2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

The idea of a small, upscale sporty wagon seems rather..well, dumb. I mean, if you want a practical vehicle, why not buy a bigger wagon or a minivan? If you want sporty handling and performance with extra luxury features, why not buy a luxury coupe or a convertible? You can’t have it both ways, surely.

Well, as most of us who are over 18 have discovered by now, life is all about compromises. Unless you have a six-car garage and can afford to have a different vehicle to suit your every mood, a multi-purpose vehicle is the most practical way to meet your driving needs without going into an uncomfortable amount of debt.

Family buyers who need some cargo-carrying practicality but don’t want to give up the manoeuvrability of a small car, nimble handling, sporty styling, and luxury features, will find the Volvo V50 a surprisingly attractive compromise.

“The emphasis has been placed on attractive design and a sense of sportiness, with a ‘bonus’ in the form of practical details and extra luggage space,” said Hans-Olov Olsson, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Car Corporation when the V50 was introduced last year. “The V50 is a genuine premium car, with properties that appeal directly to young families that set demanding standards for car ownership when it comes to both design and the scope for an active lifestyle,” Olsson said.

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

The V50 is basically a wagon version of the recently-redesigned S40 sedan, and both use Ford and Mazda’s front-wheel-drive global compact car platform, also used by the Mazda3. With its unique styling, Volvo powertrains, extensive upgrades and noise-suppression modifications, the V50 is a very different car to the Mazda3. And as the smallest luxury wagon on the market, the V50 is virtually in a class of its own.

The V50’s styling obviously mimics the larger V70, but to me, the V50 is a better-looking car. It’s tighter, sleeker and very well-finished, and draws admiring glances from pedestrians and other motorists – not something I’m used to when driving a wagon. From nose to tail, the V50’s rounded body panels seem to be tightly wrapped over an inner shell creating an almost organic look.

V50 models and powertrains

2005 Volvo V50s come in base 2.4i ($32,120), turbocharged T5 ($37,120), and T5 AWD models ($39,620). The 2.4i, this week’s test wagon, has a 168 horsepower 2.4 litre inline five cylinder engine, and for the first time, is available with a standard manual five speed transmission. A five-speed automatic ‘Geartronic’ transmission is optional.

The V50 T5 features a turbocharged 218 horsepower 2.5 litre inline five cylinder with a standard 6 speed manual (borrowed from S60 R and V70 R), or an optional five speed automatic Geartronic. The T5 AWD adds Volvo’s Haldex all-wheel-drive system which distributes up to 95 per cent of engine power to either the front or rear wheels, depending on which end has the most traction.

My V50 2.4i test wagon was equipped with the optional Premium package ($3,500) which included an upgrade to Michelin 205/55R-16 tires and 16 inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power driver’s seat with memory, 3-spoke leather steering wheel, leather shift knob height adjustable/foldable passenger seat with lumbar support, stability and traction control (STC), and rear cargo cover. I also had the optional aluminum trim ($400).

With freight charges and a/c tax, the total price of my test vehicle came to $36,995.


Interior impressions


2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

Just because it’s the least expensive Volvo wagon doesn’t mean the V50’s interior gets the “short shrift”. My V50 had the optional high quality leather seats with prominent stitching, leather door inserts, and optional aluminum door handles, aluminum trim, and high quality dash plastics, but even the base model has attractive T-Tec upholstery, manually height adjustable driver’s seat, and quality dash materials. With a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a power driver’s seat that features height adjustment and manual lumbar adjustment, the driver can find a comfortable seating position without difficulty. The front passenger seat has a manual height adjustment.

In front of the driver is a thick, three-spoke steering wheel with integral cruise control functions, and two simple round gauges for the speedo and tachometer. Smaller gauges for fuel and coolant are inserted inside the larger gauges, and there’s a digital outside temperature display and clock as well.

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

The V50 has a unique ‘floating’ centre console with an open storage area behind it which is, unfortunately, rather difficult to access. What impressed me most about the instrument panel was the operation of the central LCD display screen. It displays whatever function is being adjusted by the driver: for example, if the radio volume dial is adjusted, a volume adjustment display pops up on the screen. When the heater fan speed is being adjusted, the fan speed display pops up on the display – and so on and so on. The display is large and easy to see, and the dials are easy to use – however I found the IP buttons a little small.

The V50 features variable intermittent front wipers and a fixed intermittent rear wiper and washer. One concern: the wiper stalk is very close to the steering wheel and on a couple of occasions, I accidentally activated the wipers.

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

The ignition keyhole on the dash is positioned unusually high, and I found it a bit awkward to turn the key. The key fob features remote door lock and unlock and a separate button for locking the trunk. Unlocking all the doors won’t unlock the trunk, however it can be programmed to do this as well as things like unlocking the driver’s door with one press, and all the doors with a second press.

The V50’s wagon roofline provides plenty of headroom for front and rear passengers, and there is adequate kneeroom and footroom for rear passengers in part because the front seats are raised. In addition, the V50’s rear seats are extremely comfortable: while many cars have great front seats, some scrimp on the quality of the rear seats. The V50’s rear seat has three seatbelts and three head restraints, but it’s not really wide enough for three adults. Rear passengers have a 12-volt power outlet and a folding centre armrest with two cupholders.

Interior storage space could be improved with better design. The open storage bin behind the ‘floating’ console is difficult to access and the centre storage bin between the seats is small.


