Volvo V40 (2000)

Loved It

Volvo V40We think Volvo has a winner with the V40... and heres why. Traditionally, people who buy Volvos are environmentally interested. And, they think that by buying a Volvo theyre somehow doing something good for the environment. But, Volvos have always been big cars. Now, Volvo has a car with the same safety, practicality and stodgy image... but with less sheet metal. We bet that all those tree huggers will really be thrilled. We liked the V40, and we suspect Volvo will do well with it.

The V40 was developed together by Mitsubishi and Volvo, and is sold in Europe as the Mitsubishi Carisma. At a C-note short of $24,000, its the least expensive Volvo wagon you can buy--unless you buy an old 240, that is. Its not a bad choice for someone who wants a car with a reputation for safety, but who wants a smaller, sportier car. Plus, since its a wagon, theres a little more room in the back.

Driving Experience

The V40 uses Volvos 1.9 liter, four-cylinder, turbo-charged engine, which puts out 160 horsepower, and runs smoothly and quietly. This engine is just right for the car, and provides adequate power. Want a stick shift? Tough luck. The V40 comes only with a four-speed automatic, and no all-wheel-drive. Yet. Check back in a year.

This is a nice car to drive. It feels solid, and handles very well. Front wheel drive should give it good traction in the rain and snow. Traction control is available. The standard antilock brakes are very good.

Interior

Shut your eyes and open the door, and your nose will tell you, "Volvo!" (Either that, or one of the dealerships salesmen left a Swedish meatball sandwich in the glove compartment.) Love it or hate it, the V40 has that distinctive Volvo aroma.

Our car had leather seats, with fanny warmers included as part of a cold weather package. Volvo is famous for its orthopedic seats, and the V40 is no exception. They felt supportive and cushy. If you have a long trip coming up, say to abandon your mother-in-law on the opposite coast, we wouldnt hesitate recommending this car.

Theres a headrest for you and each of your four passengers, and side-impact air bags up front are standard. Up front, theres plenty of legroom, but the folks in the rear may find themselves a little squashed unless your last name is "Flockhart." The cargo area provides a good amount of space for carrying bulky loads, like your National Geographic collection, and both the rear seat and the front passengers seat can fold flat to make more space.

Visibility is just okay. Theres a little hump at the bottom of the rear window that obscures the view, and the sturdy side pillars that replaced Volvos popular 2 by 4s are wide enough to hide the occasional semi. The good news is, if you plan to stack V40s in your driveway, no problem. The roof should be plenty strong enough.

Ergonomics

Everythings a little more complicated than it has to be, in the V40. We sensed the hands of those gadget-loving designers at Mitsubishi at work. There are a fair number of controls on each stalk, which takes some getting used to. Volvo also saw fit to sprinkle a handful of buttons and switches between the front seats, although they apparently couldnt find a spot for an automatic release for the tailgate. There isnt one.

On the other hand, the radio controls are easy to operate, and the climate controls are the very model of reason, with large dials that do what theyre supposed to. The steering wheel is nice and big, and Volvo has figured out that emergencies are a really bad time to play "find the little horn button." Hit the wheel anywhere in the center, and the horn blows.

Styling

Can you say "cool?" Can you say "Volvo?" Can you say "cool Volvo?" We didnt think so. But this is a very stylish little car. Unlike a lot of older Volvos, you wont feel like Grandpa Walton if you pull up to the ski chalet in a V40.

Reliability

We should mention that both the V70 and S80 have gotten less than stellar reviews in terms of their reliability, from a number of sources. We dont know if this is a trend or not, and whether the V40 will suffer from the same decline in reliability, but its worthy of consideration. One ominous sign: Ford now owns Volvo. We certainly hope there wont be a decline in Volvos legendary reliability, but caution is called for.

Overall comments

Building Volvos reputation for safety into a stylish and thrifty little car seems like a good move to us. If youre hip and environmentally aware, and your family is not so large as to require a minivan, you might want to take a look. At $23,900, it includes a lot of bells and whistles, such as air conditioning, automatic transmission, antilock brakes, AM-FM stereo cassette, power windows and power locks.

This car reminds us of another car we liked very much, the Audi A4 wagon. That car, with all-wheel-drive standard, lists for $2,500 more than the Volvo. Another option among family-sized wagons would be the Subaru Outback wagon, which also comes with all-wheel-drive, and a back seat thats not as tight as the Volvos or Audis.


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