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On test: Volvo V50 2.0 review (2004 onwards model)
- Bodystyle:5dr estate
- Engine:2.0-litre turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder
- Fuel type:Diesel
- Transmission:5-speed manual
- Date of test:February 2004
What is it?
Volvo's absence in the growing 'lifestyle' estate car sector has so far been conspicuous. The V40 is way past its best, while the V70 is too large for fashionable young city-slickers. Few would trade a BMW 3 Series for one. So the V50 is a crucially important model. Using a platform related to the MkII Ford Focus, Mazda3 and others, it's a more-compact estate which, as Volvo puts it, is a 'sports holdall, rather than a heavy suitcase'. It's a car that's about travelling light, with all the sporty connotations that come with it. The days of the boxy, space-above-all Volvo estate are, it seems long gone.
Where does it fit?
This is intriguing. Volvo has the S60 saloon to compete with the BMW 3 Series, while the S40 is a challenger for more expensive Ford Mondeos and, err, cheaper BMW 3 Series. And the V50? BMW 3 Series Touring, as well as Audi A4 Avant and Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon. If you're firing salvos at the competition, there's no substitute for sheer numbers. This, of course, means the V50 is a more upmarket proposition than the V40 model it replaces, which was neither one thing nor another; too mainstream for a premium car, too costly to rival the Ford Focus estate. As for the 2.0-litre diesel variant tested, it's likely to be most popular with company car drivers looking to save on tax - though the ultimate benefits won't be realised until an 'Euro IV' variant is released, later in the year. This uses a particulate filter to ensure ultra-clean emissions.
Is it for you?
It's a good-looking, distinctive machine which stands out from the competition - that's enough for some. Certainly the V50's sportier than its V70 big brother, with a high-waisted bodyshell and sloping, profiled tailgate. The flared, wrap-around front wings look superb and sculpted roof rails add strength to the shape. Inside it's modern too, particularly with the now-famous 'floating' centre console. This is designed to intentionally imitate high-level home entertainment systems, though the see-through 'Iced Aqua' finish may well date faster than a 1980s wood-cabinet stacker system. Of course, Volvo is still synonymous with safety. It seems that if you want one of the safest cars in the sector, you should automatically choose the V50.
What does it do well?
Recently, Volvo has become acknowledged not just for safety, but for its cars' long-striding skill. The V50 is no exception. On the motorway it's exceptional, refined and relaxing, with a supple ride quality, low noise levels and excellent seats. It doesn't sap energy yet doesn't bore either, and is a choice long-distance car. However, it's also a winner on twisty roads. The new platform is firm, accurate and involving, with slop-free steering that's reassuring and precise. The 2.0-litre diesel engine is smooth and punchy - and, with as much torque as the far more expensive 2.5-litre T5 range-topping petrol model, often as quick in real-life conditions. Simply press the throttle and go once on the move; for the record, the benchmark dash to 60mph takes 9.6 seconds. The gearchange is slick and brakes are powerful. Needless to say, there's a brace of safety aids including 'dynamic' stability control. Grip levels are high but, should you breach them, it sorts out any skids.
What doesn't it do well?
Not a lot, actually. Clearly space levels are compromised a little by using the Ford Focus platform - the boot's smaller than BMW's 3 Series and Audi's A4 Avant with the seats up, though it is bigger with them down. Rear passenger space is surprisingly tight too, and front passengers will have to trade space to allow those in the back sufficient legroom. The new centre console is fiddly to use before acclimatisation - it's not as clear as larger Volvos - and the door pockets are tiny, near-useless. Blame all the safety kit behind them; many will consider it a fair compromise.
What's it like to live with?
High standards of build, plus some very smart trim options, mean the V50 easily has the class of German competition. It's well-equipped too; standard 'S' models offer everything most will consider essential, while 'SE' variants add leather and a CD autochanger for a relatively small premium. The diesel engine is very economical too (49.6mpg combined), saving further cash, while overall list prices undercut Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Depreciation promises to be minimal thanks to tightly-controlled numbers of around 8,000 per year in the UK. The loading bay isn't as big as some may expect but it's still useful, and very practical, meaning it's only the compromised rear space which earns a black mark. The stereo makes up for it. Choose the Dolby Surround Pro Logic II system, for shocking, staggeringly-good sound quality. It's like sitting in an auditorium. And what if you're pressing on in a model equipped with in-built telephone, and someone wants to contact you? IDIS, or Intelligent Driver Information System, will delay the call until things are calmer. Avoiding distraction, boosting safety, and bringing fighter aircraft technology to passenger cars.
Would we buy it?
We really fell for the V50 on the test drive. It looks good, the chunky interior is well-designed, well-built and a delight to use, seats are fantastic, the 2.0-litre engine punchy, effortless and economical. Steering is ultra-accurate, handling is sharp, ride quality absorbent without excess roll or wallow. It's agile on twisty road, and a lot of fun, while also seeming near-unbeatable for long-distance comfort and refinement. It may not be quite as big as some rivals but, although this would seem a criticism for an estate car, in reality it's not. Lifestyle estates are rarely used for sheer load-lugging, but rather to support an 'active lifestyle', if you'll excuse marketing-speak. The V50 does this while also proving desirable, covetable, and a match for German rivals. As it undercuts them easily in price too, we give it our wholehearted recommendation.
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