From £18,825
Loads better but still a softy
  • First Drive

    Volvo V50 1.6D DRIVe SE Lux

    A sensibly stylish small eco-friendly estate. Not exciting, though
  • First Drive

    Volvo V50 D5 Sport

    A decent alternative to the T5 petrol, but a tad expensive and still lacking in overall load-lugging capacity.
2 March 2004

Volvo will have no trouble selling every new V50 destined for these shores. This is a good-looking, competitively priced, premium-badged estate, and it’ll take the fight to Audi’s A4 and BMW’S 3-series without fear.

Our first drive of the 2.0-litre diesel revealed a well-sorted machine with a smooth, torquey engine, responsive dynamics and competitive luggage space. The T5 all-wheel-drive version, which we’re concentrating on here, continues the theme. It goes on sale in the UK in June, following the front-wheel-drive T5’s release in March.

The engine is the familiar 2.5-litre light-pressure turbo five from the S60 and V70 T5s. It develops 220bhp at 5000rpm and 236lb ft at 1500rpm, enough to propel this smallest of Volvo estates from standstill to 62mph in a claimed 6.9sec and on to a maximum speed of 149mph. It never feels as fast as the figures suggest, though.

This engine is all about delivering languid, effortless speed rather than sporting thrills and, with a 1451kg kerbweight, it’s lugging around a hefty and obvious mass. Midrange pull is strong and there’s little lag – it revs cleanly and easily to the 6500rpm red line with a muted five-cylinder howl. The exhaust is tuned for quietness – keen drivers will prefer the more direct throttle response and sportier note of a BMW six cylinder.

The problem here is not the car, but its badge. The T5 moniker – for this writer, at least – conjures up decade-old images of blue-and-white 850 estate Touring Cars flat out at Oulton Park and dark-wheeled, yellow 850 T5 Rs, low-slung and purposeful and ever so slightly insane. Think of this as more of a V50 2.5T – a soft, quiet family tourer with plenty of active and passive safety, and enough grunt to leave most other traffic behind – and you’re getting closer to understanding its character.

The comfy cruiser nature is reinforced by the handling: the V50 shares its chassis with the new Ford Focus and Mazda 3, so the lineage is excellent; it’s clear Ford’s genius is at work here, with a keen eye firmly fixed on ‘comfort’ rather than ‘sport’.

If there was ever a proper Ford-tweaked V50 T5 R, with chassis dynamics as well honed as a Focus RS’s, say, that would be a different animal. As it is, the T5 shows no vices as long as you don’t expect a really enjoyable drive – it turns in and grips well enough, with a shade more body roll than is ideal and, while it lacks a bit of feel in the steering, it is in no way bad.

The V50 sweeps along an A-road with confidence, with a well-controlled and quiet ride which isolates the occupants from road and wind noise, and scrubs wide into understeer at the limit, at which point the DSTC stability control system cuts in and straightens things up. You can switch it off – though even in this mode it intervenes if things get wild – but no buyer will ever bother hitting that ‘off’ button, and that’s the point: the car is fine for its intended function.

For owners of the old V40, it will be a smooth-riding, sharp-handling revelation. Also, because it’s not a sports estate, the five-speed automatic makes more sense than the slightly clunky and awkward six-speed manual.

But I can’t help feeling the diesel makes the most sense of all. It develops the same torque as the T5 (236lb ft at 2000rpm) and has a similar, effortless, loping nature: unless you absolutely need the extra performance, the diesel is a better match for the rest of the car.

Bill Thomas

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