11/10/04 — Volvo V50 is one sexy wagon

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Volvo V50 is one sexy wagon

Volvo V50 (2005)

Forget the old station wagon — that boxy family contrivance of yesteryear — that went out of fashion with the arrival of the minivan and later, the sport utility vehicle.

The modern station wagon, now coming to you as a “sport wagon,” is becoming hot news. There’s some sexy stuff out there that will blow you away and may get you thinking in the direction of a wagon — more specifically a compact fuel-efficient cargo hauler — and away from the energy-challenged two-ton high riders.

Volvo V50, 2005

We’ve mentioned the wagon revival before, quite recently in fact, when we completed a week in a Dodge Magnum. The Magnum is a full-sized version of the modern wagon, the rage of 2004.

We can’t figure out why station wagons, extremely popular in the days of Eisenhower and Kennedy, became passe. But for some reason they could not live in harmony with the gas-guzzling SUVs. They offered scads of room with all the handling attributes of a sedan.

Would-be station wagon owners, the traditional family with mom and pop and two kids, moved on to the minivan and the SUV leaving very little audience left for the Vista Cruisers and Estate Wagons.

But manufacturers are now making the new wagon as gorgeous as a 21-year-old beauty queen. And people are rediscovering the wagon, particularly the higher-end variety, some of which are so downright good looking that people no longer think of them as wagons, but a new style of sleek transportation.

Some examples include the Saab 9-2X, Audi A4 Avant, Subaru Impreza WRX, BMW 3-Series and the Lexus IS 300 Sport Cross.

You could think of these new vehicles as sedans with a tapered hatchback extension.

We just finished seven days in one of the sexiest of the bunch, the all-new compact Volvo V50. And it makes perfect sense to us that more people are considering a new-age wagon with a big cargo area, the agility of a sports car, the fuel economy of a mid-sized sedan and in many cases an all-wheel drive configuration for winter driving confidence.

The 2005 V50 is a kissing cousin to the new S40 sedan, both built on the new Ford architecture used by the Mazda3 and the European version of the Ford Focus. Don’t let the Ford/Mazda connection affect your perception of the Volvo, however.

The V50 may have the Mazda underpinnings, but it is all Volvo from the roof to the wheels. There’s no decontenting involved.

The entry-level Volvo wagon first broke on the scene in 1999 as the V40. The Mitsubishi-designed wagon was very competent, but the new version is a big leap forward in design and execution.

Volvo has always embraced the station wagon, one of the few companies in the world to offer a wagon variant without interruption through the decades. So it is fitting that Volvo now has one of the best compact wagons on the market.

We were infatuated with the Volvo from its so-called floating center console to its wonderfully comfortable seats to its willing turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. It helped that our test car came equipped with a 6-speed manual. We love to wring the most performance possible out of a vehicle.

And the Volvo V50 T5 responded with 0 to 60 times under 7 seconds.

But the V50 also comes with a very accommodating 5-speed automatic that surely will provide performance that should satisfy the guy who loves to drive, but needs the practicality of interior space.

The V50 comes in two trim levels, the 2.4i and the performance-oriented T5. Prices for the front-wheel drive 2.4 start at $26,345. The T5 two-wheel drive starts at $27,945 and the all-wheel drive begins at $29,595.

Here’s kind of a head scratcher. The manual transmission is not available with the smaller engine, and the all-wheel drive T5 comes only with the automatic. So a decision will have to be made. Ultimate performance will come at the expense of all-wheel drive.

The bigger engine is a 2.5-liter inline 5 developing 218 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The standard non-turbo 2.4-liter 5-cylinder makes 168 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque.

In addition to excellent straight ahead performance, the V50 is a handling gem on the back-road twists and turns. Our test car stayed planted on the curves, giving the wagon the persona of a sports sedan.

We found the ride acceptable, although on the stiff side. If that’s what it takes to achieve great handling characteristics, it’s a worthwhile trade-off.

Styling inside and out is exemplary. The snub nosed front end that resembles the bigger S60 carries the Volvo theme. The roof curves gently back into two giant vertical taillights that resemble a fist and hand giving the “we’re number one” sign.

The thin flowing brushed aluminum piece in the center of the dash is as stylish as anything in existence, housing the radio and climate controls in an inset that looks like a large television remote control. As a bonus, there is storage space behind the thin centerpiece.

A screen is located between the speedometer and tachometer offering the driver a wide range of information — temperature, time and gas mileage statistics, to name a few — without having to take his eyes off the road.

The front seats are about as good as it gets in a sedan. Although the V50 has gained some interior space over the wagon it replaces, rear-seat leg room is a bit cramped. If rear passengers can gain some accommodation from the front-seaters, all is well.

The rear seat cushions can be pulled up and the seatbacks folded forward to make a flat load floor. The headrests must be manually removed, however.

With the seats folded, the V50 has 62.9 cubic feet of storage space.

Safety and Volvo have been synonymous for years, and the V50 lives up to the Swedish car company’s well-earned reputation. Standard safety gear includes side airbags for front-seat occupants, side curtain airbags for both front and rear, a whiplash protection seating system, four-wheel antilock brakes with emergency brake assist and traction control.

Other standard equipment on our T5 included eight-way power driver’s seat, power windows and locks, automatic climate control, steering wheel audio controls and a sweet-sounding stereo with 6-CD changer.

Although our test car did not have optional leather upholstery, we found the cloth seats of top-grade quality.

Volvo has hit the bullseye with the V50. It offers the celebrated look, safety features and overall feel of a Volvo for an attractive price that can be kept under 30 grand in high-performance guise.

And you can carry a lot of stuff as a very worthwhile bonus.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on November 10, 2004 12:41 PM