By on October 22, 2007

12087_2_1.jpgSharing 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.

12083_2_12.jpgVolvo 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.

12078_2_1.jpgOur 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.

12079_2_1.jpgWindy 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.

12086_2_1.jpgIf 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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39 Comments on “Volvo V50 Review...”

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    This is a great looking car, and I love the real wood trim. But it’s smallish, and it’s dangerously close in price to the much larger VW Passat VR6 4motion with 280 hp.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    I agree, the Passat is competition, but after driving both back to back the Passat’s road manners are not quote up to the V50’s level. In T5 AWD trim the behaviour of the V50 is truly surprising. I’m not claiming BMW performance, but possibly knocking on the Audi A3’s door. I have to say I applaud Volvo for going IKEA on us with the wood trim. I’m not sure if I like it yet, but in a world stuffed with highly polished burl something, it is a refreshing departure.

  • avatar

    That’s the problem I have with this car. While I love segment busting offerings, I’d consider either saving a few grands and getting a C30/A3, saving even more and getting the other platform mate the Mazda 3, or stepping up a bit and getting an A4 avant.

  • avatar

    This is really Jetta segment, if we’re making the VW comparo. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the current Passat is larger inside than the Volvo S80. Apart from price, I see no relation here. This is quite a chunk of change for what you get, IMHO.

    Great looking car, though.

  • avatar

    What a beautiful automobile.

  • avatar

    I am glad it is not the same size as the Passat. I wouldn’t want anything larger. I just wish it was a bit better featured.

    The center console controls doesn’t look avant garde, they look irritating to use. And the cubby thing is a big deal, this is a wagon, not a boxster.

    But actually the compressed nature of the car makes it better looking than the 70, it just works better being a bit stubbier.

    Now if they only had an XC version, that would be great!

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    +1 on the XC version. Volvo, are you listening? XC50 sometime soon?

    The centre controls are actually a bit easier to use than they look. The auto climate control works well and is very “set and forget” in nature. The traditional Volvo “body” shaped icon is intuitive and truth be told the radio controls are not half bad. The sound the radio put out (with the Dynaudio package) more than makes up for the control ergonomics. Still, don’t get me wrong, this is certainly form over function at work here.

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    Can it fit three kids in carseats in the back? Probably not. Not many “fun to drive” cars under $30K can. Or $40K for that matter. Heck, maybe $50K because you have to buy the top-of-the-line sedan these days to get a wide back seat AND decent performance.
    Love the car, but had to pass…the V70 is too dear for my budget. And the XC90? Puke!

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Nope, unless you have some really small kids seats. You can however get the two integrated two-stage child booster seats in the rear and put one child seat in the centre. That of course only helps is your kids are old enough for boosters.

  • avatar

    The t5 v50 price versus the c30 base model (which only comes with the t5). Do 2 doors really cost that much?

  • avatar

    Matthew Danda:
    Can it fit three kids in carseats in the back? Probably not.

    C1 platform-mate Mazda5 can do the 3 (or 4) kids in car seats with the 3rd row up, but cargo space then shrinks dramatically and the interior is threadbare. Mine cost less than half of what the V50 tester did, so can’t complain.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    We own a V50 T5 AWD automatic (only way I could get it), and I really like the car–my criteria go 1/wagon, 2/wintertime snowtire awd, 3/performance, 4/make, 5/what it looks like (last of all, obviously)–but beware, fuel economy is horrible. We live in a rural area of New York’s Hudson River Valley, where heavy traffic means five cars in front of you at one of the rare stoplights, and our average mpg is 21.6, which for a 2.5-liter engine of moderate hp I think is lousy. Granted it’s AWD with an automatic, but still, this is 2007.

  • avatar

    I have to say I applaud Volvo for going IKEA on us with the wood trim.

    I dunno if Ikea would be the correct analogy. Ikea furniture has been proven to survive one or two residential relocations. Anything more than that, and it’ll fall apart surprisingly quickly.

    I hope their dashboard can last longer than my entertainment center did.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Not sure I understand what your experience with furniture has to do with an automobile, unless the fact that my last Braun coffeemaker sucked suggests that Porsches do too.

  • avatar

    Stephen, I’ve heard tales of woe about the t5 mileage in the volvo small cars. That engine is torquey with the turbo, but a miser it aint.

    All the more reason I think volvo should start using the MZR mazda 4 in turbo trim in all of their small cars. And get mazda to use the T5 or T6 in the bigger cars instead of that dismal ford v6. But instead volvo peddles image without any frugality.

    Or bring the D5 over, but you know, dead horse.

  • avatar

    I like everything about this car, but that mileage is seriously bad. You get only one more without the turbo. Something has to be seriously wrong somewhere. Is the engine air cooled? Are the cylinders used? Seriously.

    If it were actually fast, I would understand, but 7 seconds is no big feat, and that’s the turbo!

    GEMorris has a good idea, swap that engine. Sell one with 29 city that is Volvo slow, and another one with 20 city that is a second faster. Until then there are a bunch of colleges that want their degrees back.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The D5 diesel Volvo uses for their S80 sedan in Europe would be an exceptional fit for the V50. Volvo actually uses that engine for all their AWD 5-speed S80’s and the low end torque would be a huge plus for the V50’s 35 and under demographic in the US.

    Unfortunately the environmental rules in the States don’t take too kindly to most diesel technology. Que sera sera

  • avatar

    7 seconds isn’t that bad for a wagon with just 227 hp, but 19/27 mpg for the FWD version is atrocious. I assume the AWD version would get even worse mileage, as it should be heavier

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Ford may be so desperate and Volvo so lucky, that soon it may indeed be spun off, perhaps back into the loving lap of Volvo AG, still happily making trucks and heavy machinery. But Alex, for the love of God, please call Volvo what it is: a marque, an automotive marque.

    Volvo is not now, nor will ever be, a brand. Colgate is a brand, Fritos is a brand and Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Doctor Pepper are all brands.

    The honchos who were brought over to General Motors in the Nineties, from soft drink companies and such, started all this brand business; and it’s about time it ended. Despite what the general public might feel, automobiles are not disposable commodities. Rather they are machinery imbued with the heart and soul of their creators.

    I doubt anyone, back in the thirties, or even now, would refer to Bugatti, Delahaye or Delage as “brands.”

  • avatar

    Don’t sweat the mileage–well, at least the highway mileage. In my experience, the EPA test gives lousy numbers for turbo cars. My EPA 31mpg GTi actually gets 33mpg on the highway, and the EPA 27mpg V40T5 gets 31mpg on the highway.

    As for the comparison with the 4Motion Passat…I owned one. Junk. That car’s steering is in the dictionary under “how adding all-wheel-drive can F-up a car” There is no comparison. Unless you’ve got so much stuff crammed into a V50 that you’re popping out the windows, you don’t need the bigger and crappier Passat. If your passengers complain about elbow room, tell them to buck up and be glad you aren’t making them walk.

    The buttons on the center console are stupid, though. Even after living with the V50 for a while, I never could just touch what i wanted without taking my eyes off the road like i can in the GTI. So much for safety…

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Just be thankful that Ford’s platform sharing is rather loose compared to, say, GM. While the Volvo, Mazda and Ford vehicles use the same platform, in reality very few parts are shared and even the structure of the car is different which explains the much higher Euro NCAP results the Volvo receives.

  • avatar

    Great review Alex. The tone here is more somber and sensible than that of the C30’s, also well writ.

    Volvo cars were never really known for exceptional fuel mileage… they tend to be heavier cars, generally attributed to their added safety equipment and structural reinforcements. However, the 5-cyl turbo wasn’t supposed to be a frugal engine.

    As for handling in the twisties, I’m glad you found it to predictable. I gather they’ve tweaked the suspension for the ’08 refresh. Most reviewers complain about understeer in the heavier front drivers, but Volvo’s AWD option should inspire confidence while pushing the limits.

  • avatar

    Actually this is IMHO the best family car you can buy in the USA.
    The V50 actually comes most of the time with integrated booster seats so you can fit 2 car seat and a 4 years old child. or 2 4years+ old children plus one car seat in the middle. So unless you reproduce like a rabbit and have 3 children less than 3 years old you do not have a problem fitting them in this vehicle.

