Who would've thought a small company from Sweden could become Ford Motor Company's star property? Problem is, there aren't enough Volvos on sale to have a significant effect on Ford's misfortune. Enter the S40, a subcompact based on the same platform as the new Ford Focus and Mazda 3 models. If the people that build your next car eat a lot of salmon and drink a lot of aquivit instead of beef and beer or sushi and sake, would you care?

We all really wanted to like this car. Here, finally, was an entry-level Volvo that looked like a Volvo--and not a re-badged Mitsubishi. Our test S40 even came clad in a trick-looking sport package, replete with rear wing, a modified front spoiler with foglamps and 17-in. wheels. The turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine produced an adequate 218 bhp and 235 lb-ft of torque, which, thanks to the turbo, was available from 1500 to 4000 rpm. The interior had been re-done in Swedish minimalism; it even had a three-spoke sport steering with multi-control functions. And, yet, we just couldn't do it--like it very much, that is.

Severe understeer and noticeable torque steer were the top two complaints from all the testers. One tight turn after another, the S40 T5 fought against going where it was pointed. Accelerate hard on any surface that wasn't perfectly smooth, and the chassis tried to go any direction but straight. We here at european car are used to Swedish turbocharged cars with these...er...quirks, but we had hoped that the all-new S40 would have eliminated them. Sadly, it didn't.

The price also got to us. With a base sticker of $26,990, the three options we had on our test S40 T5 (sport package: $750; audio package: $850; DSTC: $695) raised the MSRP to $29,285. Throw in the destination charge and the S40 T5 hit the $30k mark. For $600 more you could get the VW R32, fully loaded. Which would you chose?

In fairness to Volvo, our test car was also pre-production--its very low VIN and missing dome light were dead giveaways. We all have our fingers crossed that the "quirks" that bothered us the most were symptomatic of an early run car. Once we get our hands on a "real" S40 T5, we'll let you know.

The Buzz...
"The 218 bhp does okay, though I'd stay out of the left lane in this car."

"A good everyday driver. Smooth transmission, comfortable ride."

"Understeers something fierce. It exposes its front drive especially in corners and when braking."

"Dash layout is functional, simplified, a welcome change from the usual complex controls."

"The engine is a nice piece of work, providing good low-end grunt...a good chore car around the city."

"The gearbox /clutch action is just average. And the shift knob is the most un-ergonomic one I've ever grasped."

"I like the look of the aero package, but it's not an accurate reflection of the performance. The least fun of the lot."

"There's a performance car waiting to be released...somewhere."

The Contenders

0408Ec S4 01 S
Audi S4
0408Ec Auditt 01 S
Audi TT 3.2 DSG
0408Ec 545 01 S
BMW 545i
0408Ec 645 01 S
BMW 645Ci
0408Ec Clk 01 S
Mercedes-Benz CLK500 Convertible
0408Ec E500 01 S
Mercedes-Benz E500 Wagon
0408Ec W12 01 S
Volkswagen Phaeton
0408Ec R32 01 S
Volkswagen R32
0408Ec Volvo 01 S
Volvo S40

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