From the Armchair - Why the S40 Confounds Me
by: George Achorn
Aug 15, 2005 - 10:29:00 PM
Ive been in love with the second generation S40 since the moment the first photos of the car rolled across the Internet. Kitted with 18-inch wheels and Volvo accessories body kit, the car looked mean a serious contender for tugging at the heart-strings of the owners of WRXs, Jetta GLIs and Lancer EVOs. Sure, I know the car is aimed more at the A4 and 3 Series crowd, but that territory has always been for the S60 in my mind, and the new S40 is such a viable alternative to the first group so much more than its predecessor ever was, but I want more. This is why Volvos smallest sedan confounds me so.
In either form, 2.4i or T5, the S40 is a nice car. Its got arguably better styling than either the Subaru, Mitsubishi or Volkswagen, and when those first photos came across, many owners of such vehicles sat up and took notice. A 2.5-liter turbo, 6-speed manual gearbox and Haldex all-wheel drive, this was the language spoken by a younger generation. This was hardware they could respect.
Sitting in Spain at a dinner during the press launch of the new S40, I got into the discussion of the S40R with then VCNA boss Vic Doolan. The topic of an R model on the new platform had been brought up by several journalists during the Volvo Q and A session, and I wanted to pound the point home just a little bit more.
Think of it, I said. Many kids today are getting not just WRXs from their parents, but more expensive STi models. If your kid came to you and told you the cars he was interested in: a Subaru, a Mitsubishi and a Volvo, which would you buy your kid… even if its at a slight premium? In which one would you expect them to be the most safe?
The answer was clear to Vic and to me, but Im not sure its clear to Volvo.
I got a more telling response to the S40R question at SEMA as I looked over the blue V50 built by Volvos special vehicles team. The Evolve sedan across from the car was wilder and a more impressive tuner car, but this subtle blue wagon that went largely unnoticed at SEMA was much more realistic example of an R modeled V50. In fact, the V50s motor was largely built from the R partsbin.
The executive I stood chatting with said, One of the problems with the S40R is that it would be faster than the S60R.
With the same spec motor and significantly less weight, my friend from Volvo was probably quite correct in that assumption. He went on, The S60R is our performance Q-ship, having a faster S40R doesnt make sense.
But alas, the S40 T-5 isnt far off the S60R's pace. Hitch your wagon to solely the S60R star and you rob performance Volvophiles and would-be Volvophiles out there of a truly great car. The S60R is not a likely purchase for that younger set who prefers a smaller car, and likewise the S40 isnt the car a typical S60 owner would buy.
This week I picked up the new August 2005 issue of CAR Magazine. In it, the UK-based publication reports on being the first to ride in the upcoming Focus ST with none other than Richard Perry Jones, Fords global vice-president for product at the wheel.
For those who dont know, the new European Ford Focus is from Fords global C1 chassis architecture, referred to at Volvo as P1. The U.S.A. hasnt made the switch to this new Focus yet, but the new car shares components with the S40, V50 and Mazdas Mazda3 and Mazda5 models. The engine in the new ST model is straight-up T5-spec by way of Volvo.
Several times in the article, CAR references comments from Ford employees and even Jones on the upcoming Ford Focus RS. They even quote Jones saying, Theres a 300-bhp version of the engine, and we have a four-wheel drive system from our Volvo cousins that fits very nicely in this car.
Given the plan to utilize the higher-powered engine in a lowly Focus, even if it is one stonking cool Focus, is about to make me very hopeful or very depressed. I truly hope Volvos simply been waiting for the Ford Focus RS to launch their own S40R. Or, maybe Volvo is waiting for an S60R replacement powered by their new 350hp T6.
Regardless and current S60R be darned. I dont think itd hurt the S60 one bit to have a smaller sibling with the same engine that could thus beat it. Look at BMW. Before the new M5 came out, CAR Magazine reported 0-62mph figures of 5.2 seconds for the M3 and 5.3 seconds for the M5. Given the M3s weight advantage, I bet it could beat an M5 around a road course as well. I dont think BMW lost any M5 or M3 sales over it. In fact, one could argue the M brand is stronger because theres a family of M cars for sale… not just one M car.
Back during that Q&A session in Spain, Vic Doolan commented to journalists about any potential S40R. Vic said, Keep asking. I know Vic has retired, and Im sure his replacement Ann Belec has had bigger fish to fry as she settles in at the helm of VCNA. Still, theres a saying in my family, You dont get if you dont ask. So Im asking - no, begging - Volvo to build an S40R.
I can deal without 4C, though I wouldnt mind it. Sport seats would be nice. 18-inch wheels would be a must, as would an even more aggressive sport suspension and some cool-looking ground effects. Make the floating center stack in carbon fiber, and any owner in the targeted demographic would have instant bragging rights. Heck, I bet they could even save on U.S. federalization by having a car thats structurally the same as the T5.
So what about an S40R? Come on guys. Just build it.
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