S40 and V40 Phase I
1 Feb 1997
By CHRIS HARRIS
News that Volvo was going head-to-head with the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series was met with high expectation, but the reality of the front-wheel drive four-door sedan (S40) and wagon (V – for Versatility – 40) was a let-down.
Co-developed with Mitsubishi (its version was a Holden Vectra rival called the Carisma) and built at a new plant in the Netherlands, Volvo originally intended to call its range the S4, until Audi threatened legal action. And the problems were only starting.
Severe criticism about mediocre handling and ride attributes forced Volvo to release retuned versions not long after launch, but even these cars weren’t BMW beaters when released locally in early ’97 – but at least they were better than the awful Volvo 440 they usurped.
Initially there was the S40 2.0, using a 103kW/183Nm 1948cc DOHC 16V four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed auto.
Speedier versions included the 118kW/230Nm turbo 2.0T version from Feb ’98, as well as the all-out T4 powered by a 147kW/300Nm 1.9-litre turbo. It only came as a five-speed manual (and thankfully traction control).
A cheaper 1.8 with 90kW/170Nm and variable valve timing (VVT) arrived in mid-’99, along with the better-equipped SE models. More importantly there were improvements to the suspension and ride.