All-wheel drive, turbo 5 cylinder, compact wagon
body, well equipped – and $57,950. Sounds like a killer practical package. And,
to an extent, it is. But it takes only a few hours for the deficiencies to start
sinking in. Nope, not in performance and not in handling, but in the day-to-day
practicalities of living with a car.
Firstly, the interior space in the V50 is lousy.
And to make matters worse, the space that’s present is poorly utilized. The
glovebox is a deep hole buried in the lower dash (it’s impossible to see what’s
at the back of it without craning your head down); the door pockets are tiny;
the rear passenger space (in all directions, with the exception of headroom) is
tight; and lift the tailgate and even in the wagon section of the car, there’s
not a helluva lot of room. It’s shallow in height and narrow between the
Ah, but you can fold the rear seat, can’t you?
Well, yes, you can – if you can be bothered. Firstly, the front seats need to be
moved forward. Next, the rear head restraints must be removed. Then the rear
squabs need to be lifted and folded against the back of the front seats. Then
one side of the seat back must be first folded. Then – finally – you can do the
other side of the seat back. That still leaves a beam carrying the cargo blind
stretched across from wheel-arch to wheel-arch – and removing this is a
struggle. Reversing the process is an even greater hassle. The seat backs are
heavy and access through the narrow-opening rear doors is poor.
The controls are also a mixed bag. Those on the
steering wheel (cruise and sound system) are clear and easy to use, as are the
column stalks. However, the centre console has a multitude of tiny buttons which
– even with familiarity – defy intuitive use. Volvo makes much of the ‘floating’
console panel but the only practical advantage gained from this design is the
presence of a hard-to-access oddments space placed directly behind it.
The front pillars are very thick and the rear
vision mirror is connected to the roof by a black moulding – tall drivers will
need to peer under it to see traffic approaching from the front-left position.
And, as with all of this series of Volvos, the ventilation poor. There’s more
bad design in this area too - directing air at front faces requires that the
central vents are angled so that they appear to be pointed at the ceiling...
Other ergonomic downers include a climate control
panel so close to the gear lever that in first and third and fifth gears some of
the buttons are obscured, and sharp-edged console positioned so the driver gets
a sore left knee from resting against it.
But what’s the car like to drive? Well,
there the story takes a change of direction. The engine is a turbocharged,
intercooled 2.5-litre five-cylinder with excellent performance. It might not
feel as strong as the FWD T5 we previously tested, but it’s the accessibility of
performance which is so impressive. Happy to rev to its 6500 rpm redline, the
engine is, however, designed to be short-changed at the 5000 rpm at which it
develops 162kW. Sound a bit disappointing? Don’t you believe it – the impressive
peak torque of 320Nm is available from just 1500 rpm and stretches flat as a
board at this value to 4400 rpm.
That’s a stunning torque curve, one that gives
instant and strong response in any of the six forward gears. When driving around
town it’s natural to change at about 2000 rpm, effortlessly keeping up with the
traffic without ever feeling that the car is trying. And of course, when you
really do put your foot down, the Volvo-claimed 7.2 second 0-100 is within
reach. Those characteristics alone would be enough for us to award very high
marks to the driveline, but bolt it to a sweet, light six-speed and you have a
match made in heaven. This is a gearbox that can be changed literally with one
finger and the absolute lack of driveline snatch is a revelation. Reversing up a
steep driveway with the engine dead cold is incredibly easy – unusual in a high
performance manual gearbox car.
The engine also has the ability to turn-in very
good fuel economy figures. In previous drives we’ve seen open-road touring
economy in the mid-Sevens (in litres/100 km) and even with a fair swag of urban
driving and the extra weight/drag of the all-wheel drive system, economy on test
was still good at 10.1 litres/100 km. Volvo’s figure is 9.7 litres/100 km.
The all-wheel drive system is electronically
controlled and stability control (DSTC in Volvo speak) is standard. In dry
conditions the car is generally neutral, pushing into understeer at the limit
but still being amenable to a throttle-lift to flow that into oversteer. Yep,
even with the stability system left switched on. But it’s at its best in quick
switch-backs, where the chassis feels absolutely planted. Body roll is well
controlled and you could be forgiven for thinking that in wet conditions the car
would be a little skatey – but that’s far from the truth. The grip on a wet road
is startling – corners that would see a rear-wheel drive car spin are not
perceived as being even slightly slippery. When being driven quickly for fun, or
in an emergency swerve-and-recover, the Volvo is very well sorted.
But the steering is dead – there’s little feel of
the road and, paradoxically, when going really hard, it can kick back.
The equipment level is good. The CD player is a
6-stacker built into the dash and the system packs plenty of power and bass;
however, it’s a rather blunt instrument that misses out on some of the sound
subtleties you’d expect. Leather can be found on the seats, steering wheel and
gear knob; the trip computer is Volvo’s excellent stalk-scroll design; very good
HID headlights are fitted; and there’s dual climate control. However, while the
driver’s seat is electric with three memories, the passenger gets only a manual
Both passive and active safety are well up to
Volvo’s exemplary reputation: in addition to standard DSTC, there are also large
ABS and EBD-controlled brakes, lots of airbags including side curtain designs,
whiplash protection head restraints and excellent structural
We wanted to love the V50 T5 AWD. In fact, I fit
the buyer profile almost perfectly: early 40s; wife and young son; have owned
plenty of turbo cars; like the sleeper status of the Volvo combined with real
road grip and performance; would enjoy the good safety and fuel economy. But the
interior design is just irritatingly poor – put a child-seat in the back and you
can only be amazed at how little space the designers have created.
Go hard and it’s enormously impressive; do the
weekly shopping and it’s a pain in the butt. Sadly, we were happy to give it
Volvo V50 T5 AWD was made available for this test by Volvo Australia