Test Model: 2006 Volvo V50 T5 AWD with Six-speed manual transmission.
- Body kit – no price as yet – it looks natural, so maybe, depending on price
- Laminated side windows - $490 – yes, but should be standard kit on this car
- Metallic Paint -$1350 – probably, but I’d take a look at the four no-cost colours first.
Recommended Retail Price: $57,950 there is no additional charge for the Five-speed Geartronic Auto and that’s something other car makers should be adopting.
On Road Price: Around $65,000
Where it sits: It’s the top spec in the V50 range although this model starts at: $42,950 for the V50 S
Quite possibly, one of the world’s best lifestyle wagons, with enough performance DNA to satisfy the keenest drivers.
Volvo has been building safe cars since 1927, I mean these guys invented the three-point seat belt back in 1959 and have continued to lead the way in automotive safety in both cars and now SUVs.
Contrary to popular belief though, Volvo has built, and continues to build, cars which are exciting to drive with performance, a key ingredient. Don’t laugh, many a time when driving the “hot” Volvo 850 R, in loud Canary yellow, in the mid 1990’s did I notice gob struck drivers who seemed outraged that a Volvo family car would dare pass them on the highway. And pass them I did, with ease. The 850 R, although box shaped, even handled well, with minimal body roll when pressed hard into corners.
Of course at the same time, Volvo was racing two 850 family wagons in the super competitive and downright aggressive, British Touring Car series, and even won a couple of rounds. When they switched to the Volvo S40 in 1998, they did the unthinkable. They won it!
If you’re still not convinced, even Brocky raced an 850. Game over.
The fact is, and don’t let anyone tell you any different, Volvo build stylish cars which go hard and sound good.
Take the V50 T5 AWD which I tested recently. To properly describe this car, you would have to call it a sports wagon or Estate, as they call them in other parts of the globe.
Volvo builds Estates that look better than most sedans, including their own. They wrote the book on stylish wagons and have been doing so, since their first attempt in 1971, which was the gorgeous P1800ES. The car was designed off the P1800 sports car made famous by the TV series, The Saint, staring Roger Moore. Younger crew will have heard of this guy, from the more recent Hollywood movie of the same title, staring Val Kilmer, who incidentally, also drove a quick Volvo.
HOW IT GOES
I tested the six-speed manual version, which only about fifteen percent of buyers choose. I actually thought it would be less, given Australia is fast becoming like the US, where manual shifts are a factory option. The five-speed Geartronic Auto with manual shift capability, is the preferred choice in this country. Don’t get me wrong, the six-speed close ratio box in this car is a fine piece of engineering and dead easy to use (foot peddles are too small for my liking) but if you have to crawl to work each day, in bumper-too-bumper traffic, then my money would be on the auto.
The V50 T5 AWD is a reasonably serious sports machine. Under the bonnet is a transversely-mounted, 2.5 litre turbocharged, five-cylinder, all aluminium engine pumping out 162kW and a decent 320Nm dose of the all important torque.
Turbo-lag is virtually non existent, even when you engage the lead foot and give this car some serious hurry-up. More a Volvo thing, with light turbo boost, paired up with a fairly high compression ratio which works it all out smoothly, making the V50 an easy car to live with. There’s no torque steer to speak of, nor would you expect any, with Volvo’s clever Haldex drive system, determining how much power is needed at front or rear wheels.
It’s quiet too. Even shifting at near redline, you can barely hear the engine working, apart from a soft growl and road and wind noise barely register. All this, mated to smooth gearbox, with a properly wide torque band, allows the V50 T5 AWD to put its considerable power down without fuss and within seconds, you are hurtling towards your destination at a rapid pace. Zero to 100km/h takes a fraction over seven seconds and you’ll top out at a swift 230km/h, on a race track, we hope. If you feel the need to drive a compact, five-door family wagon at a speed higher than this, then you might try some specialised therapy.
HOW IT HANDLES
One of the best handling cars I drove in 2005 was the Volvo S40 T5 AWD. If the Super Touring Car series was still around in Australia, the S40 T5 would be a contender. You know why? Because chassis tuning experience from the power packed S60 R formed the basis of both the S40 and V50 cars, and Volvo was out to exceed handling performance and steering control of previous cars.
What you probably didn’t know, and one of the reasons why Volvo wagons are so sorted in the driveability department, is that they are designed ahead of the sedan version. With the S40 and V50 sharing just about everything, I was expecting similar road manners from the V50, notwithstanding its estate body.
