We hadn't driven the S40 one month before a nasty clunking developed on full steering lock. After a couple hundred miles the steering response really began to diminish, so we took the car (under warranty) to the local dealer, where friendly technicians found a couple of loose bolts attaching the rack to the car. Tightening the steering rack didn't make the S40 a BMW M3, but it handled a lot better.
We skipped the turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine in favor of the base 168-hp, 2.4-liter five, which was lauded several times in the logbook for its smoothness and throaty growl on initial acceleration. It never made the pulse race, but after a year, even the boy racers were saying how much of a pleasure the S40 was to drive. "It's no BMW," noted Lorio from the racetrack where we had been running hot laps. "But it's willing and eager for a front-wheel-drive sedan. It's on par with the Audi A4, a very good place for this new Volvo to be."
A lot of the S40's driving pleasure has to do with its manual transmission. Volvos are still the go-to cars for teaching your relatives how to drive a stick shift. Our S40 proved there is no gearshift more silken, no clutch more forgiving. And yes, we did teach someone to shift using our S40.
A wind leak at 15,000 miles was stopped with a new door seal, and the S40 behaved impeccably until its starter-control module crapped out at 26,000 miles. Not that we knew why the S40 refused to start, or why its SRS failure light lit up, or why the doors refused to lock for our stranded copy editor, Adrienne Newell. Volvo roadside assistance whisked the S40 to the dealership, and the faulty module was diagnosed and replaced under warranty.
The S40 arrived in a snowstorm, but we'd been smart enough to order it with a set of Michelin Pilot Alpin PA2 winter tires, reasonably priced at $125 each, plus mounting and balancing. The dorks who put the tires on, however, weren't smart enough to install them in the right direction, which we discovered while investigating a slow leak. The leak was repaired, and all four tires were dismounted, remounted, and rebalanced. It cost $94.77 to put the stock Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 tires back on in the spring and another $94.05 to remount and rebalance the snows to finish off the car's last month with us. We probably could have timed that better and saved that last remount charge. Oh, well.
Frankly, we didn't spend another dime on the S40-aside from its fuel-thanks to a deal that won't apply to 2006 models: All 2005 Volvo S40s came with complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles. For 2006, only the first scheduled 7500-mile service is free. That means we spent nothing for its four scheduled service calls. We spent nothing on the three warranty problems. Our fuel economy averaged 26 mpg, great for a car of this size. Given its 15.9-gallon fuel capacity, we could get about 400 miles on a fill-up.
So that's it. In the course of 30,000 miles, we spent exactly $833.81 moving around and repairing tires. This might be a new record for a Four Seasons test car. But for the two service calls of note, the S40 was a rock of reliability, always a pleasure to drive (even at the track), and always a joy to see parked in the driveway. The S40 may, indeed, be sensible, but it has seriously upped its desirability quotient.