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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For A reasonably stylish, well equipped saloon with excellent safety kit for its era

Against Early versions suffered poor build quality and below-par ride and handling

Verdict An average saloon at best and a very long way off the best that Volvo can do

Go for… 2.0 T 160bhp petrol

Avoid… 1.6 petrol auto

Volvo S40 Saloon
  • 1. Suspension ball joints wear very rapidly
  • 2. The Mitsubishi-sourced GDI petrol engines can give problems if run on lower-octane fuel
  • 3. The cabin and boot are reasonably spacious
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Volvo S40 Saloon full review with expert trade views

Perhaps great things should not have been expected from a saloon that began its development under the name 'Nedcar'. Nevertheless, the S40, part of a joint Volvo/Mitsubishi project - developed in the Netherlands, hence Ned - was designed to take the fight to the BMW 3-Series. An annual Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard reunion would have more success taking the fight to the SAS.

Although the interior looks good, build quality certainly wasn't on the first-generation cars. Ride and handling were also poor on launch cars and remained that way for the next four years until Volvo improved the chassis. Although there is a wide range of engines to choose from, few feature refinement as a strong point.

Perhaps the S40's most attractive feature is its safety, because the S40 scored a - then - maximum four stars in the Euro NCAP crash test. But, on top of that, the cabin and boot are reasonably spacious and Volvo dished out plenty of equipment even on entry-level models.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Lower image than an Audi A4 but a lot cheaper. 2000-on models are the best choice

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

There is quite a maze of engines and revisions to navigate, but if you want a car that rides and handles well, versions built before autumn 2000 are a no-no. As well as re-worked suspension, models from 2001 onwards also had new bumpers and improved interiors. A further freshen-up followed in April 2002 with a new grille and more equipment.

All models have four airbags, electric front windows and a height-adjustable driver's seat. Air-con was added from September 1998, and we recommend getting an SE model; one built after 1998 will have a CD-player.

As for engines, true petrolheads will doubtless head straight for the fastest engine in the S40, the 200bhp turbocharged T4. But, the trouble is that the chassis was never able to cope with it.

Instead, we prefer the 160bhp 2.0-litre engine, which is lightly turbocharged, and gives decent performance without over-taxing the chassis.

The less powerful 140bhp version is fine, too, as is the 125bhp 1.8-litre GDI. But, give the others a miss: the 1.6 is slow, as is the non-turbo 1.9 diesel; the turbo version is faster, but lacks refinement.

Trade view

Kurtis Williams

Looking old inside and out. Turbo engines have pace. Capable of many miles

Kurtis Williams
Buyer,
Lex Vehicle Leasing

Rarely have sellers of S40 saloons been injured in a stampede of eager buyers. Find a private seller of a tidy, late model S40, who recognises the reality of the market, and you could be on to a bargain.

That low price will be handy, too, because insurance starts at group 8 - quite high considering a similar-sized, but better-built Volkswagen Bora can be insured from group 5 upwards. The most expensive S40 to insure is the T4, which commands a Group 16 rating.

The T4 is the thirstiest engine, too, and its fuel economy will easily drop to the low twenties when used hard. However, the Mitsubishi-built 1.8-litre GDI engine - which joined the range in 1998 - gives good economy with 41mpg, while the diesel engines range between 50 and 52mpg.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Lower image than an Audi A4 but a lot cheaper. 2000-on models are the best choice

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

Visit the Vehicle and Operator Safety Agency website at www.vosa.gov.uk for a little bedtime reading. Over its life, the S40 has been recalled for faults including possible fuel leaks, brake problems and airbag concerns. It's essential to check that the car you are interested in has had all the necessary work done.

If you're looking at an early model, check thoroughly for loose trim, as they do not have very well-built interiors. On the mechanical side, suspension ball joints wear all too rapidly. Turn the steering to full lock in both directions on any car with more than 40,000 miles on the clock, and listen out for knocking.

Even if all the electrical kit works, have a knowledgeable acquaintance check the wiring loom for you. These are prone to corrosion, which can lead to all sorts of electrical problems.

Finally, GDI engines were designed to run on super-unleaded fuel and can give problems as the miles mount if they have been run on lower-octane petrol.

Trade view

Kurtis Williams

Looking old inside and out. Turbo engines have pace. Capable of many miles

Kurtis Williams
Buyer,
Lex Vehicle Leasing
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