Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

Out with the old, in with the new. At Volvo, that means the revamp of its entry-level vehicles for 2005: the revised S40 sedan retains its name, but its sister wagon is reborn as the all-new V50 – and, surprisingly, carrying a base price tag that’s $375 less than the 2004 V40 model it replaces.

Keeping it in the extended family, the new V50 is built in Belgium and based on a global platform also used for the Mazda3 and the European version of the Ford Focus. It makes for a tight, compact package that handles with great accuracy, and gives buyers an opportunity to get into the Volvo family with a vehicle that offers the practicality of a small SUV without the bulk.

The V50 comes in three choices, starting with my tester, the base 2.4i. That provides a 2.4-litre, five-cylinder, naturally-aspirated engine that powers the front wheels exclusively. The front-wheel-drive T5 uses a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder, and can be stepped up to an all-wheel-drive model, logically named the T5 AWD, which uses a Haldex system that powers the front wheels most of the time until wheel spin sends the signal to direct extra gripping strength to the rear.

Volvo often tends toward the quirky side of things, and in keeping with that, the five-cylinder is an odd little engine. It’s not entirely smooth; there’s no question that there’s internal combustion happening under that hood.

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

But it turns out 168 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque (upped to 218 hp and 236 lb-ft with the turbocharger) and seldom seems to want for power. In combined driving, I averaged 9.0 L/100 km, a reasonable amount given the passenger and cargo space the V50 makes available. Premium fuel is recommended, although not mandatory.

A five-speed automatic transmission is available, but that would mean you don’t get to enjoy the five-speed manual gearbox. Hands down, this is the smoothest, butteriest clutch upon which I have ever placed my foot. The short-throw shifter – which rows through six speeds when attached to the turbo – is equally smooth, and makes the manual V50 an absolute pleasure to drive. But there is a caveat: while everything was perfectly positioned for me, I also have very narrow feet. My husband got behind the wheel once and wouldn’t drive the car again after that; the pedals are closely spaced in the narrow footwell, and after the third time he got his size-twelves caught between them, he gave up.

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

Commands sent through the delightful soft-touch wheel head down to electro-hydraulic, speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering that executes them precisely. The suspension is MacPherson struts with springs and an anti-roll bar up front, and at the back, a multi-link rear suspension with coil springs and another roll bar. Volvo claims that the 2005 model has 68 per cent more torsional rigidity than the car it replaces, and it’s immediately obvious in the V50’s ability to take tight corners without breaking a sweat. A “comfort” chassis is standard equipment; a tighter “dynamic” chassis can be added to the 2.4i as part of a $2,900 “Sport” package that also includes power seats, 17-inch wheels and some extra trim items.

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

Inside, the V50 is a mixed bag. The seats are comfortable and roomy up front; the rear seat becomes predictably tighter once the front seats are slid backwards. There isn’t a lot of small-item storage space up front; the door pockets are tiny, and the “floating” centre stack, while extremely attractive (especially at night, when it glows blue), precludes any cubby in front of it. There’s a small area behind it, but it’s very difficult to access.

The radio and heater controls have been simplified, but they’re still not simple; for a company that’s all about safety, you spend far too much time with your eyes off the road, trying to figure out which of the tiny buttons you’re supposed to push.

There’s more storage space in the back, once you deal with the awkward cargo cover. With the rear seats in place, there’s 95 cm of storage space; remove the headrests, flip the cushions and fold the 60/40 split seats, and you’ve got 168 cm of flat cargo area.

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

Of course, this being a Volvo, there are numerous active and passive safety devices in place: anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution, side and curtain airbags, knee pads, outboard seat pretensioners, collapsible steering column and puddle lights among them. A package of traction and stability control can be added to the 2.4i, along with optional power rear door child locks, which eliminate having to flip a lever in the door jamb when alternating between adults and children in the back seats.

Standard equipment on the 2.4i includes 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, rear fog light, air conditioning, power windows, cruise control and a single CD player. It’s all covered by a 4 yr/80,000 km warranty, which includes “Volvo On Call” roadside assistance.

The V50’s compact footprint, build quality and superb handling make it a good choice for those who are looking for Volvo reputation on a budget. But test-drive it thoroughly, and think about that narrow footwell when you’re wearing winter boots. Like every car, the V50 isn’t for absolutely every driver; make sure it’s right for you.

See also Test Drive: 2005 Volvo V50 2.4i, by Greg Wilson.

Technical Data: 2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

Base price $32,120
Options $3,900 ($3,500 Premium Package of 16-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, power driver’s seat with memory, leather steering wheel and shifter knob, stability and traction control; $400 aluminum inlays)
Freight $875
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $36,995
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact wagon
Layout Transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4-litre inline 5, DOHC, 20 valves
Horsepower 168 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 170 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Tires P205/55R-16 Michelin all-season
Curb weight 1387 kg (3057 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2640 mm (103.9 in.)
Length 4514 mm (177.7 in.)
Width 1770 mm (69.6 in.)
Height 1452 mm (57.1 in.)
Ground clearance 135 mm (5.3 in.)
Cargo area 776 litres (27.4 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.9 L/100 km (26 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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