Although Volvo has been selling its entry-level S40 sedan and V40 wagon in the United States since 2000, you might not have noticed until now. The previous car, a joint project with Mitsubishi, was borrowed from other world markets and proved somewhat lost in between a sport sedan and an economy four-door. That'll change with the arrival of the new S40.

Sharing Ford's new global C1 platform with the next-generation Mazda3 and Ford Focus, and packing plenty of innovative safety features, this Volvo was designed specifically for U.S. buyers. The handsome new body style is reminiscent of an A4 or Phaeton, yet it's distinctively modern Volvo and picks up cues from its bigger brother, the S60.

The turbo four-cylinder engine is replaced with two versions of Volvo's inline-five. A naturally aspirated 2.4-liter produces 168 horsepower, while the turbo T5 version offers up 218 and 236 pound-feet of torque. Initially, only front-drive models will be available, but all-wheel-drive variants arrive in showrooms as early as this summer, as will the V50 wagon.

Unlike its predecessor, this S40 allows drivers to stir their own gears with either a five- or six-speed manual transmission, the latter borrowed from the ferocious S60R. The six-speed is a nice unit, but could be improved with shorter throws between gears. A five-speed manumatic that adapts to the driver's driving style also will be available for either engine.

A high-limit driving stint on mountain roads revealed significantly improved handling, the result of a 68-percent increase in structural rigidity, a wider, longer chassis, and revised front and rear suspensions.

While the S40 is two inches shorter than the car it replaces, its interior room has increased in almost every area, including a nearly two-inch gain in rear-seat legroom. The stereo and HVAC controls are mounted on a unique, slim-design center stack that suggests a waterfall flowing off the dash and into the shifter housing.

For those who'll want to enhance the already aggressive look of the new S40, Volvo will offer a sport package consisting of pronounced sill moldings and spoilers, along with a rear wing and 18-inch wheels. Does this mean an S40R is soon to follow? Volvo claims there are no plans as of yet, but admitted that if the demand existed, it could happen. We'll keep our fingers crossed. As exemplified with the R models and now this new S40, Volvo is demonstrating that it can do "enthusiasm" just as well as it does "safety."