A history lesson…
Anything BMW or Audi can do, Volvo can do...well, if not necessarily better, then certainly with the same degree of proficiency and at a much more appealing price point.
The Volvo S40 was first showcased in 1995 and went on sale in the UK early the next year, competing with the 3 Series and A4 and getting rewarded for its efforts with solid sales and reviews.
New buyers in the early days were offered either a 1.8 or 2.0 litre petrol engine, although in late 1996 a turbodiesel power plant was made available. A cheaper 1.6 litre petrol model arrived in 1997, while later the same year saw the launch of the T4 edition, getting decent performance out of a 1.8 litre unit.
Further engines were added in 1998 and 1999, while in 2000 the range received a bit of an overhaul both in terms of its looks and its engineering.
In 2004 the second hand Volvo S40 for sale was brought up to speed with a major revamp of Volvo's various ranges and this time around it looked even more appealing, since its styling was perfectly in keeping with the bigger S60.
Plenty of petrol engines and even the 220bhp might of the T5 were sold. Volvo actually chose to reduce the price of the S40 in 2007 while at the same time revising the various trims to offer better value for money.
The R-Design iterations of the S40 were unveiled at around the same time, so those looking for a bit more flashiness from this Swedish manufacturer were not disappointed.
A facelift in 2008 and revised engines in 2011 helped to keep the S40 relevant and while it is still a strong performer when sold new, it really comes into its own on the used market.
Bang for your buck
While Volvo created a range of trim options for the S40 during its first generation, standard equipment was good across the board. ABS, SIPS, one airbag and power steering help to make this a suitably safe executive saloon, while things like air-con, leather upholstery, cruise control and other features were there for those who wanted them.
For the 2004 version of the S40, Volvo decided to modernise the range, paying particular attention to the interior.
An excellently arranged dash allows for easy manipulation of the various systems, while the levels of safety on offer here are equivalent to those found in much larger cars, which is good for those who are conscious of such concerns.
The S40 has always looked good, although it still lacks the same visual distinctiveness of a rival BMW or Audi. That's not to say that there isn't at least a smidgen of sex appeal in the range, but rather that you have to work to find it for yourself.
What you'll pay
You'll get an early S40 for under £500 if you're not too bothered about driving something with between 100,000 and 200,000 miles on the clock.
Go for the 2.0 litre petrol engine in older used models if you can, since this provides the best balance between power and frugality.
You'll pay around £3000 to £4000 for a post-2004 S40, while even relatively recent models will only cost between £6000 and £11,000 thanks to the sheer value that is on offer here.
What to check
Unless you're on a really tight budget it's worth looking at the more recent S40s, purely because they offer a more modern approach to motoring. That's not to say that the older cars aren't reliable or worthy of your attention, but you'll actually get better value for money when looking at less ancient examples.
The used Volvo S40 has always been built with safety and reliability in mind, so you don't need to worry too much about its mechanical integrity as long as there is plenty of paperwork to back up the tales about its history.
Just watch out for damage to the trim and body that can occur through everyday usage and bear this in mind when negotiating for a price.
Brake pads are £55 a pair, with headlamps setting you back just £40 for the older models. Exhaust systems are cheaper for the later S40, sitting at £350 rather than £400.
How it drives
As previously mentioned, the 2.0 litre petrol S40 hits the sweet spot, because the less powerful engines are a bit anaemic and the faster editions slightly miss the point and don't live up to driver's expectations, particularly if you're using a BMW as your measuring stick.