The V50 is, unsurprisingly for a Volvo, an estate, but it’s not the huge slab of car you’d usually associate with the Swedish carmaker. It’s a smallish, but perfectly formed family car that trades some of its capaciousness for a more practical size, making it more suitable for urbanites. Its shapelier design is also less slabby than the Volvos we’ve become used to over the years, making it more desirable to younger carbuyers. The R-Design trim level on this car also adds some luxury and sophistication to the car, with extra bodykit, plus a higher-specced cabin and equipment.
Our test car came fitted with Volvo’s five-cylinder D5 diesel engine, which produces 177bhp and maximum torque of 258lb-ft at 1,750-3,250rpm. As these figures suggest, this makes the V50 something of a pokey little machine, with plenty of power on tap and lots of pulling power, especially in the middle of the rev range. Even with the rear fully laden, and at motorway cruising speeds, there’s plenty in reserve when you need to overtake. Indeed, it’s easy to believe the claimed 0-62mph time of eight seconds dead and a top speed of 140mph. The six-speed manual transmission is also very effective, providing clean and precise shifts. The only drawback is that the engine shows its age, thanks to its rather noisy nature. It has that distinctive clatter of the older diesel when starting the car up, especially from cold. This lack of engine refinement is the only blot on its copybook, though and can be partly remedied by the simple act of turning the stereo up.
The V50 is based on the same underpinnings as the Ford Focus and Mazda 3, but sadly its driving dynamics aren’t as sharp as either of these two cars, the Focus in particular. It’s a perfectly decent car to drive, it’s just that a connection to the Focus raises expectations that, ultimately, are unfulfilled. That said, the V50 is a good package of ride and handling with, as you’d expect from a Volvo, the emphasis falling more on the side of ride. The suspension is compliant but still nicely controlled, enabling the car to tackle the whole range of surfaces it’s likely to encounter on UK roads. Meanwhile, the steering is fairly precise, direct and well balanced, but it does lack the necessary feedback to create any real involvement with the car and is unable to create the sense of fun found in class-leading cars.
Volvo as a brand historically does well in customer satisfaction surveys such as the JD Power poll. The most recent edition placed the Swedish company in equal ninth alongside BMW, which reflects the premium nature of the company’s products. The V50 also did fairly well in the survey, coming in joint 35th place with the Toyota Auris and Skoda Fabia, both products from companies that are in the top five most reliable manufacturers. It was also ranked the fifth best family car, with owners praising the aftersales service of dealers. Our car bore out those results, as it was very well screwed together. The exterior exuded a sense of sturdiness, with consistent panel gaps around the car and R-Design enhancements such as front and rear spoilers, side skirts and a rear roof spoiler. The inside, with its additional R-Design upgrades, also felt very much like a premium car, with leather seats and high-quality materials throughout.
It’s a Volvo, which should be enough to satisfy anybody that the V50 will be safe on the road. But if you need more, the structure of the V50 is divided into different zones and different grades of steel were employed in each area. The outer zones deform most, while those closest to the passenger compartment are designed to remain largely intact, protecting the occupants. Then there’s SIPS (Side Impact Protection System), two front dual-stage airbags, side airbags and curtain airbags for front and rear passengers, three-point seatbelts for each of the five seats, WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System) that helps prevent neck and back injuries in a rear impact. In terms of electronic safety equipment there’s ABS brakes with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and EBA (Emergency Brake Assist, which senses an emergency stop and automatically brings the car to a halt in as short a distance as possible), plus DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control).
The cabin of the V50 has plenty of space for four adult occupants, or five if the rear three passengers are children. The front two seats are comfortable and have a good range of movement, with the driver in particular able to achieve a driving position that will ensure s/he can end a journey feeling pretty fresh. Despite being a Volvo estate, the V50 doesn’t quite have the load-lugging ability one usually associates with the Swedish brand’s cars. That said, it should still be enough for most families’ purposes, with 417 litres with the seats up and 1,307 litres when the 60/40 rear bench is folded down. There’s also plenty of storage space in the cabin and the R-Design trim level also means that there’s a full range of equipment. One caveat though: the phone operation requires you to insert your phone Sim card into the console, which can be a bit of a pain.
The more powerful 2.5-litre D5 diesel fitted to our test car isn’t the most frugal oilburner around, a fact that isn’t helped by the fact that it’s now a few years old. An official fuel economy figure of 44.8mpg isn’t disastrous, but it’s not as impressive as some of the diesels on the market that can now achieve results in the mid-60s. It’s a similar story with CO2 emissions: at 166g/km, the D5-powered V50 isn’t the greatest friend of the planet and compares unfavourably to the 119g/km of the DRIVe version of the car. The CO2 figure also means that it’s not cheap to tax, either, just edging it into the £175-a-year Band H. All the bells and whistles of the R-Design trim in combination with the bigger engine also whack up the insurance costs quite considerably. Other V50s usually fall into Groups 8-10, but this model comes in at Group 15, will increase costs.
Submitted: 13/11/2009 08:32:35
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