COAL: 2001 Volvo V40 – The Little Swede With The Big Heart


Above is the last picture I ever took of this car; in fact, it was taken after I turned it off for the last time on the day we turned in the car, sometime in 2005, right before we dropped off the keys.  Four years and 49-something thousand miles earlier, we had taken possession of it to replace our Explorer.  To date, it’s still the only car we’ve ever leased that we managed to keep for the entire lease term…


Rewind to 1996; we were traveling around Europe and saw this new small Volvo, called the V40, all over the place.  Nice looking car, we thought–too bad they don’t have them in the States.  Then, a couple of years later at the Detroit Auto Show, I saw one on the stand!  I asked the lady if they were now for sale over here, and she told me that Volvo was just trying to see if there was sufficient interest in the car to bring it over.  I gave her my thoughts and carried on.  Two years later, it came here as a 2000 model, and once we saw a TV spot advertising a “sign and drive” lease for the 2001 model year, we started to seriously think about it.


One day we were near the Pleasanton, CA, Volvo dealer and decided to pull in.  Before getting out of our car, we discussed between ourselves that we would only be interested in a silver one with the dark interior, and if there were any games being played relative to the advertised special we would walk away.  Well, they had one left, the color was what we wanted, and it was as advertised–basically, you signed your name and paid the California registration fee while Volvo picked up the security deposit, first month’s payment, sales tax on said payment, and any other costs that would be charged normally. 

The term was 48 months, 12,000 miles/year, and the total payment including tax was well under $400 per month.  California does leasing differently than some other states; here you pay sales tax only on your monthly payment at the time you make it, and on the total value of the car up front, which makes leasing quite attractive.  However, on the flip side–when you actually own a car and trade it in for a new one–you do NOT get the sales tax back for the value of the trade-in. 


Back to the car: So, it’s silver with a charcoal interior–what else?  And according to the sticker (reproduced above), these came standard with side-curtain airbags (among a plethora of others), ABS, four-wheel discs, power windows and locks, folding rear seat, floor mats, keyless entry and various other items.  Being a Volvo, the first column of standard features unsurprisingly lists all safety stuff.  The MSRP of it all, sans options, was $24,550. 

Beyond that equipment, the options included metallic paint at $400 (it’s amazing the Europeans can get away with that); leather-faced seating surfaces at $1,300; and finally, the Sunroof/Audio Package comprising a sunroof, trip computer, in-dash CD player with changer control, premium speakers, and 10-spoke alloys, all wrapped up in a $1,900 special value-package price. Then comes a $27 charge for the CD pre-wiring (which you’d think would be included in the aforementioned package), and a $150 Wood Interior Package, which gets you very fake-looking “Simulated Wood Trim” on the shift knob and other various trim pieces.   

After the $650 destination charge, the grand total MSRP was $28,952.  Entry-level luxury, indeed.  Given a choice, we probably would have swapped the fake wood and the sunroof for a set of roof rails in order to mount our roof box when needed (I ended up adding them myself for a couple of hundred dollars by ordering them online from a Volvo dealer located across the country).  I just realized the black-and-white picture below shows our car without the roof rails, while the top pictures show it with them.


Two-thousand one was an interesting year for these; there were changes made after the 2000 model year (probably since they’d already been sold for several years outside the U.S.) Consequently, the first-year models look a wee bit different, although it’s unlikely the differences would be noticeable to the casual observer. The small side skirts on the 2000s are black and not body color, and thus don’t look as integrated; also, the dashboard and center console are arranged differently.  Mechanically, all of these (S40 sedans and V40 wagons) had the 160-HP, 1.9-liter four-cylinder with an intercooled, light-pressure turbo and DOHC Variable Valve Timing, but only 2001 and later cars had the five-speed automatic. 


The engine put out 160 HP at 5,100 RPM, and 170 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,800-4,500 RPM–which wasn’t bad at all, as the car drove very nicely and pulled strongly.  Light-pressure turbos have a way of making an engine feel larger without a big kick of boost; there was very little (if any) lag, and the automatic helped to mask any actual lag there might have been. 

