Over the last several years Volvo has been adding performance and design advancements to its core values of safety, quality and environmental care. I would venture to say that most drivers today would say a safe car is a slow one. That opinion may change when this Volvo S40 passes them by. Even with the bright red paint, lowered stance and plus-sized wheels and tires it looks pedestrian-a rather beneficial trait that comes from wearing a Volvo badge if your goal is to shake things up.
"Volvo" and "tuning shop" are not words commonly heard in the same sentence here in the States. But in Europe it is a different story. Heico Sportiv is a German tuner specializing in the Swedish marque. Offering product developed from the company's successful racing efforts, Heico has been offering treatments for street vehicles since 1997 and has recently set up shop in North America. When you spot their products you will know it by the distinctive logo, a stylized Viking helmet inside a circle.
From first glance you would be hard-pressed to spot any changes to the bodywork. Who would guess that aftermarket parts are even available for Volvos? The front end wears a new front grille and spoiler from Heico Sportiv. An MS Designs rear wing juts from the decklid. Neither is flashy nor obnoxious in appearance, which is a good thing; the add-ons give a subtle sporty touch.
Not as subtle are the lowered stance and big-inch rollers. The stance was achieved with a combination of Eibach Pro-Kit springs and Bilstein dampers. The 8x18-inch five-spoke Volution V wheels from Heico Sportiv are wrapped in Vredestein Ultrac rubber, sized 225/40, while IPD rear anti-roll bars round out the suspension mods. The made-in-Holland tires may not be well known in the States yet, but considering the grip they provided in dry and damp conditions along with very low road noise, look for them to pop onto the scene. The neutral steering balance, especially on on-ramps, off-ramps and my favorite twisty bits more than compensates for the slightly rough ride when stuck in traffic or on less than perfect roads.
When the roads open up-or even a gap in traffic to make just a bit more time during the commute-is when the fun happens. There is just something magical about wastegates and the sound of a turbo spooling. Hearing the whoosh and whine is enough to put a smile on my face. The S40's turbocharged inline five-cylinder breathes better thanks to a Heico Sportiv sound system exhaust. More power is unleashed thanks to an ECU flash by TME. Cruising around town there are no quirks or hiccups.
Hammer the go pedal and things change, mostly for the better, but not so much while boost builds. There was noticeable lag from about 3000 rpm to 3500, but after that, when full boost arrives, the S40 pulls with surprising force all the way to redline. The transmission is geared such that shifting at redline doesn't drop you out of boost, allowing the boosted bliss to continue.
Don't think the influx of performance into Volvo's entry level sedan has taken priority over safety. Safety is still at the forefront of Volvo's core values and it is evident as soon as you enter the vehicle. It is hard to notice at first blush but the door sills are wider than average, thus the seats are closer to the center of the car. This positions you further in a cocoon of safety so that if the worst should happen you are protected by the front and side airbags, as well as side curtains.
One downside to the seating position are the enlarged blind spots, especially on the driver's side. To compensate, the driver's side rearview mirror has an enhanced convex shape at the outer edge. I found it difficult to focus on any object that appeared in both halves of the mirror. I got the slightest bit dizzy for a second the first time I looked at it at speed. Images also appeared to be a lot farther away than when viewed in a typical side-view mirror.