Volvo V50 Review

volvo v50 review

Sharing a platform with a Ford Focus is something you’d probably want to keep under wraps; kind of like that cousin with webbed toes and twelve fingers. Fortunately, the latest Volvo V50 is actually the ritzy cousin of that much-lauded obscure object of desire (at least for Americans): the Euro Focus. As the V50/S40 accounts for a third of Volvo’s global sales, this is a good thing. But do good genetics make the V50 a good car, or does this smorgasbord of multinational automaking represent a sad swansong for Ford’s about to be divorced Swedish brand?

On first glance, the V50 looks like a size-12 V70 station wagon in a size-four dress. At second glance the V50 appears to be a micro-S80 wagon, or an XC90 that’s been stepped on. No matter how you slice it, dice it or squash it, the V50’s brand DNA is unmistakable. In a sea of four-wheeled blandness and disjointed styling, the Volvo’s sheetmetal’s is as cohesive as it is attractive; save, perhaps the rear sloping roofline. OK: that forward leaning rear window line is a bit goofy-looking. But the V50’s restrained detailing— from its tower of power rear brake lights to the retrained family face— make up for any unpleasant awkwardness.

Volvo has replaced the old “that’s-like-so-80s” interior with the requisite Scandinavian chic. A stylish not to say stylized console– finished in faux metal, aluminum, iPod white or optional Nordic oak (shown)– dominates the V50’s cabin. Clearly (or not so clearly), Volvo arranged this “floating” design for maximum symmetry rather than ergonomic safety. Four identically shaped dials join a phalanx of closely-grouped black buttons to translate high touch into high anxiety. What’s more, the designers rectified the paucity of interior storage is by placing a cubby behind the centre console stack. Interesting…

When you finally stop playing with the [optional] fold-up/pop-up nav system and depress or raise the door lock buttons, you suddenly realize Ford’s desire to take Volvo upmarket didn’t make it this far down the food chain. While 2008 brings forth new cup holder and armrest designs, the V50’s bean counters blew off Bluetooth and skimped where they could. Penalty box aversive drivers are advised to opt for the Dolby Pro Logic sound system. The V50 may not have the tactile satisfaction or gadgetry goodness of its German rivals, but ABBA never sounded so good.

Our V50 tester was powered by Volvo’s ubiquitous 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbo (which also adds 17” wheels to the package). The odd-numbered mill spools-up nine more horses than before (227hp) and 236 ft-lbs of torque. Oomph's delivered with typical Volvo aplomb: power starts early, crescendos late and makes some wonderful noise in between.

Although the V50’s quick rather than pin-your- Labradors-to-the-rear-window fast– zero to 60mph takes seven seconds– the Swedish wagonette’s in-gear acceleration is plenty punchy. Whatever grunt’s underfoot is instantly yours for the taking. Besides, you gotta think the average V50 intender gladly sacrifices a bit of forward thrust for the resulting 19/27mpg mileage (front wheel-drive trim).

That said, Volvo claims that 45 percent of V50 buyers are less than 35 years old. To cater to these young (and young at heart) drivers, Volvo’s blessed the V50 with some seriously entertaining road manners.

Windy roads reveal crisp, linear and predictable manners; impressive grip and drama-free braking. The V50 snags the Getrag six-speed manual from the R-series instead of the tired corporate five-speed; this six cog row-box will have you snick-snick-snicking through the gears with a smile all the way to IKEA. Unfortunately, the snatchy Volvo clutch is along for the ride– without the 300hp R engine to make up for it.

No Volvo would be complete without a plethora of safety equipment and more alphabet soup than Campbell's test kitchen. The Swedish au pairs include: DSTC, ABS, EBA, EBFD, SIPS, WHIPS, IC and the acronym-less collapsible steering column. New acronyms for 2008 include EBL (Emergency Brake Lights, they flash if you stop fast) and BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) so you don’t have to look over your shoulder like everyone else.

If that’s not enough, Volvo’s IDIS system “inspired by aircraft” will sense when you are in a “challenging driving situation” and will delay warning lamps and ignore phone calls (Europe only) until your driving style has returned to a civilized plod. Oh, and Volvo’s Intelligent Vehicle Architecture (VIVA) uses four different grades of steel and results in markedly improved Euro NCAP crash results vs. its corporate cousins.

In terms of performance, utility and quality, Volvo’s sprightly V50 wagon is as close to a Euro-Focus wagon as you can get stateside— only better. In fact, the V50 is only a hair away from lifestyle load-lugging perfection and about 80hp shy of pistonhead perfection (all wheel drive). If the V50 turns out to be part of Volvo’s swansong, well, at least it can carry a tune.

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  • Ketmeister Ketmeister on Mar 26, 2008

    I am a big Euro wagon fan but this is my first Volvo. Honestly, never thought in a million years I'd own a Volvo being a German car fan. I've had my V50 T5 for about 8 months now, driven it 15Kmi, and absolutely love it. I bought the car on a whim over the 328iT as my daily run about. The V50 is extremely good looking but low key. It allows me to drive fast and not call attention to myself. Although not as smooth as BMW’s straight six, the turbo five has pretty good grunt. Its well built and feels like its gonna last. Overall quality is excellent despite some cheap looking parts but I guess thats unavoidable being a subsidiary of a car company who’s use to making cars for rental fleets. Some interior components feel a tad cheap and plasticy especially for its price. As far as driving dynamics, its very competent and confident inspiring similar to a Merc C-class. Understeer is minimal despite being front wheel drive. Good compromise between ride comfort and performance. Absolutely no regrets.

  • Joseph w Joseph w on Apr 07, 2013

    In May 2009 I bought a vehicle Volvo V50 D5. After a year of exploitation I noticed that oil level was raising in the oil sump all the time. This occurred even when driving long distances. I was taking my car to service stations as the message "engine service required" was appearing all the time. I wrote a letter to Volvo but received answers like: "Volvo Car UK would take into consideration the vehicle history in the unlikely event of any future problems" next “I am sorry that you have had problems with your vehicle... I would be happy to pay for your next service" next “VCUK could look to put a two year extended warranty on the vehicle" next “Explain the situation and allow them time for investigation" next “I do not believe that we are awaiting the outcome of an investigation on your vehicle". My case went to court. Joint expert was called who wrote that it is normal. Diesel/fuel which enters the oil sump does not affect the deterioration of engine lubrication because diesel fuel has good lubrication properties. Losing the case so please help. Maybe someone from Volvo users has similar problems or knows a reliable and independent expert who will determine the impact of contaminated engine oil on engine wear.

  • Islander800 That is the best 20-year-on update of the Honda Element that I've ever seen. Strip out the extraneous modern electronic crap that adds tens of thousands to the price and the completely unnecessary 400 pd/ft torque and horse power, and you have a 2022 Honda Element - right down to the neoprene interior "elements" of the Element - minus the very useful rear-hinged rear doors. The proportions and dimensions are identical.Call me biased, but I still drive my west coast 2004 Element, at 65K miles. Properly maintained, it will last another 20 years....Great job, Range Rover!
  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Corey. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
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