2005 Volvo V50

Volvo's newest compact sport wagon that replaces the V40 combines all-wheel drive capability, a more powerful engine, enhanced interior, and a sportier exterior styling.

The 2005 V50 offers small car fans many of the features found in larger sport-utility vehicles. The rear seats are easy to fold down to create a flat cargo area that holds two road bikes with the front wheels off. The front passenger seat also folds flat for especially long items. Roof rails are available as part of a convenience package that also includes a trip meter, power outlet in the cargo area and grocery nets. The passenger compartment is loaded with useful bins and cubbies, including a "floating" center stack that puts audio, heating and air conditioning controls within easy reach of the driver, and also creates a storage area to the rear large enough to hold a purse.

Having said that, the V50 is a more spirited performer than the V40, thanks to an all-new 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine, six-speed, close-ratio manual transmission (standard on turbocharged models), and available all-wheel drive. A dynamic trim package adds front and rear spoilers and 17-inch alloy wheels. The all-wheel drive version, equipped with the 5 cylinder, 218 horsepower engine and optional automatic transmission (tested) gets an average of 19/26 miles per gallon in city and highway driving. Isn't it nice to spend Sunday mornings on the bike, instead of standing in line at the gas pump?

Sporty exterior

Viewed from above, the V50 exterior resembles a speedboat, with a rounded prow, broad midsection and narrow stern. Doors that are convex in shape increase passenger space, especially in the shoulder area. Windshield wipers are recessed under the hood, where they are less likely to get wet and freeze, or become contaminated with dirt and road salt. Turn signals are integrated into the mirrors where they are more visible from the sides and rear of the vehicle.

Scandinavian interior

Scandinavian designers live by the adage that man is the measure of all things. Those who enjoy the simplicity and smart ergonomics found in Scandinavian furniture design will appreciate similar features in the V50. Volvo utilizes a "canteen group" to evaluate its cars internally before they go before they go out to customer focus groups. The canteen group consists of Volvo employees ranging from receptionists to administrators and engineers. The group gives interior designers feedback on how well the vehicle works ergonomically for individuals of different genders and sizes, as well as how intuitive the instrument panel controls are. The less frequently a driver has to take his or her eyes off the road to find a control switch, the safer the vehicle ultimately becomes.

Volvo offers four interior fabric choices on the V50, two of which are cloth: T-Tec, a proprietary material, inspired by sportswear fabrics, and Dala, an upscale ribbed textile with T Tex elements and light colored seams. The controls on the floating center stack are as simple as possible, in keeping with Volvo?s safety philosophy.

Fun To Drive

While Volvo has traditionally been known for its high level of safety engineering, an image of lackluster performance in many of its vehicles has limited the brand's appeal in the United States. Beginning with the R cars, Volvo has sought to change that image by offering more powerful engines, available all-wheel drive, and other performance features. The turbocharged five-cylinder engine standard on the all-wheel drive V50 develops 236 lbs.-ft. of maximum torque, for spirited acceleration off the line, or when merging into high speed traffic.

Engineers used a combination of high-strength steel and aluminum to create a body that is both light and rigid, for optimal steering feedback. Dynamic stability and traction control are standard on the all-wheel drive model, and optional on other trim levels. Standard four-wheel independent suspension on all models is enhanced with front and rear stabilizer bars, so that the V50 stays flat during high-speed cornering. A dynamic sport suspension package is also standard on the all-wheel drive model. Buyers can opt to upgrade from the standard 16-inch wheels and tires to 17-inch alloy wheels. There is also a dynamic trim package that includes front and rear spoilers and side skirts.

Because the V50 is a small car, it is also relatively light: the all-wheel drive model weighs just under 3,400 pounds. Not only does this enhance the wagon's fuel economy, it also improves its handling, because there is less inertial weight to overcome when navigating hills or twisty roads. While the V50 lacks the white knuckle performance of a Subaru WRX STi, it has plenty of power to make every day driving fun. The turbocharged engine is ideal for those who live at altitude, where naturally aspirated engines tend to lag from lack of oxygen.

The V50's compact dimensions make it an ideal city car: it's easy to maneuver through traffic and park in crowded lots. On the other hand, the vehicle has plenty of engine power for highway driving, and is stable driving through cross winds. The optional roof rails have a minimal impact on aerodynamic drag and noise during high-speed driving.

Segment Leading Safety

As with all Volvo models, the V50 comes loaded with standard safety features. Cross members in the frame protect passengers in the event of a side impact collision. The front of the car is designed to channel impact forces around and under the passenger compartment. The outer areas absorb most of the collision impact, while areas closest to the passenger compartment deform less. The compact five-cylinder engine fits in the section of the engine bay that remained intact after internal front and offset crash tests were performed.

All models come with standard four-wheel disks and four-channel antilock braking. Standard passive safety features include headrests with built-in whiplash protection, front, side and side curtain airbags.

Great Choice for Moderate Cargo Needs

The V50 is a good option for single drivers or couples looking for a passenger car with enhanced cargo space. The V50 has a 2,000 pound towing capacity: too low to meet our towing criteria. Because the rear seats need to fold down to create a large enough cargo space for bicycles, the V50 is not the best choice for families with small children. Those buyers might want to look at the larger V70 wagon or the XC90 sport-utility vehicle.

Pricing for the V50 starts at $25,660 for the naturally aspirated five-cylinder version with standard automatic transmission. The turbocharged T5 with all-wheel drive starts at $28,910. The Volvo V50 is currently available at area Volvo dealers.

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