2005 Volvo V50 T5 AWD Wagon
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Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Quebec City – We always knew that the Swedes were good at making cars for the snow – with a climate as harsh as theirs, of course they would be – but who knew they could be this much fun?

I’m swishing around an ice racing track just outside of Quebec City in a new all-wheel-drive, turbocharged Volvo V50 wagon, and I have to tell you, this is the time of my life. Unlike other Volvos, the V50’s traction and stability control go off the moment you touch the switch, and the combination of a turbocharged 218-hp five-cylinder engine, close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, and electronically-controlled Haldex all-wheel-drive system means it’s a cinch to pitch the new Volvo wagon into a corner at lurid angles and hold it there with a little bit of throttle and steering. A fairly conservative driver at heart, I’m not normally a practitioner of the sideways school of driving, but it’s so easy and manageable in this new Volvo that it would almost be a crime not to.

2005 Volvo V50 T5 AWD Wagon

2005 Volvo V50 T5 AWD Wagon

2005 Volvo V50 T5 AWD Wagon
Click image to enlarge

Driving instructors I’ve had in the past have told me that the way a car behaves in the snow is the same way it will behave on dry pavement, with the difference that things happen a lot more slowly when you’re on the slippery stuff. Which means that the V50’s performance on a frozen lake bodes very well for its performance in less-demanding conditions. Indeed, on normal roads, it’s as secure, comfortable, and controllable as you would hope, with terrific steering, strong brakes, and finely-balanced handling that let you maintain a pretty serious pace even on slick pavement. Like all Swedish cars, there’s ultimately a cushioning layer of softness that robs the V50 of sports-car feel, but that’s very much a product of it having to traverse frozen gravel roads at high speeds in its home country. Besides, let’s face it, the vast majority of our driving situations are better served by a bit of insulation behind the wheel, rather than the ultimate in directness and communication. As a family hauler as well as a fun car, the V50 strikes a very good balance.

Indeed, the V50 is a pretty well-balanced car all around, covering the needs of wagon-hood (and all of the practicality and versatility that entails) along with the entertainment factor necessary of a premium car targeted at young, up-and-coming buyers. It’s a compact package, but thanks to upright seats and a fairly tall roof, there’s lots of space inside, and the rear compartment is fitted with all the expected Volvo amenities: a cargo storage bin under the floor that flips up to hold grocery bags upright; rear seats that fold flat to expand the storage area; and attachment points for various options from a cargo net to a dog cage.

2005 Volvo V50 T5 AWD Wagon
Click image to enlarge

Up front, passengers are well taken care of, too: there’s an intriguing selection of leathers and neoprene-like fabrics to choose from, and the way-cool “floating” centre console can be had in either wood or brushed metal; either way, the controls it houses for the climate and killer entertainment systems are amongst the easiest-to-use in the business.

While we’re focusing on the $39,620 ($43,000 as-tested) all-wheel drive T5 model here, the V50 is available in two other trim options: a $32,120 2.4i five-cylinder, and a $37,120 T5.

2005 Volvo V50 T5 AWD Wagon
Click image to enlarge
Those prices may seem a bit high for what is, let’s not forget, Volvo’s smallest wagon – especially when base V70 models start around where the V50 T5 begins. On the other hand, the V50 is an unexpectedly roomy car, and its smaller size makes it a better fit for urban environments without sacrificing usability; it’s based on a modern platform that is more nimble, responsive, and fun-to-drive than the larger models; and has superior technology, which isn’t a surprise when you remember that the current V70 has been around for five years now. The technology manifests itself in the small things – a key fob/transponder that doesn’t have an actual metal key to tear a hole in your pocket – to larger items like the sophistication and subtlety displayed by the chassis’ electronics. On the downside, some high-tech is still reserved for the more expensive models in Volvo’s line-up, primary among them the second generation of the electronically-controlled Four-C chassis system.

2005 Volvo V50 T5 AWD Wagon
Click image to enlarge

Volvo is a brand on the move. Each successive iteration of its new vehicles goes further away from its staid, safety-first image to a much more rounded brand which integrates style, technology, and driving entertainment along with the security and solidity that you’ve always expected from a Volvo. Indeed, the V50’s trademark bluff nose and broad shoulders – now characteristics of the entire Volvo line-up – are indicative of the company’s newfound confidence in its products and in the direction it is taking. With interest in the company’s all-wheel-drive offerings having risen from around 14% of sales in 1999 to almost 60% now, it’s no wonder that Volvo expects the V50 T5 AWD to be a major success.

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