“The Volvo V50 adds the practicality missing from the S40 saloon, but it's not the biggest estate on the market.”
Traditionally, Volvo is associated with big, boxy estates. The V50 certainly isn’t boxy, but it isn’t that big, either, as it loses out on outright luggage capacity to family hatchback-based estate cars like the Volkswagen Golf Estate. Nevertheless, it's a smart piece of design, perhaps one of the neatest, sportiest looking estates on the market. It also offers massive choice for buyers, from the very clean, if a little slow, DRIVe version, to the range-topping T5 model. It's priced somewhere between a ‘mainstream’ compact estate, such as the VW Golf Estate, and a premium car, like the BMW 3 Series Touring.
The V50 never feels less than composed and secure on the road. It's very easy to find a good driving position because of the wide range of steering wheel and seat adjustment, although the absence of a clutch footrest means drivers will be riding the clutch in manual versions. Nonetheless, the controls all feel solid and well engineered, especially the gearbox - it's precise and pleasant to use. The V50 feels compact from behind the wheel, with a direct, light feel to the steering and good all-round visibility. What it never feels, though, is sporty. The quickest petrol and diesel versions, the T5 and D4, boast potent overtaking power, but fail to excite on a twisty road. Arguably, though, that's not what the V50 is for, it's actually a very comfortable car to use on a daily basis.
Wind, tyre and engine noise are kept well out of the cabin in the V50, most of the time, although whistling is more obvious around the front windscreen pillars on the motorway. What the V50 does do well is smooth out uneven roads. There's a hint of firmness to the suspension, especially when encountering potholes, but nothing that sends the V50 into the realms of uncomfortable. Space for front occupants is excellent, but less so for those in the back - six-footers will feel their head rubbing the roof lining at times.
Although the V50 hasn’t enjoyed a flawless reputation for reliability since its launch, cabin quality is excellent - with soft touch materials on the upper dashboard and a solid feel to the switches. The V50 gets a five-star adult occupant safety rating from Euro NCAP; Volvo's reputation for safety is not without merit. A side-impact protection system unique to Volvo helps prevent injuries, there are airbags all round and an optional blind spot monitoring system.
A boot capacity of 417 litres is smaller than that of the VW Golf Estate (505 litres), and seems a little disappointing against the expectations you might have. The floor is narrow, eaten into by the rear suspension, although it's at the same level as the lower lip so it's easy to load. The rear seats fold completely flat, too. In the cabin there are few spaces for oddments, and the glove box is too small for anything more than a handful of CD cases.
Value for money
Because the V50 vies with premium cars, all versions get alloy wheels and air-conditioning, with SE models adding cruise control and commanding a smaller premium for leather upholstery. R-DESIGN versions get sportier trim and a body kit. It's not a cheap car to buy, but feels well made and equipment levels make it feel like good value.
The 72mpg DRIVe version is in a class of its own, easily capable of returning over 50mpg even around town. Even the powerful D4 engine returns 55.4mpg. The petrol engines are best avoided, especially if the car is likely to be fully laden a lot, because they need to be worked harder, so fuel economy will be poor.