Metro Weekly

Mondo Volvo

2004 Volvo S40 T5

Let me take a moment to get something off my chest. I’m tired of silver cars. The color — actually more of a shade or a tint, really, than a color — bores me. The seemingly unending parade of gray along U.S. streets and highways is a testament to what has become the lowest common denominator, the color that can make even the sharpest design bland and boring.

So every time a new silver test car shows up in my driveway, I breathe a little sigh and think, “That would look so much better if…”

And that’s exactly what I thought when Volvo’s sporty S40 sedan showed up in all its gray glory. Having been treated to a bevy of Volvo commercials and video game footage featuring a hot red version of this lower-cost, higher-style Swedish wonder, my desire was simple.

I wanted a red one, dammit. Or black. Or, in a pinch, blue. But with the S40’s aggressive snout and trademark cut-out curved rear fenders, the car looks sharpest in that bright red coating.

But, hey, some people like silver, and I have to say that even with this everyday color, the S40 still stands out as one of the most stylish members of the Volvo clan. By sharing some of the distinctive design elements of its older and upmarket siblings — the S60 and S80 — it benefits from the familial gravitas of the brand, but without the ponderousness that accompanies those larger, more sedate sedans.

By taking the S40 out of the dowdy design doldrums that affected the previous models, Volvo has crafted a car that looks nimble and, most importantly, youthful as it cruises along the open road.

You’ll find the same movement toward the future in the interior, where the slender center console neatly and sleekly stacks all the controls for stereo and comfort. Reach behind the console and you’ll find open space — not necessarily practical for use while driving, but certainly a welcome place to put everyday driving detritus to keep it out of your way.

And frankly, the S40 can use all the interior space it can get. While the interior looks great, it feels oddly cramped at times. The door pockets are miniature, chopped in half to accommodate stereo speakers, and it doesn’t quite feel like there’s room enough for all stuff you likely haul around: cell phones, wallets and purses, change, Diet Cokes, and all the other accoutrements of driving. And the cupholders come with a weird sizing ring that fits in with a twist, but constantly pops out when you pick up your drink. When it disappeared it took me awhile to realize I had accidentally tossed it in the trash with an empty bottle.

2004 Volvo S40
MSRP: $25,790 ($30,175 as tested)
MPG: 22 city/31 highway (est.)
Highlights: A sharply designed mid-sized sedan that takes
some Volvo trademarks further into modernity.
Lowlights: Sleek and pretty interior is lacking in convenient storage space.

On the road, driving the S40 is more fun than you might expect a Volvo to be, particularly if you’re driving the T5 version with the 2.5 liter 5-cylinder engine with turbo. With no readily apparent turbo lag, moving in and out of traffic is easily handled — although you’ll probably not want to push it quite as hard as you might in, say, a video game.

The bottom line is that by combining strong performance on the road with some eye-catching and forward-thinking exterior design, Volvo has created an excellent example of how to make a relatively staid and no-nonsense brand an exciting, at times even exhilarating, competitor in the mid-size car market.

Just do me a favor and be sure to get the red one.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.