28/08/2008 00:00

First Drive: Volvo V50 review (2008 onwards)

Richard Aucock's biography

  • What – Volvo V50
  • Where – Cowley, Oxfordshire
  • Date – August 2008
  • Price – £22,420
  • Available – now
  • Key rivals – Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Jetta, Audi A3


Convenient new semi-auto combines with trim enhancements to hone the V50 package. The well-priced diesel auto is won't amaze, but does satisfy.

  • We like: seamless shifts, combines well with diesel engine, the honing of the V50 package
  • We don’t like: poor rear space, so-so performance

Gallery: Volvo V50

First Impressions

Volvo V50 (© Image © Volvo)

The S40 and V50 range has always sat between two stools. Posher than a Focus, not quite a 3-Series. But, this year, it's registered a remarkable leap in sales, as has its sister saloon, the S40. Why? Volvo's worked out what it should be. It's out with the previous baffling array of trim lines, in with Ronseal-style logic.

If you like sporty stuff, go for R-Design. If you don't, SE-based trims step you up through engines and levels of luxury. It's the R-Design Sport that took our eye, looking good value in 2.0D guise at £20k. But there's more. You can also get Powershift, creating a well-equipped, £22,400 auto diesel Volvo estate.

Volvo V50 (© Image © Volvo)

The canny out there will know that name already: no, the twin-clutch semi-auto isn't Volvo's. It's Ford's - this is the VW DSG-style six-speed also seen in the Focus the V50 is derived from. Introducing it here creates a fleet-friendly, low-emission self-shifter that is sure to delight fiercely loyal Volvo customers previously denied a two-pedal diesel.

R-Design is a bargain, in our eyes. It brings a bodykit that wouldn't shame a supersaloon; a BMW M3 is less outlandish, compared to lesser 3-Series, than this is relative to more prosaic V50s. it's so special, we had to check they hadn't sneaked in anything extra. So what if, in places, it's overblown. It's distinctive, and we love it.


Volvo V50 (© Image © Volvo)

The semi-auto gearbox doesn't transform the familiar 2.0-litre diesel, but it does help the smooth, refined unit perform better. Traditional autos are usually slower than well-driven manuals. This is, on paper, also slower (but only by 0.2secs to 60mph). In practice, though, it's the sharper, more driveable of the two.

Why? Because twin-clutch gearboxes always have the next gear you may need pre-engaged, and can snick into it in an eyeblink. Cruising in 6th and need a dash of thrust? You'll floor it in the manual, and waft up to speed. Do the same in Powershift and you'll be down to fifth in a flash.

Volvo V50 (© Image © Volvo)

This gives better response, more meaningful go, in all situations. Typically, the shifts are superb, almost infinitesimal. It even helps to minimise this engine's characteristic lag-response to the throttle; choosing lower gears where possible helps things spin up faster. The overdrive sixth cuts engine revs at speed, too.

The only thing it lacks are paddleshifts. These are seen as the thing to have lately, and with all Volvo's talk of sportiness, it's strange they're not included. Maybe that's out of keeping with the safety focus. Mind you, the computer's logic is good enough for you rarely feel like overriding it.

Ride and Handling

Volvo V50 (© Image © Volvo)

While it's derived from the expensive Focus platform, don't expect the sublime hatch's wondrous handling here. Things are softer, rubberier for Volvo. There's lots of straight-ahead safety stodge in the steering, and you're kept one step further removed from the road surface. This extra insulation does give a very supple and quiet initial ride, though.

It helps make for a sleek enough cruiser, with good refinement and pothole-shrugging-off ability. And, to be fair, being more committed with steering inputs does help wake the chassis up - it's pretty composed and incisive on twisty roads. Safe, too, of course. Just don't expect the sort of tactility you get in a 3-Series. Or, indeed, a Focus.


Volvo V50 (© Image © Volvo)

The 'floating' centre console still looks great, and makes the V50's cabin distinct, even if the hard-to-see space behind it is useless. Storing a mobile there, forgetting, then having it fly towards the brake pedal during said 'committed' cornering, is not very safe. Otherwise, R-Design trim is a treat, not least the blue-backed dials.

These are as on the S60 R, and look great, as do the heavily-bolstered, embossed seats, the techno-look trim, an over-large but curvaceous leather steering wheel... alas, it's less happy in the back, where squeezing Volvo proportions onto a Focus platform yields poor rear legroom. The big boot has a decent opening.

Economy and Safety

Volvo V50 (© Image © Volvo)

The clever part with these twin-clutch gearboxes is the lack of an economy penalty they bring. Auto smoothness and convenience, manual economy - in this case, that's 47.1mpg, and emissions of 159g/km. That'll please companies and fleet drivers no end. Real world economy is probably better than a manual, anyway.

That's because the computer always selects the best gear - and it's much more economy-minded than drivers. Could that be why Volvo doesn't fit paddles? To deter needless overrides? As for safety, it's not in question. Volvo is Ford's centre of excellence for development in this area, and the V50 shows all the decades of experience here.

MSN Cars Verdict 3/5

Volvo V50 (© Image © Volvo)

We liked the V50 more than its scorecard shows. It's not brilliant in any area, but the overall proposition makes a lot of level-headed sense. In R-Design guise, it looks great, yet Volvo doesn't charge through the nose for it. It's a half-way-up step from a Focus that's now much more appealing for sub-3-Series buyers.

Particularly in Powershift semi-auto form, that trades the manual's weighty shift for a top-drawer twin-clutch self-shifter whose performance we can't fault - either in performance or economy. The whole package is more appealing than any V50 has yet been. Particularly if you choose the fantastic-looking white paint, as seen in the TV ad...

Ratings out of five: Volvo V50
Ride & handling
Fuel economy
MSN Cars verdict
Need to know
Diesel engine
2.0-litre turbodiesel
Power (bhp)
Torque (lb/ft)
0-62 (secs)
Top speed (mph)
Combined mpg
C02 emissions (g/km)/tax (%)

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