I can think of very few family wagons or sedans for that matter, with the cornering versatility and general ride characteristics of the V50 T5 AWD. Superior handling is only possible if the steering is precise and drivers get enough feedback from the steering wheel. There are more than a few performance cars around which might go like the clappers, but share a common vagueness in the steering, which undermines the package. Mitsubishi’s EVO 1X is the benchmark in this department although, perhaps a little too precise for a station wagon.
Steering on the V50 is electro-hydraulic which provides a high level of driver feedback along with exceptional steering control and feel.
Suspension settings on this car are a little firmer than on non-turbo versions of the V50, but the reasonably compliant ride, doesn’t suffer unduly with the upgrade.
I tried several times to unsettle this car through some tricky chicanes, but that was never going to happen. Chassis tuning and AWD are a couple of reasons. Another, is due to Dynamic Stability Traction Control, Volvo’s take on stability control which ensures the car maintains its line through bends, with minimal body roll.
Whilst the brake discs aren’t massive, they are absolutely sound. After all, Volvo is the Ministry of Safe, and stopping in the shortest possible distance, is a company pre-requisite.
After the P1800 ES, Audi was known as the carmaker that built elegant and stylish wagons/estates particularly with their 100 series Avants, as they call their wagon versions.
Volvo retained the crown in 1993 with the launch of the pretty 850 Wagon and in my opinion, has retained its position on the throne ever since.
The V50 T5 AWD is pure Swedish elegance. Broad shoulders, curvaceous and aerodynamic, with a few sports styling cues to let you know that this car is ‘different” from the rest of the flock.
It’s mostly about subtlety with this car although, the seventeen inch alloys along with twin, large diameter exhaust pipes, give you a hint, but nothing too obvious.
The front light assembly with the Bi-Xenon’s look twenty-first century and the high-set, V70 style rear lights add strength to the overall look.
The roofline curves away slightly at the rear of the car which adds to the sleek design of this car, as does the roof rails which of course are a useful bit of kit when talking wagons.
Although elegant, the V50 T5 AWD has a robust, Volvo look about it, and that’s something you wouldn’t want them to loose.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
“If you want to be innovative, there’s no point in looking at what the competition is doing” is what Volvo’s Design Director said when discussing the interior design of the V50, “it is far more valuable to look at what there are not doing” he went on to say.
Climbing inside the V50 T5 AWD for the first time is like walking into one of those Scandinavian design stores. Every component inside this car appears to reflect cutting edge design, in appearance, function and operation.
The ‘piece de resistance’ is the free floating central console, which houses all the major switchgear. It’s an ultra-thin, free standing piece, with a brushed aluminium face that looks more like a Bang & Olufson audio control unit. I don’t quite know how they engineered this, but the design is light years ahead of the competition.
Comfort plus, is how you would describe the sports seats in the V50 T5 AWD. Volvo understands ergonomics and orthopaedics so driver and passengers alike; will appreciate the design of these pews especially after hours in the car. The only point I need to make here is that in a “go fast’ variant such as the T5 AWD, I would like a little more side bolster support in the driver’s seat.
There’s a nice continuation of the ‘real’ brushed aluminium inlays around the electric window lifts and door handles, together with the gearshift, on the auto. That’s a pleasant change from the metal look ‘plastic’ trim which is now common place in many cars.
The standard leather covered, sports steering wheel feels good, although nothing outstanding. There is however, an optional wheel, which would be right at home on a $200,000 German supercar and at just $380 plus a small labour charge, that’s an option I’d happily go with.
As I’ve already said the centre console is the standout feature in the car, but the rest of the switchgear is stylish in a minimalist sense and very functional, which means you probably won’t need to refer the owner’s manual in the V50. Again, it’s a nice change from the button overload you find in other prestige rides.
The V50 T5 AWD at $57,950 is about luxury as much as safety. It’s a first class fit out with some electronic witchcraft usually seen in cars more expensive than this, especially when you’re talking Estates.
You start with leather and not just any leather. It’s a soft but firm texture and feels plenty thick, like it will last for years. Other features include Bi-Xenon headlights and rain sensing wipers although there’s no “auto headlights on” function and frankly, there should be, and it should be standard on this model variant.
Other goodies include the usual prestige inventory of electronic climate control, electric mirrors (heated) and windows, which are one-touch up and down on all four from the drivers console, auto dimming rear view mirror, front and rear armrests with cup holders and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat which is heated along with the front passenger seat.
