Old Volvos never die, they just get new sheet metal and cost more. Their market never dies, either, it just keeps on buying. Take the '91 940 series - the loyalists will, for sure.

It's an up-market version of the 8-year-old 700 series and uses what Volvo says are "the proven mechanics of Volvo's 700 series." Translation: new bodies, new model designations and new price tags on the 700 series.Volvos do have a reputation for safety and longevity, which their ads rarely if ever overlook. But as for being examples of the "cutting edge" of engineering, or as for being great buys, well . . .

Look, no Volvo is inexpensive. Even the ages-old 240 in its cheapest form (four-door, stick shift) will cost you twenty-plus by the time you roll it out of the showroom. The 700 series gets well into the 20s, and the new 940 starts at $27,885 (four-door GLE, automatic transmission). There are six other versions - $28,565 GLE five-door, automatic; $29,295 four-door, turbo, automatic; $29,975 five-door, turbo, automatic; $32,950 SE, four-door, automatic; $33,630 SE, five-door, automatic; and $41,945 940 coupe automatic.

More than 40 grand for a Volvo!

Besides its legendary almost-invulnerability to head-on crashes - and longevity - Volvo has also sold itself on value for dollar. Let's take a look at the base GLE automatic, which will cost $30,000 in round figures after you pay any state sales tax, the licensing and other incidental fees and the dealer's whatever.

You get fog lamps, power rack-and-pinion steering, power four-wheel discs with anti-lock system, air, power windows, sunroof, AM/FM cassette radio, heated front buckets and central locking system. That's a nice package, worth at least three grand if sold individually at retail, though it doesn't include such norms on many sub-$20,000 cars as cruise control and adjustable-intermittent wipers. And what's the rest of the car like, anyway?

The engine has four cylinders in line displacing 141 cubic inches (2,316 cc's) and has been modernized with two overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and an aluminum cylinder head - or the current standard for high-performance fours.

It's not the quietest engine in the world, particularly at cold-start idle, but it does develop 153 horses at a high 5,700 rpm and 150 lbs/ft of torque at an also-high 4,450 rpm. This results in acceleration not unlike a turbo, with the real kick coming in a few seconds after you floor it.

Despite a high (10.0:1) compression ratio, 940 will run on regular unleaded. It's EPA-rated at 18 mpg city, 24 highway, or 20 combined, but the best mileage I could get was 20 on the highway, mid-to-high teens around town. Normally, that wouldn't be important to the buyer of a $30,000 car, but with the same 15-gallon fuel tank that Volvos have had for a long time, it doesn't provide a great range in the event of a gas shortage or a long drive in the desert.