Cargo area


2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

To access the cargo area, a lightweight hatch door is easy to lift up and it’s high enough for people under 5′ 10″ to stand under. The rear hatch does not have a separate opening rear window.

The cargo area is fully carpeted, a feature I like because it prevents scratches and improves the overall look of the cargo area. Inside the cargo compartment are four chrome-plated tie-down hooks, and under the floor is a temporary spare tire and a little bit of extra storage space. A sliding privacy cover is optional.

The cargo area is quite roomy for a small car. The cargo floor length to the back seat is 989 mm (39 inches), and with the rear seats folded the cargo floor length is 1766 mm (69.5 inches). With the right front passenger seatback folded flat, total length is 3,060 mm (120.4 inches). The width of the luggage compartment is 959 mm and the height is 685 mm.

To fold down the rear seatbacks, you first pull up the seat cushions to a vertical position, remove the head restraints from the seatbacks and slide them into slots provided in the top of the seat cushions, and then fold down the seatbacks flat.

The V50’s maximum payload is 450 kg, and if you want to carry a roof carrier, the maximum roof weight is 75 kg.


Driving impressions

The base 2.4 litre inline five cylinder engine is all you really need in this compact wagon. With 168 horsepower, and equipped with a manual transmission, it offers a 0 to 100 km/h time in under 9 seconds compared to the V50 T5’s 0 to 100 km/h time of about 7 seconds. This twin cam, four-valve-per-cylinder engine with continuously variable valve timing is extremely smooth – I mistakenly chose 3rd gear instead of 5th gear when entering the freeway, and after barrelling along at 100 km/h for a few minutes, I looked down at the tachometer to discover the engine doing 5000 rpm!

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

2005 Volvo V50 2.4i
Click image to enlarge

The standard five speed manual transmission is also very sweet. Shifts are short, fluid-like, and quiet. Clutch pedal effort is medium to heavy, and clutch take-up is smooth.

Fuel consumption is good: city: 10.9 L/100 km (26 mpg), and Hwy: 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg).

The ride is very comfortable. It’s front MacPherson strut and rear independent multi-link suspension combined with 16 inch tires provides excellent handling and ride comfort. Compared to the V40, the V50 offers 68 per cent more torsional rigidity and this is reflected in the solid, squeak-free ride when travelling over road undulations and potholes.

Being small, the V50 doesn’t feel cumbersome on the road like other, larger wagons. And it’s easier to fit into parking spaces and manoeuvre in city traffic. The V50’s electro-hydraulic, speed-sensitive, power rack and pinion steering is responsive and well-weighted for steering effort at both low and high speeds, and its turning circle of 10.6 metres is reasonable.

Four wheel disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and ABS are standard equipment.

My only complaint with the V50’s driving experience is that visibility to the rear is hampered by a thick rear C-pillar and a right rear head restraint that partially obstructs vision. However, with some creative head turning, it is possible to see cars in your blind spot.


Safety

As you’d expect with Volvo, safety has been given a high priority. In 35 mph frontal crash tests conducted by the National Highway Safety Administation, the V50 received four stars for the driver and five stars for the front passengers. In side impact crash tests, both right front passenger and right rear passenger received five star ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn’t tested the V50 yet, but the S40 sedan they tested was judged a “Best Pick”.

The V50 features collapsible pedals, deformable steering column, seatbelt pre-tensioners for four outboard passengers, seatbelt force limiters for front occupants, dual-stage front airbags, and Volvo’s SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) which includes side-impact airbags, curtain airbags, reinforced tubular beams between the A-pillars, diagonal beams of high strength steel in the doors and significantly reinforced B-pillars. Additionally, rear-impact safety is enhanced by the WHIPS head restraint whiplash protection system.


Pricing and options


Like many luxury cars, the base price of the V50 can increase substantially with options and option packages. Individual options include a 5-speed automatic Geartronic transmission ($1,500); power glass sunroof ($1,500), 16 inch tire and wheel package ($500) or 17 inch tire and wheel package ($1,000), aluminium trim ($400), wood trim ($400); laminated side windows ($600); child booster seats ($500); navigation system ($2,500); and bi – xenon headlights ($1,000),

Various options can be combined in packages such as the Sport Package ($2,900), Dynamic package ($5,300), Convenience package ($600), Climate package ($900), Audio package ($1,400). See Volvo’s Canadian web-site, www.volvocanada.com for details.


Verdict

A stylish, high quality small wagon with great driving manners, excellent safety features, and reasonable cargo space. Options can boost the base price substantially, though.

The Volvo V50 is built in Ghent, Belgium.


Technical Data: 2005 Volvo V50 2.4i

Base price $32,120
Options $3,900 (Aluminum trim $400; Premium package $3,500 Michelin 205/55R-16 tires and 16 inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power driver’s seat with memory, 3-spoke leather steering wheel, leather shift knob height adjustable/foldable passenger seat with lumbar support, stability and traction control (STC), cargo cover.)
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 5 cylinder, DOHC, 20 valves, CVVT
Horsepower 168 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 170 ft-lbs @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual or opt. 5 speed automatic Geartronic
Curb weight 1387 kg (3058 lb.)
Wheelbase 2640 mm (103.9 in.)
Length 4514 mm (177.7 in.)
Width 1770 mm (69.7 in.)
Height 1452 mm (57.2 in.)
Cargo area 776 litres (behind rear seats)
Fuel consumption City: 10.9 L/100 km (26 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
  Hwy: 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca