In Volvo nomenclature, "V" stands for "versatile." Versatility is great, but as the departed V40 wagon proved, it says nothing about excitement -- not when the other elements in the mix are drab sheet metal and mediocre performance. The Volvo V50 was conceived to replace this less-than-memorable small wagon, and it improves on the formula by offering more style and the opportunity for greater performance.
The compact V50 has been dubbed a "sport wagon" by Volvo. With its bulging fenders and grooved hood, this Volvo looks, dare we say, ripped. And it lives up to the "sport" part through its sharp handling and sprightly acceleration -- as long as you opt for the turbocharged engine, that is. With that turbo under its hood, the Volvo V50 feels nimble and brisk. Alas, the V50's normally aspirated base engine is far less impressive.
Still, with either power plant, this upscale small wagon is enjoyable on the inside, offering a design that's as ergonomically correct as it is distinctive. There are also plenty of safety features, with a lineup that includes side-impact and head curtain airbags, active head restraints and optional built-in booster seats for children. Combine all this with the utility offered by the available all-wheel drive, and Volvo's V50 distinguishes itself as providing plenty of "V" without being boring to drive or own.
Current Volvo V50
The Volvo V50 compact sport wagon shares its basic platform with the S40 sedan and C30 hatchback. V50 buyers have their choice of two trim levels -- base T5 and sportier T5 R-Design. Both V50s boast a turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine that sends a healthy 227 horsepower to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic with manual-shift capability.
The T5's standard equipment includes alloy wheels, a power driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, a six-CD changer and an iPod interface. The T5 R-Design adds sporty exterior and interior styling cues, a sport-tuned suspension, a power sunroof, heated front seats and partial leather upholstery. The options list includes active bi-xenon headlights, a navigation system, heated seats and a blind-spot warning system.
Volvo's Scandinavian roots are elegantly reflected in the V50's cabin. The feel is open and clean, highlighted by an unusually thin center stack. In true Scandinavian fashion, function goes hand in hand with form -- for the most part. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat helps the car easily digest oversize items; cargo capacity is competitive with that of others in this class, and controls are easily navigable. Materials quality is also quite good. The one negative here is that the wagon's minimalist aesthetic also results in a minimal number of storage areas within its cabin.
Used Volvo V50 Models
The Volvo V50 debuted for the 2005 model year, and there have been just a few changes along the way. Initially, it was available in base 2.4i (168 hp) and turbocharged T5 (218 hp) trims. Both were front-wheel drive, with the T5 also available with all-wheel drive. The T5's power output was boosted to 227 hp for 2008. A six-speed manual transmission for the T5 was sporadically available, depending on model year and drive configuration.
Other changes include standard stability control on all V50s for 2007, and upgraded audio components and the optional blind-spot monitor for '08. Also, prior to 2009, V50s had considerably less standard equipment and commensurately lower base prices. For 2011, the base 2.4i was dropped, as were the availability of a manual transmission and all-wheel drive.