I recently test-drove an S40 while looking for a vehicle for my sixteen year old daughter. Of course, I was attracted to the Volvo brand, because of their safety reputation. When my local used vehicle dealer told me he had an S40, I was very excited. I drove it yesterday.
The dealer told me that the "check engine" light was on, but that he'd be doing a timing belt job on it, and then that would "be OK". I noticed that the trim around the doors was very oxidized, and that the paint was less than "shiny", it is silver, and overall looked OK, but there were a lot of little scratches and just "dull" spots.
I found the car pretty peppy and responsive, and was really excited about the side impact airbags and curtain... this is my baby I'm buying it for! However... after coming home and reading all the reviews, I can surmise that the "check engine" light problem won't be going away any time soon, and that the overall maintenance issues will just be a giant headache.
I've owned only Subarus for the past 20 years, and have never had a roadside breakdown, check engine light, paint problem, etc... I am not crazy about the sightly loud interior noises, wind noise on the highways... but overall, these cars have been exceptional in their reliability and drivability. I can get out of my driveway even when there is 12+" of snow, thanks to the AWD, and when I tried like heck to get it to skid on a parking lot of shear ice last winter, (to teach my daughter how to handle that), I couldn't put it into a skid!!!
I'll go back to shopping with Subaru, which I believe holds second place to Volvo for safety.