Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Test drive: Volvo S40 1.6 DRIVe SE

At the moment, I have a Ford Focus 2.0TDi Titanium as my company car and as I'm nearing the end of my 2 year contract, I'm currently test driving potential replacements. The way my company car scheme works is that I'm given a fixed amount each month that I can either take as cash (meaning I provide my own car + pay tax on the amount) or use to pay for a car from Leaseplan. In theory I can choose any car I'd like, but in practice doing so affordably is complicated by two factors: 1) Company car taxation is tricksy, involving the on the road price of the car (P11D), a percentage based on CO2 emissons and your highest tax bracket and 2) The leasing costs vary wildly between manufacturers, two cars with the same P11D can have wildly different lease prices. Needless to say, I won't be getting an Audi A5 3.2 Quattro for an eye watering total cost of ownership of £620 a month.

A major reason that I chose the Focus was that it represents something of a magic quadrant in cheap lease price, reasonable list price and low CO2 but combined with good fuel efficiency and nice performance. I thought I'd try out the Volvo S40 as it has a better cabin and includes more gadgets important for those of us approaching 30, such as a driver memory seat. It's not quite a strong on the magic quadrant though, as despite have a P11D £400 cheaper than the Focus, the S40 2.0D SE would cost me an extra £50 a month. Because of this I test drove the ecological 1.6 DRIVe SE variant (more expensive lease, but £1200 less P11D and lower CO2 so would cost £20/m less than the Focus).

So after driving the Volvo S40 1.6 DRIVe for a weekend, here are my pros and cons vs the Ford Focus 2.0TDi Titanium:

  • Car felt more solid overall, pleasing door clunk, noticeably quieter and more refined cabin.
  • "Floating console", looks good and provides neat storage.
  • Better positioning of 3.5mm jack input (In center storage compartment vs in the glove box in the Focus)
  • Surprisingly easy to manouver, good visibility and position plus park assist.
  • More seat adjustability and driver memory option available.

  • Big car outside, small car inside. Lacking headroom in the front and legroom in the rear.
  • Unlocking the boot with the key doesn't release the catch. Focus does this meaning you can then open the boot from any position with one hand.
  • Boot is hard to shut fully, I had the "Boot lid open" message on the dash 3 times.
  • Sound system lacklustre.
  • Lacking seat headrest adjustment.
  • Driver memory option disappointing, it's a manual button on the seat and didn't seem to be tied to the key. Also doesn't adjust mirrors.

Given the above, the real deal breaker was the lacking headroom. The uneccessary final nail in the coffin was that despite a stated combined mpg of 62.8, my demonstrator returned 51.5mpg while I had it. Given that my Focus returns around 46mpg and comes with 2 litre rapidity, the Volvo won't be taking the Focus' crown this time. So much for big ideas hey?

Next up is Golf 1.4TSi SE.

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