What's New for 2008
The 2008 Volvo V50 receives significant changes. Exterior styling has been freshened and the interior's center console redesigned to increase storage space. Although the base 2.4-liter engine is left untouched, the turbocharged T5 gains nine additional horses for a grand total of 227. An auxiliary input jack is now standard on all V50s, while T5 models gain a standard upgraded sound system with satellite radio. Active bi-xenon headlamps are now an option on the T5, while Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) technology is an option on all V50s. The all-wheel-drive T5 is now only available with an automatic transmission.
Americans have good reason to dislike wagons. Long summers stuffed into the back of a Country Squire will do that to a person with memories still fresh of Dad yelling "don't make me stop this car!" at the top of his lungs. But frankly, those old American wagons were lame, and it's unfair to lump today's small batch of wagons in with them. The 2008 Volvo V50 is one such new-era wagon that should be given consideration. This upscale small wagon provides plenty of interior space, top-notch safety features and plenty of hip, Swedish style that quells the bland image equated with its body style and Volvo nameplate.
For 2008, the V50 has been lightly reshaped front and rear to create a more refined look. Although the original design was always attractive, the changes made to the grille surround and rear bumper are handsome and look more upscale. Inside, the center console has been redesigned to accommodate an auxiliary audio jack, a redesigned handbrake and most importantly, sorely needed additional storage space. The minimalist and 100-percent Swedish cabin design has been left thankfully untouched, but a new Nordic Light Oak optional trim snazzes up the interior with even more of that Svenska style that would be at home in an Ikea catalog.
The turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder of the T5 model has been upgraded by nine horsepower for 2008, bringing its tally up to a healthy 227. This hardly makes the V50 a rocket, but we'll always welcome more power -- especially when it comes with an engine that gets 30 mpg on the highway.
For those willing to sacrifice a little utility for a better driving experience and gas mileage, the Volvo V50 is worth considering in lieu of smaller SUVs like the Acura RDX or Mazda CX-7. Against fellow premium compact wagons, the V50 also stacks up well, offering more cargo space than the Audi A4 Avant but slightly less than the Saab 9-3 SportCombi. These three wagons otherwise compare very closely to each other, so it mostly comes down to which car's overall style tickles your fancy and which best suits your needs. Either way, picking a 2008 Volvo V50 should be more than enough to erase some of those unfortunate wagon memories.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Volvo V50 is a premium compact wagon available in three trim levels: 2.4i, T5 and T5 AWD. These names refer to each trim's powertrain. The V50 2.4i comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat, a tilt-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, unusual T-Tec cloth upholstery, manual climate control, full power accessories and a six-speaker Dolby audio system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. In addition to its more powerful engine the T5 adds foglamps, an eight-way power driver seat, automatic climate control, aluminum trim, a trip computer and an eight-speaker sound system with in-dash CD changer and satellite radio. The T5 AWD adds all-wheel drive.
Popular options for the V50 are grouped into packages. The Select Package for the 2.4i adds 17-inch wheels, foglights, a power driver seat, a sunroof, Nordic Light Oak wood or aluminum trim, a leather gearshift knob and the T5's upgraded sound system. The T5's Premium Package adds 17-inch wheels, a sunroof, leather upholstery, a power passenger seat, driver seat memory, auto-dimming mirror with compass and Homelink. The T5 also can be equipped with a 12-speaker Dynaudio sound system and the Dynamic Trim package that adds a performance body kit, sport steering wheel and a firmer sport suspension on front-wheel-drive versions. The Climate package available on all V50s includes heated front seats, headlamp washers and rain-sensing wipers.
Leather upholstery is available for the 2.4i, while the T5 can be upgraded with keyless ignition, a navigation system and active bi-xenon headlamps. BLIS is an option on all V50s.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 V50 2.4i comes with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-5 rated for 168 hp and 170 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can choose either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic to go with it. The T5 is upgraded for 2008 as its turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-5 now makes 227 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Both front- and all-wheel-drive T5 models come with a five-speed automatic only. Despite the power increase and the EPA's revised testing for 2008, the V50's fuel economy remains very good. The 2.4i gets an estimated 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway, while the more powerful T5 is nearly identical in both cycles. The T5 AWD gets 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control are standard on all 2008 Volvo V50s. All models also have front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags along with whiplash-reducing head restraints in all outboard positions. For 2008, active bi-xenon headlights that swivel to illuminate curves are optional on the T5, while BLIS is optional on all V50s.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not crash tested a 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 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset testing, the S40 earned a top rating of "Good"; in IIHS side-impact testing, the car rated "Acceptable." These are very good ratings; however, they aren't as tanklike as Volvo's safety-first reputation would suggest.
Interior Design and Special Features
If you're looking for a hip environment in your compact wagon, the 2008 Volvo V50 is hard to beat. Aside from the handsome new Nordic Light Oak trim, the ultraslim center stack can be adorned in faux metal, real aluminum or an iMac-like white finish. The V50 has more than good looks going for it, though. That center stack features controls that are a model of simplicity, and the materials used throughout are excellent. The ergonomically designed seats are comfortable and supportive, and in concert with the telescoping steering column, provide an excellent seating position. While leather is available, we'd save a few bucks and opt for the standard "T-Tec" upholstery, which breathes very well in hot weather and firmly holds occupants in place during cornering. Cargo capacity is ample at 27.4 cubic feet, and with the 60/40 rear seat folded down, it balloons to 62.9 cubic feet.
Although the turbocharged engine in the 2008 Volvo V50 T5 has a somewhat peaky power band and exhibits some lag off the line, it's the better choice for enthusiastic drivers and even gets almost the same fuel economy as the 2.4i. For those looking to keep the price low, the base engine will be perfectly adequate, though. Handling is crisp and entertaining with either the standard or sport-tuned suspension, although some may find the latter's ride a bit too harsh when driving on less-than-pristine pavement.