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Let me be completely honest from the outset, I am in no shape or form remotely interested in the inner workings or relative mechanical capabilities of motor vehicles of any sort. When all's said and done, I'm an A to B driver, I like to get where I'm going to safely and comfortably; frankly I simply couldn't care less about the speeds and feeds and all the gubbins that inspires each new generation of petrol heads.
But here's the thing - after around 9 years of company car driving, where the choice was essentially pick anything by Vauxhall, when my final Joe average Astra diesel finally went beyond the 130,000 mile mark, it finally dawned on me that I actually did want something more.
I'd often figured that a Volvo would be a much better fit for me, especially with the added responsibility of driving the little one around with us, and back in early 2007 after the Astra just scraped its MOT enough was enough.
With a £10k budget in mind, being a fairly lazy sort, I decided that rather than trawl dealerships and the trade magazines, I'd use one of my familiar old "daily clicks" cashback sites carsource, which claims to have a nationwide database of over 130,000 used cars. Typed in Volvo and our postcode and lo and behold up popped a result for a 2005 Volvo S40 2.0 litre diesel saloon over at the Ford Garage just up the road. A strange place to find one in amongst the Mondeos and the Fiestas, but the wife and I headed down there that very afternoon to take a look.
And there he was, our noble grey steed, reg plate HAE, which in an instant became Harry. Quite possibly the easiest sale they ever made - one quick drive round the block and the deal was done!
****A car that cares****
Right from that very first test drive, I was immediately struck by just how much thought has gone into these cars. Everywhere you look there's a handy feature that makes the driving experience just that little bit more enjoyable. The minute you turn on the ignition key you'll get a helpful message or two popping up.
For any one with kids or even renegade elderly parents in the back I'm sure you can appreciate the value of knowing how whether the seat belts have been fastened properly. Rest assured, Harry is watching, and he's not afraid to name and shame if there's one missing. Just one button on the driver's door can lock down all those doors and windows so there's no danger of junior playing highway escape on you.
He also sulks big time if the front two don't buckle up- with added red warning sign and increasingly frantic beeping. It's all done on seat sensors, so if you are driving solo and happen to something with a bit of weight on the passenger seat, be warned Harry won't be happy - you'll just have to buckle in that phantom passenger!
If there's anything at all up with the car in general, rest assured you'll be told - particularly handy for those nuisance things like rear and front bulbs going - gets rid of the risk of being pulled over by les officers du law in blissful ignorance.
Naturally as it's a Volvo the half-beam lights are always on, and furthermore if you happen to forget to switch off your main beams when you get out, Volvo takes care of that automatically. On top of that, if you forget to lock the car whilst out and about, after a few minutes Volvo will do it for you - word of warning - make sure not to leave your keys in the car - then you are a bit stuffed!!
When it's fuel up time, there's a snazzy little button to flip open the fuel hatch, and rather than have to refer back to the manuals there's a handy little sticker in there with all the tyre pressures needed when you need to put a bit of extra air in the wheels. He's got it covered.
****More funky features****
Every where you look its just great design, they've really thought about. Remember, this is the basic saloon model; it's not the S60 or S80. The doors are reassuringly solid and make that satisfying clunking noise every time you shut them. There's electronic wing mirror adjusters and heating options for them at the same time as the front and rear windows, so you avoid most of the hassle of numbed fingered scraping and frantic de-icer squirting on a morning.
The air conditioning and climate control features are excellent, you can even set the required temperatures on the left and right side of the cars separately. How good is that! Just imagine the possibilities - you can retain your calm and composure in a nice cool driving climate and simultaneously heat up your partner's side, thus defrosting any potential cold shoulders in an instant!!
The controls dashboard itself is another work of art. First off you think, hang on where can I put my sunshades, sweeties and the like there's no tray - naughty Swedes, you've let us down. Then as you rack your brains you make the discovery - it's really a virtual control board, it's only an inch or two thick and the space is tucked away behind it, so simple, yet so clever!
There's also a good size extra flip-lid compartment by the handbrake -why you could fit a bumper bag of murray mints in there and still have room for a collection of loose coinage and the like. A lockable glove box, an overhead light panel with push button options to suit every conceivable illumination requirement, it's got the lot
The seats themselves are very comfortable, I always had an idea of slippy leather upholstery in every Volvo as standard, but Harry has a plush soft fabric interior that keeps everyone relaxed.
The number one bonus ball for me is the separate his and hers heated seat options. You can select just bottom warming or back and backside together, but either way it's an early morning Swedish massage of the highest order on those frosty 5am drives to Hull and the like...
****No REALLY I don't mind driving...****
The best endorsement I can give for this car is the fact that when I had my Astra, my Mrs never felt happy driving it on family trips, she just didn't want to know. Since Harry's come along, it's a completely different story, we're almost fighting for the wheel - as I'm 6-2 and she's 5-1 you can imagine the seat adjustment is a bit of a bind but Harry can handle it with ease.
The all-round driving experience can be summed up in just one word - smooth.
There's plenty of power and acceleration oomph when you need it, great road handling and all backed up by the latest and greatest in braking gismos and other safety feature. Come rain or shine, for both getting around town and those longer haul trips it's a pleasant driving experience (however whiny those babas and grannies get!)
The good news is the fuel economy is pretty decent - typically get around 400 miles plus to the tank every time (remember that's diesel), and that's normally with a 40:60 split of town and motorway journeys
There's even a little shark fin on top of the roof - aero dynamic or what!
****A couple of minor gripes****
After spending the last few paragraphs singing its praises to the hilt, think I need to balance things a little bit.
For the larger family, I would say that the boot capacity is perhaps not quite as extensive as it could be, there's plenty of depth, but the height space is not that great.
We didn't get a rear windscreen wiper with our model, I don't believe that's always the case, but as our rear heaters have been on the blink it has been a bit of an issue not having the wiper on hand.
The fuel tank capacity is a little on the small side at around 45-50 litres, so higher mileage drivers be warned.
****I know what you mean (to us), Harry****
For a good number of years I had it in mind that I'd eventually get a Volvo as our main family car, especially since our little man came along. Now that I've had this car for a couple of years I can honestly say that I'll be happy to stick with Volvos for the rest of my driving days. Yes I expected high safety standards and comfort, but it's the attention to detail and design excellence through out that really swing it for me.
An S40 starts at around £14,000 new rising to £23000 with all the bells and whistles, so its not necessarily going to suit everyone's budget, but like Harry you can pick up a year or two older version for under 10K and they really do keep their value much longer than the mass produced mainstream middle of the road alternatives from the likes of Ford and Vauxhall.
We haven't had any reliability issues, in fact the only time we had to call in a breakdown chappie, turned out to be because a tiny stone got stuck in one of the front wheels causing Harry to screech out in pain. We were actually quite shocked at the time that he hadn't told us about it, but Harry did point out that his detection systems are good, but not that good!!
So go on give it this smouldering Swede try, you know you want to....