The Volvo S40
When I first saw this car on the National rental lot I thought, "Cool! Something not from GM!" Annnnnd that's where most of the good feelings ended.
Looks: I must admit, Volvo has done a good job of updating the looks of its lines to be less grandpa and more yuppie. I really like the way the body lines flow front to back. Their decades long legacy of cars modeled after cardboard boxes has come to an end. Let us have a moment of silence please.
Interior: Again very nice ... excellent attention to detail. I'm not sure about that compartment BEHIND the climate control/radio console though. Good luck fishing shit out of there while driving. The seats were firm, supportive, and incredibly well bolstered. This of course tends to give the impression that the car can ...
Handle: (ing) but it can't. It can't for shit. You want to know what's really sad is I guarandamntee I could outrun this S40 on a road course with any of the Impalas, Malibus, or Monte Carlos I've rented. The S40 understeers with the slightest provocation. And when the rear finally decides to follow suit, it does so suddenly and unexpectedly. So you go from an understeer to a snap oversteer. Despite its relatively light weight (3200 lbs), the S40 is horribly balanced.
Drivetrain: And here's the worst. I've always wondered how you go about balancing an I-5 engine. And the short answer is, you don't. It vibrates a LOT. What is the motivation here for such a stupid engine configuration? More power? No, there's plenty of I-4s that make that much HP. And speaking of power, you wouldn't think 168 HP dragging 3200 lbs would be that bad, but it just feels anemic. You really have to wring that motor out to get moving. People love to bash on Honda 4 bangers for having no low-end, but of all the Hondas I've driven, none of them felt as weak as this P.O.S. off the line. The automatic transmission doesn't help matters much either. It loves to hunt gears, and the shifting can only be described as violent. It got the point where I'd drive down the interstate with it in 3rd gear in manual mode just to get it to stop hunting and lurching.
So in closing, it's a nice try, Volvo. You're obviously targetting a younger demographic with this car, and I think if we stop at appearances and creature comforts then you win. After we move past the facade however you lose.