Typical of European philosophy, the new generation of Volvo’s entry level S40/V40 series appears to be unchanged but there are actually some 1,500 items changed. Generally, European manufacturers believe that customers appreciate subtle changes between generations as this approach does not immediately render the previous generation ‘visually obsolete’ – a contrast to Japanese companies which introduce radically-changed designs with each new generation.
With the new S40/V40, the changes made have been influenced by feedback from owners over the five years that the first generation was sold around the world. According to Frans Campman, an engineer involved in the development of the new models, customers told Volvo that the car’s high-speed stability could be improved and also its acceleration up slopes. Noise levels were also considered an area that could be lower while comfort was expected to be better.
Does this suggest that the first generation was not well designed? “Not necessarily,” said Mr Campman. “At the time the first generation was developed, it met the requirements of customers during that period. However, there are new models coming out all the time and customers’ expectations change over time. So with the new S40/V40, we have addressed all the issues that have been raised by customers in recent years.”
THE EXTERIOR DIFFERENCES
To spot the differences, you need to put the first generation alongside the new generation. Then you will see that the frontal presentation is bolder with new clear headlights that are clear and provide illumination up to 80 metres ahead. The signal lights are also white in colour, changing to amber when they flash.
At the rear, the lighting units are new and brighter with clear glass technology, increasing visibility. With the V40, a mini-spoiler near the rear door lock modifies airflow to prevent dirt from collecting on the surface. This problem is peculiar only to the V40 which has a vertical drop for the rear end, creating turbulence as the airflow ‘tumbles’ off the roof.
What you won’t be able to make out is that the new generation is marginally longer as a result of slight extension of the wheelbase. The proportions remain well balanced with the V40 looking as sporty as ever. “Almost all the body panels are new stampings so it is very much a new car,” said Mr Campman. Incidentally, the body panels come from the Volvo factory in Holland which has one of the most advanced body stamping facilities in Europe.
MORE SAFETY, NEW ENGINE
Safety is a cornerstone of Volvo’s design philosophy and has been a strong selling point for decades. With the new generation, Volvo confidently declares that these are the safest compact-sized cars on the market. A multitude of engineering features and sophisticated technologies provide increased levels of passive safety while the revised front suspension and standard features like ABS and Dynamic Stability Assistance enhance active safety significantly. Click on the link below for more details on the safety features in the new models.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve engine which has the same appearance as before but its internal components are new. The new B4204T3 engine has a low-pressure turbocharger and develops more power than before. To read more about the new engine and automatic transmission, click on the link at the bottom of this article.
To improve high-speed stability, the MacPherson strut front suspension has been redesigned with 18 mm more track and the wheelbase has been stretched by 12 mm. At the rear, the well-proven Multi-Link layout is retained with some changes made to suspension rates. The various links ensure that the rear wheel geometry and track width are consistent, an important factor in providing drivers with handling characteristics that don’t vary substantially even when the limits are reached. This predictability has been a strong point of Volvo handling even in the days of the rear-wheel drive models which had a rigid axle keeping the rear track unchanged.
The changes to the suspension and wheelbase have made it possible to use 15-inch 195 tyres with a 60-series instead of the previous 55-series. The 10 mm extra height in the sidewall should make a difference in ride comfort as shock absorption will be better.
THE VOLVO ‘LOOK AND FEEL’
While the 850 was the first big front-wheel drive Volvo, it was the S40 which marked the start of the ‘evolutionary tree’ for today’s range. As such, many of its cabin elements were the basis for the S80 and S70 which followed. With this new generation, the original S40 dashboard has now been totally revised to give a similar look and feel as the other models with more common positioning of switchgear. One example: the bank of power-window buttons is now situated on the driver’s door panel instead of at the centre console.
“This approach complements our ‘Volvo for Life’ theme and makes it easier for, say, a family with a V40 and S80; all the controls are in the same places and familiarity is better,” said Mr Campman. Not mentioned is the fact that this greater degree of commonality also helps cut down costs as the order volume for the components increases significantly.
Apart from the revised external appearance of the dashboard, the switchgear is also totally electronic now. Furthermore, there is increased use of multiplexing, similar to the S80, which was not used in the first generation. Multiplexing’s main advantage is the organisation of the electrical systems which provides greater reliability and can handle more electrical functions. Additionally, new equipment can be added easily without needing more cables; in fact, with multiplexing, there are less cables so weight is saved and less space is needed. But the multiplexing is not introduced completely and items like the tripcomputer switch remain on the central part of the dashboard rather than nearer the instrument panel.
The centre console area has also been changed and given more functionality in terms of storage. A new cupholder is provided but it still looks somewhat flimsy. Also provided is a compartment (large enough for a handphone) with its own sliding lid just next to the handbrake lever. A nice idea which was also in the first generation is the provision of storage pockets at the front of each front seat – a simple idea yet so useful!
One thing which will be omitted in the near future is the ashtray. Explaining the decision to leave out this item, Volvo Car Malaysia (VCM) Marketing Director Pang Cheong Yan said that it is the company’s contribution to healthier living. He added that Volvo has been omitting ashtrays in some other markets for some years now and customers have not made a major issue of its absence. In fact, in some markets, standard Volvo specifications do not include ashtrays and customers have to ask for them as options! Could this be the start of a trend in the Malaysian car industry?
Standard equipment for the new models includes leather upholstery, cruise control, central locking and a Volvo Security System with engine immobiliser. Volvo also installs a filter in its cabin ventilation system to make the air inside the car cleaner. This filter not only traps dust and small particles but also lowers the level of toxic gases and unpleasant smells. For those who happen to have any allergies, the materials used inside the car are carefully chosen to minimise such health problems. Metals are not used in places where there is a risk of triggering any allergic reactions.
VERSATILE BOOT AREA
The S40 offers conventional luggage capacity (with the possibility of folding down the rear backrests to accommodate longer items. The shape of the boot has recesses at the sides and one side is for the 10-disc CD-changer while the other side has a net which allows for stowage of odds and ends.
In the V40, there is exceptional versatility when it comes to carrying cargo. If both backrests are up, the boot floor area is similar to the sedans but with the possibility of extra tall items being put in. Should there be a need to hide the cargo, a pull-out cover is provided. There is also an inertia-reel belt to keep luggage from moving around – a feature which, to our knowledge, is unique.
When the items carried become larger, fold down the backrests which lie perfectly flat and the volume is as much as 1928 litres. The floor area, which measures 2.7 metres from front to back, is enough for one mountain bike lying flat. And loading is easy since the opening is large with the door coming right down to the low sill.
Even before officially going on sale, VCM has received about 50 orders and expects the new generation to account for a third of the 2,000 Volvos it expects to sell in 2001. Going by past sales patterns, 65% of them will be sedans which are more popular in Asia whereas the stationwagons are more popular in Europe. At the time of writing, the retail prices are still not approved by the government but are expected to be around RM175,000 (without insurance).
The high-performance T4 version, with a 147 kW/200 bhp engine, will also be available as a fully-imported CBU model which will have a higher price due to high import duties.
On the reduction in prices in 2005 when Malaysia removes tariff barriers for its auto sector under the AFTA agreement, VCM Managing Director Lena Olving said that it is not possible to indicate how much Volvos will cost at that time. However, she agreed that Volvos would most likely become a bit cheaper after 2005.