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Volvo S40 1.6 DRIVe (2009) review

Published:12 December 2008

Volvo S40 1.6 DRIVe (2009) CAR review
  • At a glance
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To be taken seriously as a car firm these days it seems you need a low carbon dioxide model in your range. Volvo hasn’t had one up until now so it’s addressing that failing with three new models: eco versions of the C30, S40 and V50. They’re called DRIVe (pronounced Drive E) and the Swedish firm has big plans for the range in the long run. Short term, it expects DRIVe models to account for about 15% of sales of the three cars.

What does Volvo's DRIVe achieve?

Volvo has deleted the regular 1.6-litre diesel range starters and replaced them with the DRIVe cars which promise sub-120g/km of CO2. This not only puts them in the £35-a-year Band B for VED but also reduces benefit-in-kind tax for company car drivers by 13%.

If the latter doesn’t affect you, improvements to the cars’ economy by between nine and 11% will. With a figure of 118g/km of CO2, Volvo also claims the S40 and V50 are the lowest carbon dioxide emitters in their segment.

How has it managed this?

Volvo has fiddled with the ECU so the engine is now tuned for efficiency rather than performance. The ratios for first and second gear have also been moved closer together, while the ratios for third, fourth and fifth have been made longer.

Unless you’ve got far too much time on your hands, the only recognisable visual difference between regular S40 and V50 models and the DRIVe cars are the 16-inch alloy wheels which have been designed to be more wind-cheating. The cars also wear lower rolling resistance tyres, use low friction oil in the gearbox and have had their chassis lowered by 10mm while their radiator inlets are blanked off to further aerodynamic efficiency.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our first drive on the Volvo S40 1.6 DRIVe and find out about the C30 DRIVe

What about the C30?

This carries the most striking visual difference. As the C30 is a shorter car, it needed more aerodynamic attention to slip through the air more efficiently. As well as the wheels, Volvo has also installed a flat floor underneath to clean up the airflow. With a fancy chrome trimmed diffuser and new rear bumper combining with its larger bespoke roof spoiler, the C30 DRIVe looks quite racy from behind.

Do you notice anything on the road?

We drove all three cars and on our test, which combined city streets and motorway driving, the difference between these and regular versions was minimal.

Lowering the suspension has little impact on the ride because softer springs have been used to counteract the effects. And anticipating the intelligent gearchange indicator which informs you of the best time to shift up has a certain novelty appeal.

Probably the most noticeable difference was in the gear ratios. But even though you’re encouraged to shift quickly into the longer third, the engine’s healthy 177lb ft of torque means it doesn’t baulk at this. And with the engine revving at just 2200rpm at 70mph, the five-speed gearbox is more than adequate.

Verdict

Volvo’s aim with the DRIVe range has been to create cars that give owners the tools to achieve low emissions and high economy without compromising the driving experience.

It’s succeeded and - for a premium of just £250 over the three trim levels in the range - these cars will enable buyers to save money long term. All the cars ride and handle more than adequately, though none has the all-round driver appeal of the Ford Focus with which they share so much technology.

Click 'Add your comment' below and tell CAR what you think of the Volvo DRIVe range. An eco-gimmick or a worthy addition?

Specs

Price when new: £16,895
On sale in the UK: January 2009
Engine: 1560cc 4cyl diesel, 107bhp @ 4000rpm, 177lb ft @ 1750rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 10.7sec 0-62mph, 118mph, 62.8mpg, 118g/km
Weight / material: 1408kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4470/1770/1450

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