So, since Alton was sold a couple of weeks ago I’ve been on the lookout for something new and exciting to play with. Preferably something I haven’t had before.
This morning I decided to take a trip to the local Auction house, Turners, to see what was around. I’ve got a big weekend of test driving cars planned anyway, but Turners is a good place to check out a wide variety of cars without the pressures of some asshole salesman watching over your shoulder.
I had looked over their site already and picked a couple of cars I wanted to check out. The first was an Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 Turbo manual which from a distance looked cool (not as small as they look in photos either), and it was nice to sit in, but woah, the paint was beyond ruined. A large patch of peeling clearcoat down one side, and the other side had paint so thin you could literally see the undercoat through it. Not sure what happened in its life, but it was ugly. Walked swiftly away from that.
The other car was something I had been interested in for a bit. A Volvo S40 T5 AWD.
On paper it’s got some decent specs, 230hp 5 cylinder turbo, AWD, and a 5 speed tiptronic auto. This T5 also had a decent trim level, with nice heated half leather seats, brushed aluminium trim here and there, and that weird “waterfall” floating centre console.
It’s a nice place to be, with comfortable seats with multiple adjustments. The drivers one was electric with memory, not sure about the passenger’s side. Not very aggressive bolstering but seemed to hold me ok in the test drive, and they felt like the kind of seat you could sit in for hours without getting sore or tired.
The S40 is a small car (the platform is shared with the Ford Focus, and Mazda 3), no doubt about that, but at no time did I really feel cramped or crowded in there. You wouldn’t want to have someone really tall in the back seat, but a couple of your smaller, less liked friends would be comfortable enough in the back.
All the controls are easily at the driver’s reach, although I do find the centre console/waterfall to be very cluttered and not too intuitive. It’s just a big clusterf*** of buttons, with a small multifunction screen and four dials.
So from top down, you have the slot for a CD. The multifunction display that shows both radio functions and climate control info. Below those is where it all turns bad. There is AM/FM, Eject and “Mode” on the top row, then all the buttons of a phone below that, leading into a direction dial surrounded by menu buttons (ie: menu, phone and enter/exit). I don’t recall if the one I drove even had phone functions, but it sure as hell had all the number buttons.
Below all that is the climate control settings. De-mist, direction, AC on and off and then at the very bottom, two tiny little buttons for the heated front seats. Down the LH side of the buttons you have a dial for radio power/volume and a dial for fan speed. RH side gets a dial for radio tuning/sound settings and one for temp (which in the tested car had 3 button settings, LH/RH and both for dual zone temp).
I guess once you’re used to it, it might not be so bad but it really isn’t a nice clear and simple layout like you would expect. It’s kind of at odds with the rest of the cars controls which are nice, simple and easy to use. The headlight dial is simple with three settings; Off/Park/On. The steering wheel buttons are all big with clear symbols/wording. Nothing else is that cluttered.
Anyway, moving along, the instrument panel is clear and easy to read. It also had a multifunction display in there too, but in the case of the test car it was in Japanese and was almost useless. Converting it to English doesn’t sound like a simple job either.
It’s a good-looking little car. High waist line, nice sculptured lines, that typical Volvo snout; it’s all good. The T5 gets some nice additions too, like black housing headlights, a subtle boot lip and twin tailpipes. This one was wearing the OEM 17″ alloys too.
The first thing that I noticed as soon as I turned the key, it didn’t sound great. I was hoping for a nice throaty 5 cylinder growl, but all you get in this is a strangled sort of burble. On the plus side, you could hear the whirr of the turbo at idle.
I dropped it into Drive, and set my sights on the road. It has a nice low-end punch, it roars away from a stop, but then runs out of puff quickly. Not much top end, but no real turbo lag to be seen. I’m guessing the turbo is small, and the intake/exhaust is restrictive. It would be very interesting to know what it’s like with the intake and exhaust opened up.
The driving feel is great though, it sits on the road how I expect a Volvo would…. Solid. The suspension eats up the rough roads without too much of an issue, and strikes an ok compromise between soft and sporty, not too sharp over bumps but not too soft that it rolls around on corners. It would be an enjoyable setup for long trips with some twisty roads thrown in.
Steering didn’t have much feel, but you could at least feel it was connected to the tires and not completely vague. Weight was about right, not feather light, but didn’t take much effort to turn at low speeds.
I didn’t really get much chance to see what the AWD system can do, but I didn’t get any signs of wheel spin or traction control when giving it a bootful, so it must be doing something. The AWD system is made by Haldex, much like the VW and small Audi systems.
The auto was OK. I’m not a huge fan of traditional torque converter autos, and this one is about on par. Shifting although unintrusive, wasn’t seamless and smooth. When puttering around it seemed it pick the right gears at the right time, but didn’t really seem that interested when I gave it a stomp; it was slow to kick down and a bit lazy. The tiptronic was useless, lethargic and unexciting. Part of this could also be how others have test driven it, and it’s learnt to be average. Maybe an ECU reset would help.
It didn’t wow me. It’s a shame as I like the car, but I think it’s a bit too sensible. Considering the engine is shared with the Focus ST, I was expecting a bit more from it.
Opening up the intake and exhaust, and throwing a reflash at it apparently makes it come alive, but then you’re still left with an uninterested transmission.
Converting the car from Japanese to English could be an issue, according to the interwebs there doesn’t seem to be an easy way without going to a dealer and paying a fortune for them to reflash the control units to English.
I’d like to keep it in mind, maybe try a Privately owned one and see if it drives any better.