Gas mileage (per the sticker) was 22/32, which we found to be realistic as long as we did not totally hoon it.  The automatic was a great gearbox with very smooth shifts that were almost imperceptible.  I believe this was a fairly early use of a five-speed automatic. According to the rev counter, it did seem to shift quite often but it did a good job–as I noted, it was very smooth in operation.

Our car was built in Born, Netherlands in the NedCar joint assembly plant shared with Mitsubishi (a Mitsubishi product called the Carisma was being built there at the same time. I believe this plant has since closed). So, like our previous Volvo, this one had not been built in Sweden.  The sticker breaks out the parts content as 22% Swedish, 20% Netherlands and 0.2% US/Canadian (what could that be?).  I have no idea where the other 57.8% came from.  It does say the engine parts are from Sweden and the transmission parts hail from Japan (not broken out, though) which still presumably leaves plenty of other items…


Space-wise, these are probably a hair bigger than a Jetta; refinement-wise, they’re probably more like a Passat.  The cabin was a comfortable place to be.  The seats were not quite as good as those in our old 740 Turbo, but still were very comfortable and better than most others in this size class.  I recall that under-thigh support was not so good–the seats just seemed “shorter”.  Instruments were clear and legible, the trip computer was a nice traveling companion, and I liked having an in-dash CD player.  The dashboard had a nice leather-grain look, and all the switches and dials worked well and felt good.


I do recall the standard Continental Eco-Contact tires being horrible.  They gripped well enough, but seemed to be quite soft and very puncture-prone.  I’ve had about six flat tires in my life, and three of them were with this car, on the original tires, within the first 18 months. Once I’d pretty much worn them out, I replaced them with a set of Sumitomos, which were cheap but durable, grippy and quiet. They were still on the car when we turned it in.


This is also the car that carried our first child, Piper, home from the hospital after she was born.  That first trip went well, and after that the stroller pretty much became a permanent fixture in the trunk.  The hatch was a nice shape, it opened deep between the taillights, and the lid opened up high.  Very easy to get stuff in and out.

It was even easier right after we moved from Oakland to Lafayette and my wife, while in our new driveway, somehow managed to back directly into a tree with a curved trunk. The rear glass was smashed, but there was no damage whatsoever to any metal or plastic pieces.  I guess it ended as cheaply as it possibly could have, but it still cost several hundred dollars for a mobile glass guy to come out and repair.

I do not recall anything ever going wrong with the car.  It had a 48 month/50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, and we just took it in for service as dictated by the little “maintenance minder”.  It was fairly cheap to service at the dealership. In fact, everything in that regard was quite unmemorable, which I take to mean fine and without issue.


A short while after we moved, I started a new job in Belmont, on the SF Peninsula, 42 miles from my front door. The commute involved traversing either the San Francisco Bay Bridge or the San Mateo Bridge. It was a miserable commute that could take up to two hours each way if there was bad weather (which always caused accidents).  While we had other cars (all of them acquired after this one), since we were in our third year of ownership and still well under our mileage allotment I used this one for about nine months of commuting. Overall, it was a pleasant way to get there: quick, comfortable, economical and nimble were all attributes that come to mind. 


A couple of weeks before the lease was up, a gentleman working for Volvo set up an appointment and looked the car over while I was at work.  He determined that it was in good condition, the wear it showed was within Volvo’s spec, and even the small dent in the fender, caused by a second contact with the aforementioned driveway tree, was OK with him. He told me I could drop it off at any Volvo dealer.

Volvo did call me to ask if I wanted to buy the car. I told them I did not want to pay the residual on the car but did offer a couple of thousand less. They declined, so on the way home on the designated day, I dropped it off at the dealer where I usually serviced it, snapped a few pictures, handed over the keys and took BART the rest of the way home. A few weeks later, Volvo invoiced me for around a thousand miles I’d driven beyond the allotment, and that was that. Overall, this was a nice car that was a pleasure to own, and it never did us wrong.  I still see many of them around, and I’d buy one all over again, given the same circumstances and knowing what I know now.