Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2004   by Brian Harper

Sexier. Sportier. Just as practical.

OK, so Gibraltar wasn't on the official route map given to us by Volvo. But after zipping through switchbacks leading up from the coast through the Sierra Bermeja mountain range, getting lost in somno...

OK, so Gibraltar wasn’t on the official route map given to us by Volvo. But after zipping through switchbacks leading up from the coast through the Sierra Bermeja mountain range, getting lost in somnolent little villages and blowing off the lunch stop because we were cranky and jetlagged, we had arrived back at the hotel early. It was either hunker down in the room or hop back in the V50 T5 AWD and motor over to Britain’s 300-year-old fortress/dependency — a 40-minute drive. Guess which option I chose?

Besides, it afforded me a rare opportunity to sit in the back of Volvo’s new sportwagon, not something I do much of in any car. With Quebec journalist Gabriel Glinas at the wheel, three of us were off like a proverbial shot. At 5-foot-10, Mr. Glinas left just enough room for me (at 6-foot-2) to slither into the compact-sized V50’s back seat. Once ensconced, there was plenty of headroom and acceptable knee room thanks to the sculpted-out front seat backs. Provided they were not all built like fullbacks, a family of four would find comfort in the sportwagon.

Although slightly shorter in length than the V40 wagon it replaces, the new V50 has a 78-millimetre-longer wheelbase and is wider. The body, according to Volvo, is also 34% stiffer, helping to produce a more stable ride. The four-wheel independent suspension provides a solid base of operations, being firm without the oft-accompanying harshness.

Body motions are well damped and the sportwagon never turned a wheel wrong. The base model’s steering is a little fidgety but the all-wheel-drive T5 is slightly better, probably due to the extra driveline weight over the front axle

Zoning out in the back seat, I thought the wind noise was a little more noticeable than usual. Then I propped open an eye, glanced over Mr. Glinas’ shoulder and saw the speedometer reading significantly higher than the 120 km/h posted on the autovia. At 218 hp, the topline T5’s turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder is well suited to the wagon’s approximately 1,500-kilogram weight. When mated to the optional Haldex all-wheel-drive system, the T5 hooks up without drama and pulls in a linear fashion. Volvo’s zero-to-100-km/h claims of 6.9 seconds for the six-speed manual and 7.3 for the five-speed manumatic seem reasonable. The standard powertrain in the base, front-wheel-drive V50 is a non-turbo 2.4L five-cylinder, good for 168 hp, bolted to a five-speed manual.

While the V50’s exterior is familial (and very attractive), its interior breaks tradition with Volvo’s past. The centrepiece, literally, is the unique, high-tech centre stack, which houses the audio and climate controls. Depending on the trim level, the centre stack panel can be specified in aluminum, wood “effect” or plastic. Volvo’s chief designer described it to me as trying to convey the feeling of cutting-edge technical innovation rather than the typical leather-trimmed furniture — again, to appeal to a younger customer.

As for cargo capacity, the V50 provides a reasonable amount of room for its size. There is 14.4 cubic feet of space with the back seats up and 46.2 cu. ft. when loading to the roof panel with the rear seats folded.

Although Volvo Canada will not announce pricing until closer to the V50’s July debut in showrooms, it strongly hints that the base price for the new V50 will be very close to what the V40 starts at now ($32,500). And that its sedan sibling, the S40, will have a starting MSRP of $31,500.

Regardless of age, those attracted to the idea of a European sportwagon rather than an SUV will find much to like in the new V50. Especially in T5 form, it is good looking for a wagon, quick, handles well and is very manoeuvrable.

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