What's New for 2006
For 2006, Volvo has rearranged some of the V50's option packages and revised the cupholders. Steering wheel-mounted satellite audio controls are now standard on the 2.4i trim, and the six-speed manual transmission on T5 models gains a pushdown function to engage reverse. There are also new 16- and 17-inch wheel designs and a new optional interior air filtration system for the T5 that Volvo says goes beyond traditional carbon filters in helping to reduce occupant exposure to carbon monoxide.
Introduced in mid-2004, the Volvo V50 wagon is the successor to the V40, which launched in the U.S. in 1999. Unlike the V40, a bland wagon with middling performance and poor packaging, the Volvo V50 is a sport wagon similar in spirit to its S40 platform mate. It's stylish inside and out, and offers crisp handling and multiple drivetrain options while maintaining Volvo's legendary commitment to safety. Competitive pricing makes it an appealing alternative to the more expensive compact wagons from Audi and Mercedes.
Beneath the skin, the new Volvo V50 has much in common with the Mazda 3 and the European-market Ford Focus, as it shares a platform with these vehicles. Don't worry about this new blood taking Volvo downmarket, though. The V50 builds on its borrowed underpinnings to deliver everything we've come to expect from a Volvo car and more. Get behind the wheel and the Volvo V50 offers a distinctly different feel than the Mazda 3. At the same time, the S40 and V50 have a more youthful look than anything Volvo has ever produced.
Inside, the V50 wagon offers a simple, stylish layout. Just when you thought the typical car dashboard couldn't be improved upon, Volvo comes up with the coolest-looking center stack this side of Stockholm. The thin, flowing center piece is reminiscent of the plasma-screen televisions and really sets the interior apart from the competition. If you like shopping at IKEA, you'll appreciate the aesthetic behind this most Scandinavian of interiors. In keeping with its Volvo heritage, the V50 offers a host of safety features. Front-seat side-impact and full-length side curtain airbags are standard, as is a whiplash-protection seating system. Two trims are available: the 168-horsepower base 2.4i, and the 218-hp T5. The T5 may also be had in an all-wheel-drive version. The 2.4i's acceleration is mediocre for this class, but the T5 stacks up well against the Audi A3 and A4 2.0T and Mercedes C-Class.
If you're looking for a premium wagon that doesn't venture too far from the $30,000 mark when properly equipped, the 2006 Volvo V50 is worth considering. We think this Volvo car would be an especially good fit for young parents who want safety and style at a reasonable price.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
Two trims of the compact Volvo V50 wagon are available: base 2.4i and the sporty T5. Standard items on the 2.4i include 16-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, manual climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with telescope adjustment, and a six-speaker, single-CD sound system. Step up to the T5 and you get an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, automatic climate control, a cargo-area 12-volt power outlet, aluminum trim and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Options include 17-inch wheels, firmer suspension calibrations, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 12-speaker Dolby sound system, HID headlights, de-icing wipers, a moonroof and an upgraded interior air filtration system.
Powertrains and Performance
Engines are specific to each V50 model. The base 2.4i gets a 168-horsepower, normally aspirated 2.4-liter five-cylinder, while the T5 upgrades to a turbocharged, 2.5-liter five-cylinder that generates 218 hp. A five-speed shiftable automatic transmission is standard on the 2.4i. The T5 features a standard six-speed manual tranny as standard, with the five-speed automatic offered as an option. T5 models are also available with all-wheel drive.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and traction control are standard on all V50s. Volvo's DTSC stability control system is optional. All models include both front-seat side-impact airbags and full-length head curtain airbags, along with whiplash-reducing seats and seatbelt pre-tensioners in all outboard positions. Built-in child booster seats are optional. The NHTSA has not crash tested the Volvo V50, but its crashworthiness should be similar to the S40 sedan, which earned perfect five-star ratings in side-impact tests, along with four stars for driver protection and five stars for the front passenger in frontal-impact tests. In IIHS frontal-offset testing, the S40 earned a top rating of "Good"; in IIHS side-impact testing, the car rated "Acceptable."
Interior Design and Special Features
Scandinavian to the core, the interior of the 2006 Volvo V50 is a study in spartan elegance. Especially eye-catching is the slim center stack, which replaces the typical centerpiece clutter with spare lines and a "less is more" aesthetic that gives the Volvo car a thoroughly modern feel while opening up valuable storage space. The ergonomically designed seats are available in different upholstery types, and adults will find adequate legroom in both the front and rear. A 60/40-split-folding rear seat adds versatility, should you need to haul very long items. Overall cargo capacity (62.9 cubic feet) is comparable to what you'd get in an Audi A4.
Handling is crisp and entertaining, though the standard tires are taxed by more aggressive cornering. An unfortunate downside to the V50's sharp reflexes is that cruising comfort suffers a bit, particularly with the optional sport suspension. The 2.4i model offers adequate if uninspiring acceleration, so weekend enthusiasts should head straight for the spirited T5 model. The optional all-wheel-drive system is a good bet for buyers seeking a relatively affordable, premium-brand wagon that can brave the winter snows.