If you want a safe, good-looking and compact wagon that has accessible power
and excellent handling, look no further. The Volvo V50 2.4 will answer your
every need. But on the other hand, if you want a wagon to carry children and
prams and clothes and all the rest of the stuff that a young family needs,
forget the V50. It simply doesn’t have enough space or ease of use.
The current crop of Volvos handle very well and have excellent engines... quite
a change from the recent past. But they also have poor interior design that
leaves them much smaller inside than out and makes using what room they do have
The V50 (that’s Volvo-speak for the wagon version of the S40 sedan) with
5-speed auto trans tips the scales at AUD$52,950. However, our SE press car had
the high performance sound system ($1350), sunroof ($2150) and ‘aluminium
interior inlays’ ($245) options, bringing the total up to $56,695. That’s great
value – you get as standard full leather, extensive airbag protection that
includes side curtain bags, Stability Traction Control, dual climate control,
Volvo’s excellent trip computer/information system and an electric driver’s
But what the features list doesn’t tell you is that you also get a superb
road car. The engine is a 2.4-litre 5-cylinder transverse design developing
125kW at 6000 rpm and 230Nm at 4400 rpm. It has a gruff (though not unpleasant)
note and bags of torque everywhere: the standard traction control system is
needed when booting it away from a standstill. Together with brilliant trans
logic, there is always accessible power and response.
Volvo claim a 0-100 km/h time of 9 seconds but such is the sheer spread of
power, on the road often the car often feels faster than that. Take into account
the standard tiptronic-style function on the auto (pulling backwards causes a
downchange), and the driveline is an excellent match for the sporty on-road
And the performance isn’t at the expense of fuel economy, either. Despite
being driven quite hard in hilly conditions, the S50 returned fuel figures in
the mid-high Nines (litres/100km). The combined figure for the official test
cycle is 9.2 itres/100 km.
The ride is firm but the handling easily makes this trade-off worthwhile:
we’d say that the S50 wagon is a sweeter handler than the high-power, much more
stiffly suspended S40 T5 that we recently sampled. Unlike the T5, the S50 has
pretty well zero evidence that engine torque is passing through the front
wheels. In addition, the reduced power means understeer provoked by the right
foot is less likely to occur. In short, the 205/55 Pirellia P7’s go pretty well
where they’re pointed, with the nose able to be tucked-in (and the rear brought
out) in really enthusiastic cornering by a simple throttle-lift. However, it’s
all very confidence-inspiring: this is a car that feels immensely secure on the
So, good features list, tractable and economical engine, great handling.... No,
where were we? Ahhh, yes – the carrying capacity.
For a brand new design, the interior space in the S50 is lousy. And to make
matters worse, what space there is present is poorly utilized. The glovebox is a
deep hole buried in the lower dash (it’s impossible to see what’s at the back of
it without craning your head down); the door pockets are tiny; the rear
passenger space (in all directions, with the exception of headroom) is tight;
and lift the tailgate and even in the wagon section of the car, there’s not a
helluva lot of room. It’s shallow in height and narrow between the intrusive
In fact, to give you an interior design comparison, we’d suggest a Holden
Camira wagon – a smaller car from 20 years ago – has much better space
Ah, but you can fold the rear seat, can’t you? Well, yes, you can – if you
can be bothered. Firstly, the front seats need to be moved forward. Next, the
rear head restraints must be removed. Then the rear squabs need to be lifted and
folded against the back of the front seats. Then one side of the seat back must
be first folded. Then – finally – you can do the other side of the seat back.
That still leaves a beam carrying the cargo blind stretched across from
wheel-arch to wheel-arch – and removing this is a struggle.
Reversing the process is an even greater hassle. The seat backs are heavy and
access through the narrow-opening rear doors is poor. In fact, we had a pregnant
woman try to lift the seatback into place – and she couldn’t do it. Too heavy,
access too awkward. And even if she had been able to raise the seat back, she’d
have had to do it with one hand as the other is needed to avoid a tangle of
It’s best to think of the V50 wagon as simply having the boot space that is
so laughably lacking in the V40 sedan....
The controls are a mixed bag. Those on the steering wheel (cruise and sound
system) are clear and easy to use, as are the column stalks. However, the
sharp-edged centre console has a multitude of tiny buttons which – even with
familiarity – defy intuitive use. Volvo makes much of the ‘floating’ console
panel but the only practical advantage gained from this design is the presence
of a hard-to-access oddments space placed directly behind it.
The front pillars are very thick and the rear vision mirror is connected to
the roof by a black moulding – tall drivers will need to peer under it to see
traffic approaching from the front-left position. As with the T5 sedan, we also
found the ventilation poor. It was helped in the test car by the optional
sunroof – with the rear popped up, there was decent airflow through the car.
Close the sunroof, though, and the aircon needed to be on – even on a 20-degree
C sunny day. Oh, and to direct air at front faces, the central vents need to
angled so that they appear to be pointed at the ceiling...
Car design is done by a large team of people. In the case of the S50, it’s
clear that whoever was directing the engine and chassis teams gave instructions
that included words like ‘class-leading’, ‘practical’ and ‘useable’. But in the
case of the interior, the directions obviously became muffled...
The Volvo S50 2.4 SE was provided for this test by Volvo Australia.