The ignition key is quite a tricky bit of gear. It’s not a key in the traditional sense, but rather an electronic fob with remote functions, that docks into an ignition slot in the centre facia. More about that later.
I’ve always found the sound systems in Volvo cars to be in the premium class, and the standard 12 speaker, in-dash 6 CD stacker in the V50, doesn’t disappoint. The sound reproduction from this unit is one of the most natural I’ve heard, with zero distortion, even at unsociable volumes.
SPACE, STORAGE AND PRACTICALITY
Even though the V50 T5 AWD is a compact wagon, it’s still a wagon, so there’s flexibility and way more space than in most similar size sedans in this class.
Whilst there’s reasonable space behind the rear seats (417 litres) the luggage area can be increased substantially by virtue of the design. Fold the rear seats flat as they do, and you now have 1307 litres of space to fill up. Better still, if you or your kids surf, the front passenger seat can fold flat allowing you to carry up to a 3m long board. Of course, the rear seats are split/fold, allowing load space efficiency.
There’s room for five people in the V50 although, four adults could travel in comfort. The legroom in the rear seats isn’t overly generous (although comfortable enough) but I suspect that’s true for most vehicles in this segment.
Knick-Knack storage is less than what you'd expect in a wagon, with a smallish centre console box and even smaller front door pockets. There’s a clever hiding space behind the floating console which could hide an ipod or phone, but the glove box is CD size only. There are no rear door pockets but there are storage nets behind the front seats and some space in the rear centre armrest.
It’s a Volvo; they build the safest cars on the planet!
What is it with the Swedes and the safety thing? I’m told the answer lies in two parts. First, a moose weighs in at 379kg and that’s a big animal. You see, there’s a lot of moose in Sweden and Swedes have a nasty habit of running into these Moose, hence the need for serious collision protection in a car.
Secondly, Sweden is a safe place. They have enjoyed over 250 years of peace. They are a caring society which looks after its people. Accident prevention and workplace safety are taken to levels that would put the ACTU out of business, and healthcare is utterly free of charge. Oh, and if your pregnant, they’ll give you a year and half paid parental leave.
That’s why they have this safety thing going and for my money, it’s a good thing.
There are so many safety systems built into the V50 that it’s hard to know where to start but here’s part of the list;
- Safety Cage – a web of steel profiles to protect occupants
- Side-Impact Protection System, SIPS – distributes crash forces over a wider area of the car along with additional reinforcement all over the car.
- Protection in collisions involving larger vehicles – Useful if you get hit by an SUV or other large vehicle
- Inflatable Curtain, IC protection of heads in a side impact.
- Safety belts with pre-tensioners and all seat belt reminders.
- Child safety - The V50 has two integrated child booster seats on board
- Whiplash Protection System, WHIPS – built into the front seats to reduce back and neck injury if hit from behind.
- Adaptive Airbags – airbag inflation is tailored to the force of the impact along with the steering column which collapses thereby reducing injury in accidents.
- Energy Absorbing Interior – All panels and door sides padded with energy absorbing materials
- Protected Zones – further protection in a frontal crash
- Crumple zones – energy absorbing zones
- Pedestrian Protection – absorbs crash energy for anyone colliding with front of the car.
And, to help avoid a crash in the first place, there is ABS with Emergency Brake Assist together with Dynamic Stability and Traction Control.
One other thing, don’t look for the ignition slot in usual place, its not there. You’ll find it on the left hand side of the steering wheel, where it can’t damage your knees in the event of a crash!
COST OF OWNERSHIP
I looked at the rival cars from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW and the V50 T5 AWD is quite the bargain when you factor in the AWD capability which only the Audi shares.
The Mercedes-Benz C 200 K Estate costs $68,890 and that’s with a 1.8 litre, 4 cylinder powerplant. The BMW 323i Touring costs 71,500 but that’s with a 6-speed auto transmission and a 2.5 litre, 6 cylinder engine, and the Audi A4 Avant 2.0 litre TFSI quattro tiptronic, will set you back $71,450 or considerably more than the V50 T5 AWD.
There’s no doubt that Volvo has got a fair dose of cachet in the prestige market and the resale on the V50 T5 AWD should be above average.
Combined city/highway fuel consumption is listed at 10.2 l/100km which sounds good, but real world figures are always slightly higher.
The combination of class leading performance, safety and versatility, in a luxury package, priced well below the competition, is more than enough reason to test drive the V50 T5 AWD.
By Anthony Crawford