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2005 Volvo V50 Sports Wagon

Although it's priced in the mid-$30,000s, the V50 offers a lot for the money.

2005 Volvo V50 Sports Wagon
Ergonomics and handling are hits with Volvo's small wagon

By Bill Roebuck

I don't know why I was surprised, but I found Volvo's new 2005 V50 sports wagon truly a pleasure to drive. There are very few cars I test each year that I'm reluctant to return to the manufacturer after the week-long evaluation, yet the V50 made that list.
First off, it's not all perfect. Volvo's entry-level station wagon is a compact, so it's relatively small inside, suiting only certain-size families. The rear doors are quite narrow, so an average size adult has to squeeze in or out. Legroom also is a bit tight in the rear seat, but headroom is satisfactory.

For me, most of my enjoyment was derived from two key attributes: sporty handling and intuitive interior ergonomics.

The $31,495 tester was a V50 2.4i M with an $1,100 Premium Package and a few other options, with a stock five-speed manual transmission. Total price: $36,895 plus $875 for freight. The warranty is for four years or 80,000 km.

I loved using the manual tranny. The shifter was positioned just right, the shift notches spaced where you'd expect, and the process was butter smooth going up the gears or down.

I loved the steering too. Not stiff. Not soft. Just precise. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes. The rack-and-pinion steering mechanism is speed sensitive, and the setting seemed ideal at all speeds.

The suspension absorbed the city's post-winter potholes with nary a rattle or thud in the cabin. Body lean was minimal on corners. Overall, the V50 felt stable, tight and easy to control.

Four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts up front, and a multi-link rear suspension, give the V50 poise on the road. Stabilizer bars are mounted both front and rear.

Power comes from a 2.4-litre five-cylinder engine that generates 168 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. It was peppy enough, accelerating smoothly onto highways. There's lots of torque right from startup through to passing speeds. It's not seriously zippy, but is fast enough. Even under hard acceleration, engine and road noises were muffled. There was no noticeable wind noise on the highway.

Fuel economy is rated at 10.9 L/100 km city, 7.4 on the highway.

I also think it looks pretty sharp, wagon or not. The model replaces the more staid-looking V40 wagon.
I truly appreciated the ergonomics of the instrument panel, especially the controls for the stereo and ventilation systems. First of all, Volvo has no qualms about labelling the dials with their function. There's no guessing which knob turns up the volume and which turns up the heat. The ventilation controls use a pictogram of a body, making them extremely easy to set.

Each control is positioned logically, and with a bit of practice can be adjusted without taking your eyes off the road. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Of course, the V50 is loaded with all the safety paraphernalia Volvo has become known for over the years. Collapsible pedals and a deformable steering column are combined with four seatbelt pre-tensioners, with force limiters in the front, and dual-stage front airbags.

For side-impact protection, Volvo's SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) includes side-impact airbags, inflatable curtains, reinforced tubular beams between the A pillars, diagonal beams of ultra high strength steel in the doors, and extra reinforcement in the B pillars. A whiplash protection system helps protect passengers from rear impacts.

The crash architecture of the V50 uses four different kinds of steel, allowing progressive crumple zones into the body structure to absorb and distribute crash energy to help avoid intrusion into the passenger cabin.

All five seats get three-point seatbelts and adjustable headrests. Brakes are discs all around, ABS is standard and the included electronic brake distribution is a useful attribute.

Standard on all 2005 Volvo vehicles are new one-piece, flat-blade wipers that provide uniform pressure across the whole blade, clearing the windshield more efficiently, even at high speeds.

The interior is somewhat devoid of handy storage bins for cell phones, Blackberries and the like. There is a bin hidden behind the one-inch-thick centre stack that houses the radio controls, but it's not convenient to access.

The glove box is extremely deep, though not large in height or width. Two cupholders nicely located between the seats.

Rear cargo storage volume is 776.0 L. Folding the split rear seats extends this to 1780 L. The front passenger seatback also folds down to accommodate carrying very long items.

Available options for the V50 include all-wheel drive, automatic five-speed transmission, headlight washers and a power sunroof. There's also the more powerful T5 model with a 218-hp turbocharged engine.

The T5 sounds like overkill for a small station wagon like this. I think I'd be happy with the base model with the standard five-speed. It was enjoyable to drive, quiet, nimble, smooth riding and comfortable.

Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2005.