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Car reviews - Volvo - V50 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Performace, price, ride/handling, styling, ergonomics, safety, versatility, interior design
Room for improvement
Road and wind noise levels, some bump steer still evident at limit, sticky sequential shifter

20 May 2004

CHASSIS dynamics may not have been one of Volvo’s strong points in the past, but one thing the Swedish maker has always done well is produce clever, practical wagons.

Now, with the solid new S40 sedan as its base, the V50 continues Volvo’s tradition as a maker of versatile, safe and stylish wagons – but this time with a more considered level of ride quality, handling and driveability.

Like the redesigned S40, V50 makes huge leaps over its predecessor in terms of chassis dynamics and sheer driver involvement, yet unique styling, passenger comfort, cabin versatility and, above all, safety remain stand-out elements of the equation.

Beside the old V40 wagon, the V50 is a revelation, offering precise and responsive steering with a big dose of feedback and just a hint of kick and rattle at the limit. Once the bane of all Volvos, the inferior steering systems that plagued so many of its forebears seem to have been banished to the dustbin by S40/V50.

So too ride quality, which was at least questionable in S40/V40 but now rates as a strong point in the new generation - even in the firmly-sprung T5 versions.

Indeed, only noise levels remain open to question, with wind and road noise seeming to detract from V50’s otherwise well designed and isolated cabin that's clean and stylish to look at.

But while steering, ride quality, chassis solidity and that certain feeling of luxury are now a close match for class leaders like 320i Touring and C200K Estate, it’s not before time Volvo got its chassis act together. And rather than leapfrog its newer opposition, V50 merely matches it.

Yes, the novel Scandinavian seat-shaped floating centre console makes for an abundance of bragging rights at the local yacht club, the interior is typically versatile and there’s no questioning the V50’s pedigree in terms of both passive and active safety.

But while it’s eons better than before, in practical terms the front-drive V50 does not raise the benchmark for compact premium wagons.

So V50 must rely on its value and performance story to stand out from the crowd – and it’s a story that’s worth reading. Most power in class and cheapest in class are two phrases that rarely relate to the same vehicle, but in this case they both apply.

We lament the lack of metallic paint as standard and found the sequential shifter in the auto we drove a little sticky but, even in base 2.4 guise, the V50 is eager to please, accelerating with reasonable ease and traversing most road terrains without the fuss and folly of before.

The T5, meantime, is in another league, offering blistering acceleration with only a whiff of turbo lag in all five (auto) gears and putting its standard stability control to regular use when full-throttle corner exits are demanded.

The high-performance V50 T5, a logical extension of the cultural icon that the Volvo wagon has become, builds speed efficiently and effectively enough for even the fastest of families - especially in six-speed manual form.

With this quality wagon that drives much like its sedan donor car, finally Volvo has joined the ranks of well executed medium Euro wagons.

Throw in solid performance and value arguments and, supply issues aside, there’s no reason V50 shouldn’t reclaim Volvo’s dominance of the segment.

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