    Now, echoing the comment above about the diesel mill. The 5-pots diesel 2.5L offered in Europe is so much superior to its gasoline counterpart that i do not know where to start. Bloody CAFE!!!!
    Another thing :
    Volvo has so much more “Cachet” than VW that it is hard to compare…

  • avatar

    Volvo has so much more “Cachet” than VW that it is hard to compare…

    Hmmmm. In the US, I’d place them neck-in-neck: both unreliable, expensive-for-their-class, and quirky. Volvo gets the nod for “most likely to have Kerry ’04 sticker on bumper,” while VW suffers from “generic college girl’s car” status (namely, Jetta).

    But seriously, from my days in multi-brand sales, no two marques generated as much ire from the service department. With VW, it was always “looks like another MAF/oxygen/etc sensor” and Volvo was always “looks like another $400 cubby hole door.” Both had insanely high parts prices and appealed to the same segments of buyers, in my personal experience–Volvo moreso targeted towards young, flashy, conspicuous consumption families (right there with the Land Rover Disco)

  • avatar


    I recall doing the math on integrated booster seats when shopping for a car the last time around. Unless the car is really compelling, it’s just not worth it – a top booster seat is $100-$150/per and can be moved from car to car.

  • avatar

    Just priced one out for giggles and WHOA! that’s a spicy meatball! Id have a pretty hard time justifying this over a subaru outback both in lower end as well as the upper end trim levels.

  • avatar

    The VW comparison is valid, however, VW’s have had some serious quality issues. I’d take a slightly more expensive version of a VW that actually is reliable any day of the week.

  • avatar

    great review! I just bought one so was nice to see it hold up on TTAC. 4 stars is about right. Coupla comments–

    At $35K+ for the turbo, I would probably think hard about the A4 avant, but I paid $25K for a 2007 2.4i last week, and at that price, nothing beats the Fiddy (for me). Coming from a 2000 Mk IV Golf, the 170 horses feel more than adequate and the build quality is outstanding. Full disclosure: I am the target demo for this car, late 30’s, one kid, another on the way, and most of all, urban dweller who parks on the street. And this is why the Passat fell off the list — it’s 11 inches longer than the Fiddy, and therefore harder to park. Since there is no current Jetta Vagon (Spring 08? Maybe?) what were my choices? Forester, but worse mileage and worse cabin and only the Sport has stability control, and it looks like a Matchbox car. How about the Civic wagon? Oops, there isn’t one, just the CRV, no thanks. Matrix? Eh. Mazda3? Smaller and crashier than the V, tho prob. more fun. Mazda5? Dustbuster. And around this time I got sick of looking and bought the V50 with seats made from frogmen and an outrageous stereo. Oh, and the space behind the console is great for stashing the EZPass and iPod. Last point–in the TTAC V40 review, the car is considered the inheritor to the 240 lineage. If you look at it this way, and not as an alternative to an M5, the Fiddy makes sense–a rock solid, quick enough, truly useful, well designed smallish wagon, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    My biggest problem with the V50 was the lack of interior storage and rear-seat space. You get a tiny center-console cubby and glovebox, and a rear seat that makes a Subaru WRX look like a Roadmaster.

    That, and the manual transmission has a horrible blind-gate balkiness on the 4-5 upshift.

    Otherwise, this is one of my favorite wagons going. Love the anvil-solid structure, firm steering, solid door thunks, stiffish ride, and turbo whistle. It’s amazing how much proper Volvo personality was stuffed into this shared-platform package.

  • avatar

    if i had 30-odd grand to spend on a car, a V50 T5 would probably be among my top 3 choices. But I love Volvos, so duh. What an amazing “do it all” car – fun to drive, solidly built, very attractive, haul a bunch of stuff… just awesome.

  • avatar


    I hear that, and almost a preowned 325 too–but 4 year old bimmers don’t have all the airbags (I think) and ESC (I know) that are in the V50. We were just crashed into for no good reason (in a Golf. With my pregnant wife and toddler.), so safety was top priority. For me it came down to –preowned A4, preowned V70 or brand new V50 for basically the same money. I (heart) the eurowagons.

  • avatar

    From a value perspective, I would choose a Mazda 6 Wagon. I recently traded my 6 wagon for a Volvo, though (XC90).

