A solid performer let down slightly by size and overall capability.
Tasteful and understated
Economical and low-emissions (DRIVe versions)
Good safety equipment
Not the biggest in class
Buttons can be a bit fiddly
It’s not an Audi or BMW

Volvo S40 and Volvo V50 review (2004-2012)

Tasteful, understated, green

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What is the Volvo S40/V50?

Some people probably think that Volvos are the choice of the older gentleman. But the Volvo S40 and V50 offer something somewhat different. Both the saloon S40 and the more versatile V50 estate are handsome cars, especially in R design trim with its tidy-looking body kit and smart alloys.

Open the doors and you are confronted by an interior that screams modern and minimalistic. Flat surfaces and a waterfall centre console look simply brilliant, but they aren’t that simple. The buttons for the audio are styled like those of a Bang & Olufsen but are quite fussy.

Search for and buy a used Volvo S40 or V50

There is a vast array of specifications to choose from, and all enjoy electronic climate control, a leather steering wheel, remote central locking and at least 16in alloys as standard. The range-topping SE Lux spec features leather chairs and power-folding mirrors.

The S40/V50 has the Ford Focus to thank for its chassis, so you would imagine that it would be quite dynamic. Unfortunately, in Volvo’s admirable quest for safety, the S40/V50 has put on a few pounds. This results in a slightly less involving drive than you find in the Focus. Don’t let this put you off, though, as the S40/V50 is still smooth and comfortable, with the feel of a bigger car.

You can tell it is extremely solid when you get in and close the nice, chunky doors: they make a reassuring thud when you close them, and a warm, safe feeling embraces you.

The S40 and V50 are not the biggest cars in the class, and this is noticeable in the small aperture of the S40’s boot and the slightly disappointing overall capacity of the V50.

The most sensible touring choice is the DRIVe 1.6D: stop-start and some nifty aerodynamic features help to bring a staggering 74.3mpg in the combined cycle, and with free road tax, this variant of the car becomes a hugely appealing option.

Don’t fancy the aerodynamic wheels and diffuser? Then Volvo can offer you the D2 engine, almost as efficient. Volvo also offers two versions of a 2-litre, five-cylinder engine. The D3 and D4 engines offer 148bhp and 175bhp respectively, so if a mix of performance and economy is your bag, one of those will tick your box. Both are coupled with a six-speed manual or auto box. Petrol options are limited to one 2-litre unit. This 143bhp powerplant is not the most engaging, and we would plump for a diesel.

The S40/V50 is still an “alternative” option to the mainstream competitors such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series, but good levels of standard spec, solid build quality and handsome looks give the Volvo great appeal, even if you will take a bit of ribbing for driving one.

What to look out for when buying a used Volvo S40/V50

On the whole, S40/V50 customers seem happy with their cars. Full service history is hugely important, and watch out for V50 cargo-loading areas being worn or scratched — many are used for transporting pets.

There have been a number of recalls since 2009, for faults ranging from sat nav glitches to seat movement restrictions, driveshaft failure and fluid leakages. Make sure any car you are looking at has had the work completed by a franchised dealer — it will have been done free of charge.

The one to buy

Volvo V50 D3 SE Lux Geartronic


1984cc, 5 cylinders
148bhp @ 3500rpm
258 lb ft @ 1500rpm
6-speed automatic
0-62mph in 9.7sec
Top speed:
48.7mpg (combined)
Road tax band:
L 4522mm, W 1770mm, H 1457mm

Volvo S40/V50 rivals

Audi A4 (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
BMW 3-series (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
Mercedes-Benz C -Class (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)