The Volvo 440
was built between 1989 and 1997, and was Volvo
's attempt at building a medium-sized car, between the behemoth
that was the 850
and the bizzaro little 480
Built in The Netherlands, the 440 was the most popular of the range, serving as the 5-door hatchback to the 4-door sedan of the larger 460. The 440 lost its 80s charm in 1993 when it was redesigned and became one of the first models to feature Volvo's 'new look' that helped them finally become fashionable. After being discontinued in 1997, the 440 was redesigned again and exists to this day under Volvo's new numbering scheme as the Volvo S40.
The 440 came in engine sizes 1.6 to 2.0, both petrol and diesel, with and without a turbo. It was one of the first cars to have side impact beams, in addition to its driverside airbag. The 2.0 SE model is rated at 110bhp and gets on average about 35mpg, which is quite decent for a car of that age and size.
Comfort and ride
After buying the car, I have heard many legends about the seats, and can vouch that they are extremely comfortable, keeping your mind focused on the road rather than your spine even after hours of driving. As an added, extremely welcome bonus, the front seats are heated and you can have toasted buns mintues after starting, and well before the heaters reach full strength (which is very, very hot!). The steering wheel is nicely sized and comfortably squishy to grip, and turns smoothly and firmly with the power steering system. Pedals are nicely spaced, although the accelerator is slightly too small, and the clutch has a very large amount of travel.
The gearshift has a large, satisfying change which is not as quick and sporty as other cars of its type. Quick changes are thus a bit tricky when accelerating in a hurry, but with practice truly terrifying acceleration can be achieved. This acceleration is one of the surprising things about the car - people mock it as a Volvo until you scream away from the lights, leaving many a hot hatch in your dust.
A large back seat can easily accomodate three adults, with a quite reasonable amount of legroom. The trunk entrance is absolutely huge, with the entirety of the back window and lid swinging wide open. Fold the rear seats down flat, remove the parcel shelf, and you have room to accomodate a mountain bike, large TV or furniture. A large engine produces loads of torque, perfect for hauling a trailer. For a young couple or family, the car will be able to handle almost everything.
My 440s (and issues)
My first 440 was an M-reg (1995) 2.0i SE, fully loaded with front and rear fog lights, after-market CD changer, map lights, and sun roof - bargain for £1500 (used). Its main issue was a loud grinding vibration when the RPM was around 2,000. A visit to Kwik-Fit revealed a join between the exhaust system and the engine had minor rust, just enough for the two parts to rub and vibrate at the right frequency. Both the rear shock absorbers were broken and needed to be replaced. Otherwise it was a fine car, and probably saved my life.
My second 440 is an L-reg (1993) 2.0i SE, but without all the nice extras (except the sun roof) and externally is indistinguishable from the first (apart from the first being a foot shorter, now). It only cost me £400 used and needed another £400 in service, so £800 altogether. It had numerous problems from a life of neglect, including shoddy brakes, handbrake, broken lights, worn tires, poor engine and numerous other faults which made it unfit to drive. A skilled mechanic combined the parts from the 1995 model with this 1993, and produced a perfectly good car that has served me well for over a year and a half.
However, there still remain some non-critical problems with the car. The gear linkage is worn - a common problem with the 440 - making changes a bit tricky sometimes, especially into first. The fan belt squeaks, the continuous velocity gears click loudly when turning sharply at speed, and the dreaded rust shows around the rear wheel arches. None of these are dangerous, merely annoying, and so I let them be until I win the lottery or just get rid of the car.
The 440 is a fine first 'proper' car for someone moving up from a compact or hatchback. It is maneuverable, powerful and a pleasure to drive. It is also safe, roomy and robust. It's also the finest car(s) I've ever had the pleasure to own and drive, and I prefer it over the various company pool cars I've had the use of. It's gotten me from Cardiff to London and back on a full tank of fuel with some to spare, managing over 450 miles even with an average speed over 80mph. It has never broken down on me or failed to start.
Update 14/02/05: My car has been sitting outside for a month in the Welsh winter, undriven. I switched off the immobiliser with the fob, got in, turned the key, and... the engine started, the very first time. Not many cars can claim this, let alone ones over a decade old.
Update 10/05/05: Now back in my service, the car has *finally* suffered its first every breakdown in my care - the alternator packed in, at just under 161,000 miles. I'm amazed. £65 later, and it's fixed and working perfectly again
Update 16/05/08: It's worth noting that when I sold the car back in early 2006, I got £400 for it. Which pleased me to no end.