Volvo's latest compact wagon debuted at the 2003 Bologna Motor Show in Italy. The automaker began selling the V50 in the summer of 2004, shortly after the comparably redesigned S40 sedan. The automaker says the V50 "blends Scandinavian style with Volvo engineering expertise." Manufactured in Belgium, the sport wagon targets younger buyers than its V40 predecessor.
A 2.4-liter inline-five-cylinder goes into the regular front-wheel-drive V50. The high-performance T5 edition gets a turbocharged inline-five and can be equipped with all-wheel drive. Prior V40 wagons used four-cylinder power. Both the V50 and S40 share technology with Ford and Mazda vehicles.
For 2006, steering-wheel audio controls are standard in the 2.4i model. Cupholders have been modified, the wheels are revised, and option packages have been restructured. T5 models with the six-speed-manual gearbox gain a "pushdown" function to engage Reverse gear.
As with the company's other products, safety and crashworthiness are principal themes. The V50 has a stiff body and features Volvo's Side Impact Protection System.
Some V50 design characteristics were borrowed from early Volvo wagons. Still, styling hasn't veered dramatically away from the V40. Volvo notes that "from above, the body resembles the shape of a sleek speedboat, with a rounded prow, a broad mid-ship section and a narrowing stern."
Designed with softly rounded lines overall, the V50 has a short hood and a cab-forward profile, led by a protruding upright eggcrate grille with a diagonal cross-member. Outside mirrors contain turn-signal repeaters.
Built on a 103.9-inch wheelbase, the V50 is 177.7 inches long overall — 1.8 inches longer than the S40 sedan. Several aluminum wheel styles are offered. A Dynamic Trim Package for the T5 adds 17-inch aluminum wheels and front, rear and side spoilers.
According to Volvo, the upholstery in the V50's five-passenger interior was inspired by sportswear. The instrument panel's texture is meant to signal technical innovation to the occupant. An Intelligent Driver Information System helps the driver focus on driving by selectively limiting nonessential information. A storage compartment can be accessed from behind either side of the ultra-slim center stack.
The rear seat is a split, folding unit. The front passenger seatback can also be folded. Four upholstery types are available. A navigation system is optional on T5 editions, and a 325-watt stereo with Dolby Pro-Logic II Surround Sound is optional on all V50s.
Under the Hood
A 2.4-liter inline-five-cylinder produces 168 horsepower in the base wagon. The high-performance T5 holds a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder that generates 218 hp and 236 pounds-feet of torque. Both models can be equipped with an adaptive Geartronic five-speed-automatic transmission, but a six-speed-manual gearbox is standard on the T5. Haldex all-wheel drive is optional.
All-disc antilock brakes, traction control, side-impact and side curtain-type airbags, and Volvo's Whiplash Protection Seating System are standard. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control is optional.
Volvo's smallest wagon is just as refined and tightly built as the bigger V70, if a bit snug inside. Performance is a strong point with the turbocharged model, but the T5's ride can get rough on harsher surfaces and a little jittery even when rolling through moderate imperfections. The T5's manual gearbox operates easily, and Volvo's automatic operates smoothly. An all-wheel-drive V50 behaved admirably on snow and ice.