRIVe. We understand that Volvo see it as a cut above the average, built for the reserved driver who wants a traditional perception of quality but with a big dose of economy; an owner who feels reassured to bask in the glow of Volvo’s reputation for safety and for being on the ‘Premium’ side of mainstream.

The only trouble is, we think the S40 DRIVe is a bit on the pricey side. The basic price is £23k, which is starting to get in to premium car territory. With a few extra toys – our car has SatNav, Winter Pack, Inscription Paint and a few other bits – you’re at £27k. At £27k you’re very much in the same ballpark as the BMW 320D EfficientDynamics we reviewed last year. Which is a worry.

It’s a worry because the BMW 320d is a better car than the S40 DRIVe. It’s as economical, better to drive and much quicker. It’s also – if it matters to you – perceived as a better quality car.

Perhaps Volvo is happy to pitch the S40 DRIVe at their traditional owners who may not be too price sensitive. But the S40 is better than that. It should be an option for those seeking a mainstream eco car who find themselves surprised they can stretch to a Volvo.

As it stands, the S40 DRIVE is caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s too expensive to be snapped up by those seeking a mainstream car at a mainstream price, but it’s not premium enough to fight toe-to-toe with the equivalent offerings from BMW, Mercedes and Audi. A realigning of prices on the S40 could see this well-built, individual and frugal Volvo making inroads in to the sales of eco offerings from mainstream makers.

Which is probably what it deserves to do.


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By Cars UK