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2003 Volvo S40

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San Francisco: At the grocery store you don’t have to buy giant packages to experience the full taste of your favorite foods. That’s why there are pint-size cartons of ice cream, little bottles of soda pop and tiny cans of soup. Volvo follows this philosophy by cramming its big-car attributes in a small, attractively priced package called the Volvo S40.

It has a solid driving feel, premium materials, and ample safety features - just like Volvo’s big sedans, except for the mini-sized price. It starts around $24,000, significantly less than a base S60 sedan. Why buy it? It has the solid feel and great safety features of Volvo’s bigger sedans, but at a more reasonable price.

Volvo is known first and foremost for its attention to safety, and the S40 doesn’t skimp, including standard features like side impact and side curtain air bags, and dual-stage front air bags for both the driver and passenger. It also has a built-in whiplash protection system and a passenger safety cage built into the body.

But the most important safety feature of any car is its ability to avoid accidents altogether, with excellent performance and controllability, something the S40 does well. In addition to terrific antilock disc brakes at all four wheels, it has a potent, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that feels more like a V6.

It seems to lack power when you first step on the accelerator, but there are no other complaints about this solid, smooth powerplant. It makes 170 horsepower - 10 more than last year’s model - after the turbocharger kicks in, to bring some surprisingly brisk acceleration for such a heavy car (it weighs nearly 2,800 pounds).

Power is routed through a standard automatic five-speed transmission that executes impressively smooth shifts for the S40’s price range. Like in many high-end European sedans, the transmission tailors its shifts based on driving style, meaning aggressive driving brings quick shifts, and laid-back cruises yield perfectly smooth gear changes.

The biggest disappointment in the S40 is its suspension, which feels fairly firm but allows too much body roll for such a sporty, stiff ride. Either its suspension should be tuned for better performance and less body roll, or the ride should be softened to give it a more luxurious, compliant feel. That’s not to say it’s uncomfortable. It’s just suffering from a minor identity crisis that mars an otherwise well-refined vehicle.

Inside, this miniature Volvo clearly leans toward the luxurious spectrum.Standard features include an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, cruise control, CD/tape player, folding rear seats, air filter, and keyless entry. Fancier packages can add leather seats, a power moonroof, trip computer, and upgraded speakers, but the added cost moves the S40’s price closer to S60 territory.

Despite being the smallest in Volvo’s lineup, the S40 has enough space to be comfortable for highway trips - even in the back seat. Its high-quality interior materials and splendidly arranged controls are especially impressive given its bargain price.

Styling is something Volvo isn’t known for, although that perception has improved in recent years with the introduction of redesigned S60 and S80 sedans. Nonetheless, the S40’s styling is bland but attractive, drawing the same mild attention as any average family sedan from Japan or Detroit.

It does however have all the perks of being a Volvo, like a solid Swedish feel and plenty of safety features. But average, it’s not. It combines the best of Volvo’s engineering in a more affordable package - and that makes it quite extraordinary. By Derek Price AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Volvo offers Swedish experience at a reasonable price
Topic:  2003 Volvo S40
Word Count:   654
Photo Caption:  2003 Volvo S40
Photo Credits:  Volvo Internet Media
Series #:   2003 - 31

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