This Volvo is on the edge, its 'solid and safe' patina flaking away. Beneath all that sturdy Swedish engineering lies an animal-a solid, safe and very, very fast animal.
Yeah, we didn't believe it either, but our man Cleve Mason at Volvo insisted we try it anyway. "If you hate it, I'll buy you guys dinner at the best place in Ventura," Mason said. What the hell? We were hungry-dinner on Cleve would be great. How good could an S40 be?
For the record, this isn't an 'officially sanctioned' Volvo project; you won't find this stuff at your local dealer. And Mason isn't on Volvo's PR team. He's one of those invisible office guys who do 'stuff' to keep the company running.
"I just wanted to show how good the S40 can be," he says. "Although it's probably not the direction Volvo would encourage, I think these things have great potential... and it has the 'uniqueness' factor."
Performance is far from dead at Volvo. The T5 models are right up there with Europe's best luxury makes. To hang with the big boys, a few simple nudges are all it really takes.
Those 'nudges' took place in Gothenburg, Sweden, where a few enthusiastic Volvo engineers looked for something to do after work. If we've learned one thing, it's never to underestimate a Swede-those long, dark winters conspire to produce truly awesome cars. And no doubt about it, this is one of them.
The lads borrowed heavily from the S60 R, pirating select internal and external engine bits, including pistons, injectors, airbox, exhaust manifold and the larger K04 turbocharger. The all-aluminum five-cylinder engine's output was augmented with dual variable cam timing and its 2.5 liters benefit from a custom intercooler, external oil cooler and Volvo's special ECU tuning. The Swedes estimate 320 to 330 hp, enough to propel this car to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds.
Equipped with Volvo's Haldexbased all-wheel drive, this S40 tends to squat during hard launches, the same behavior most Audi Quattros exhibit. However, the power delivery is much different, more of a progressive surge than explosive charge. Nearly all its torque is available at 2000 rpm and the engine feels like it'll never run out of steam. Rowing through Volvo's six-speed manual is a study in precision-its weight and spacing is ideal, with the ratios well matched to the power curve.
Mason modded the suspension with Koni's brilliant FSD shocks and Eibach springs. Mazdaspeed upper control arm links correct excessive negative rear camber while H&R anti-roll bars reduce understeer. Beneath the handsome BBS CH wheels (8x18 inches' worth) are Rotora 13- inch brake rotors with four-piston calipers and braided brake lines. Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires measure 235/40 at all corners and are grippy as hell-a real surprise given their unusual transverse tread pattern. The body wears Volvo's own accessory bits, including front and rear spoilers, rocker extensions and a small decklid spoiler.
The result is the most rewarding Volvo I've ever driven. This S40 'R' feels tight and precise, its chassis neither too hard nor too soft. Cornering prowess is excellent, giving the driver plenty of time to correct wayward lines. The bigger Rotora binders are easy to modulate, with an extremely firm pedal. The only problem I've found is that the larger rear running gear sometimes rubs against the inside fender-it's easily fixable and certainly forgivable.
This is exactly the type of car we love to see. Sadly, it will be hard to duplicate over here, as this Euro-spec car was a fairly base model: no sunroof, a manual transmission, manually adjustable seat, no vanity mirrors, etc. Dealers hate cars like this... not enough markup potential.
Yes, Mason was obsessed with this project, determined to make Volvo a player in the ultra-hot sport sedan market. Congratulations dude, you win. I guess we're buying dinner.
2005 Volvo S40 T5
Transverse front engine, all-wheel drive
2.5-liter inline five-cylinder, allaluminum, dohc, turbocharged/ intercooled with variable cam timing. High-flow JR air filter, S60 airbox, custom three-inch Borla cat-back exhaust w/downpipe and high-flow cat, external oil cooler
Koni FSD struts/shocks, Eibach springs, H&R rear anti-roll bar, Mazdaspeed upper control arm links
*Wheels And Tires
BBS Motorsport CH 8x18, Pirelli P Zero Corsa 235/40
Rotora four-piston calipers w/13-inch rotors and braided stainless steel lines
Volvo Factory Accessory body kit, Xenon HID headlights
Keyless entry/start system, factory Dolby Surround Sound audio w/Dynaudio speakers, sport steering wheel, gear shift knob, floor mats
Peak Power: 330 hp @ 6700 rpm
Peak Torque: 322 lb-ft @ 2400 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.5 sec. (est.)
Top Speed: 162 mph (est.)