Metro Weekly

Staying Sharp

The 2004 Volvo S40 T5, and the 2006 Toyota Sequoia

It was only a year or so ago when I lamented the hue of the brand-spankin’ new Volvo S40 that was dropped at my door for a week of testing. Silver it was, the same as so many other American cars whose owners, perhaps fearful of the rumored insurance implications of the primary colors that provide pizzazz to even the lowliest highway cruisers, choose the lowest chromatic denominator.

Naturally, when Volvo dropped off the 2006 S40 T5, it too was silver.

Sometimes you just have to take what life gives you, and in this case it gave a lot. While the color choice may have been lacking, just about everything else with the S40 made up for it.

Not much has changed thus far with Volvo’s entry-level model. The hawk-nosed exterior styling still evokes the lines and curves of its larger, pricier brethren, while other cues make it abundantly clear you’re looking at the same brand of Euro-sedan famous for boxy safety. From the outside, the S40 remains my favorite of the Volvo line-up (at least, perhaps, until the impending arrival of the C70 convertible).

Small changes include easier shifting into reverse with the six-speed manual, new wheels and the all-important improved cupholders.

The T5, with its turbocharged five-cylinder engine, is a treat to drive, particularly with that six-speed manual. Nimble around town and quick on the highway, it provides some easy pleasure to your everyday driving. The all-wheel drive adds to the sensation, adding improved stability to the mix. My week-long stint included a snow storm, which the S40 handled gracefully.

Improved cupholders and spiffy interior design aside, the S40 could still use more room inside. There’s just not enough room to easily stow (and access) all the little daily accessories that go with commuting and traveling.

2006 Volvo S40 T5
MSRP: $28,390 ($33,720 as tested)
MPG: 20 city/29 highway
Highlights: A sharp and nimble highlight of the Volvo lineup, with plenty of power and stability for its size

The driver’s seat, however, is comfortable enough for long spells behind the wheel, but provides plenty of support for those times you really put the test to the S40’s performance capabilities.

Adding the turbo and the all-wheel drive will cost you, however. The model I tested pushes the mid $30s, thanks to some exterior styling fillips, a premium stereo, heated seats and traction control. That’s getting into serious money for a small sedan, so you would want to think carefully about which options you need (traction control) and which you don’t so much (front and rear spoilers).

Surprise! SUV sales are down. Sharply!

That totally unsurprising news arrived just as I embarked on a weeklong cruise around town in the — there’s just no other word for it — big-ass 2006 Toyota Sequoia Limited (MSRP $41,855). How big is it? I’ve tricked with guys who lived in apartments smaller than the Sequoia’s interior.

Ah, but those days are far in my past, just as the glory days of giganto SUVs seem to be — and in both cases that may be for the best. Sure, I like sitting way up above the world at the wheel of a high-riding AWD vehicle, but all those sightline advantages are lost anyway when every other car on the road is as big (or bigger). And I’m certainly not averse to having such spacious interiors to loll about in while sitting in rush hour traffic.

The problem is that driving the Sequoia around town generally feels like steering the Titanic around an iceberg. It’s so large that even the big V8 engine takes a while to get the boat up to cruising speed. More disconcerting is that it feels like even longer when you try to bring it to a stop. After my first braking experience, I prudently added another car length to my between-car driving distance.

Worse, I only managed to bring the average fuel economy down — I found myself running an average of 14.9 mpg at the moment. I felt dirty. Comfortable and above-it-all, but dirty.

Bottom line, unless you regularly have the need to haul a truck-load soccer-team kids all around the Beltway, the top-of-the-line Sequoia is comfortable and roomy, but unlikely to suit your needs. One week of trying to park it and fill it, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.