The V50 Sportswagon 2.0D helps dispel Volvo's reputation for making boxy, unsexy transport
Sometimes, people choose cars for impressively arcane reasons. Years back, a schoolfriend's mum chose her Simca hatchback because of its clock, whose casing was shaped like a bullet, and I knew of a girl who picked a turbo-charged Fiat Coupé because she was fed up with being
left behind at the lights in London – she wanted a car that was almost unbeatable from 0-30 mph. So there seems no reason why people shouldn't choose the new Volvo V50 because part of its dashboard looks like a piece of hi-fi from Bang and Olufsen.
The V50's centre console – the structure that drops from the centre of the dashboard to the floor, providing a divider between driver and passenger – is almost wafer-thin, lending it a delicate elegance. And being so slender, it yields extra storage space behind, though this can be fiddly to access. In the end, it's a bit of a gimmick, but no less attractive for that.
The exterior of this smallest of Volvo estates is also rather attractive, in common with other recent examples of the breed, the company having mounted a largely successful attempt to shed its reputation for making big, boxy and resolutely unsexy transport. Volvos are still practical, but now they flaunt a little Scandinavian style.
The V50 replaces the moderately popular but somewhat undistinguished V40, and eclipses it. It can be had with a variety of engines, some four-cylinder, some five. I drove the four-
cylinder two-litre turbo-diesel, likely to be most popular model for reasons of tax-efficiency and the possibility of scoring 50 mpg on a run.
It's a civil and a strong performer, this diesel. That it manages to strike 60 mph in less than 10 seconds is impressive, but what you'll really appreciate is solid mid-range pull that makes for relaxed motoring. At least, it does if you're
diligent with the gearbox, swapping its six gears often to make the best of the engine's efforts, as performance turns a little lethargic in top.
The engine occasionally issues a distant, rattly clatter, but for the most part is quiet. More of an issue is the Volvo's ride, whose fidgety motion is at odds with the calming ambience of the cabin. There is little of the sporty handling implied by the car's Sportswagon name, although the V50 corners more than adequately.
You might not be driving this car for the sheer joy of it, but you'll certainly take pleasure in its convenience. The rear seats fold to form a commodious and completely flat load-deck – unusual in this class – the seats are comfortable, equipment levels are relatively generous and the minor controls exceptionally clear to use. But the stiffness of the gear change and the effort
required to operate some of the switchgear are disappointments from a company so strong on ergonomics. The V50 performs well on safety, though, coming with the usual armoury of airbags, body-strengthening, skid preventions systems and anti-whiplash head restraints.
But for all its modern look, the V50 falls a little short of the standards set by the best in the class, which include the BMW 320d and Jaguar's new diesel X-Type estate (see below). Just as well, then, that it costs less than both of them and should prove cheaper to run. And these days, you can enjoy a Volvo's style, too.