    The Mazda seems like a tin can by comparison (at least compared to the S40 loaner that I drove for a week). I like the V50 and would probably shell out the extra cash over the Mazda if I had to do it again.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    Great review. My mother loves her S40 T5 sedan. The opportunity to drive it is one of the things I look forward to whenever I visit. Is that wrong? So far, in two years it’s been rock solid reliable. While I love the design of the interior floating panel, it would be nice if they had offered Ipod connectivity and bluetooth in 05. But other than that, she loves how it performs at stoplights. It’s bright red with the sports appearance package and she loves how she get’s compliments on it at gas stations and valet parking. It’s no wonder this has been a huge hit for Volvo.

  • avatar

    Volvos are my most desirable vehicles that I will never buy.

    Unless they figure out one thing: pricing! They always screw up the pricing / trim-level / options / packages part of their models.

    I fell in love with the look and promise of the C30… then (here in Canada), you price it out, and suddenly you’re awful close to an Infiniti G35 Coupe.

    The V50 Wagon reviewed here seems great, then you add AWD, which gets you the topline model (only way to have it), and you’re far above the price of a more desirable Audi A4 Avant.

    And so on up and down the line. Silly.

  • avatar
    Captain Neek

    Somehow, somewhere, the point is missed that this is a FAMILY wagon, i.e. you’re gonna use it to transport your kids around.

    Now, in the greater scheme of things, what’s more important – 0-60; MPG or *****Euro NCAP?

    C’mon guys, get real. You purchase a Volvo to protect your loved ones in the event of an accident.

    And THAT’S why the arguments around $5k, MPG, pre-owned BMW’s and a second here or there are completely and utterly meaningless.

    The fact that this wagon’s a looker merely sweetens the safety on offer…

  • avatar

    Just try finding one of these babies in the states. It is, according to one dealer, the unicorn.

    Top selling wagon in Europe. So Volvo in their wisdom allotted 20% of production to the US. Also because they want us in the ass-ugly new XC (I own the previous model XC70) or the wacky expensive 90 SUV.

    I drove this car in 04 and loved it. I want it this time around, but sadly can’t find the ’08. The 07 and earlier cars have significantly less storage in the car and less HP for the T5.

    As for the reliability: I think these cars rank way above most VW/Audi models in terms of reliability. Anecdotal? Sure. But a quick peek at the ranking sites verifies that one. Don’t know about BMW (but would quickly bet a 4 year old BMW couldn’t handle 5000 miles without a major service call). Land Rover? hahahahaha.

    There is a site out there for moms who test drive cars. This car is one of their TOP PICKS.

    Now if I could find one…

    PS: The person claiming Volvo isn’t a brand is dead wrong. It’s a brand as much as it is a marque and arguably one of the strongest auto brands in the world. Anyone who thinks Ford and other companies don’t value that as an asset with real hard numbers isn’t paying attention. The very name. What image does it bring up? ‘Nuff said.

  • avatar

    I got v50 last summer. I was looking for a wagon. Unfortunately there are few of them on the market.
    I was looking for a quality, comfort,style and mpg. I tested BMW 327 for about an hour- it’s very uncomfortable and poorly handled car compare to V50. MB doesn’t sell wagons anymore. I had SAAB in mind but didn’t test it. I also tried new c30- it looks nice but it’s just not serious for 30k.
    Eventually- the local dealer had only one V50. It was a demo car with 1500mi. It has premium, sport and climate packages i.e. everything u can order extra. 2.4i. The only thing I would opt out is sport suspencion and 17” wheels but…it’s not so bad after all. The sticker was 32500, I got it for 26000. How could I resist? So I bought it.
    It’s quiet, the handling is exceptional. I live on hills with curvy roads therefore handling is important. I didn’t want sport suspension at the first place but I found it helpful in my situation. Yes it could be shacky sometimes(rarely) but not as bad as you can find in some reviews. It’s sportY not sport one.
    Fuel consumption- the trip computer shows highway average 31, i did my own calculations- same number. It’s 26mpg in mixed cycle, about 50/50 with steep hills except highways. The are no traffic jams for me! My one-way commute is 15 minutes. I fill up the tank every other Friday. I costs me about 30-32 dollars, medium grade.
    I took V50 for a long 8-9 ride and found it extremely comfortable for long journeys. I didn’t feel tired!
    If u can get fully loaded v50 for

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    joseph w

    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.

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