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Volvo V50 DRIVe Roadtest

We all know that Volvo is famous for building big, safe estate cars.  But as the smallest Volvo estate, is there a compelling case for buying a V50?

intelligent design makes the V50 easy to live with

Well, there are a number of reasons, and we can start with the style. Unlike classic boxy Volvo estates, the V50 has svelte lines that give it a sleeker, sportier look. Yes, it is one of the oldest models in the Volvo line-up but the V50's distinctive looks have stood the test of time. Although a generation behind the latest offerings, the V50's rounded shoulders at the rear remain a key feature right across the Volvo range.

On the inside you get the first iteration of what has now become a Volvo trademark - the floating centre console, inspired by Scandinavian furniture design. As pleasing to the eye as this is, the floating centre console has forced the sat nav up on top of the dash - and it can only be operated by remote control. Not only is it clunky, it's also difficult to read.

Likewise the infotainment system applies the minimalist approach and feels strangely spartan, although at least it can connect wirelessly to your iPhone and stream music into the bargain.

In the rear there's room for three and parents will appreciate the in-built booster seats decked out in pale leather - part of the optional Free Family Pack in our SE Lux Edition test car. Pull a cord and the booster extracts outwards for the kids to sit on. It's this sort of intelligent design that makes the V50 easy to live with.

The Smaller Footprint Makes A Lot Of Sense

Clever touches abound, in fact. Acknowledging that many dog owners buy Volvos, there's built-in deployable netting to separate passengers from pooches. Some sort of cargo netting is a legal requirement if you're going to carry an animal in the boot, in any event.

OK so the V50 is the baby of the Volvo estates, but it can still swallow up to 1300 litres of luggage with the rear seats folded. The seats are split in 60/40 fashion, although they don't fold completely flat, so wardrobe shifters should look elsewhere.

This car certainly doesn't feel like the 'gargantuan barge' associated with the brand. Since many buyers are downsizing these days anyway, the smaller footprint makes a lot of sense, particularly if you're driving in the city. And city driving is really where this DRIVe variant of the V50 scores its biggest victory. Under the bonnet, Volvo has fitted an ultra-thrifty diesel engine that, coupled with a stop-start transmission, enables it to sneak under the 100g/km barrier for CO2 emissions, which renders it exempt from London's Congestion Charge. There's also no road tax to pay, and stellar economy of over 74 mpg on the Combined Cycle.

Packed With All The Safety Features You'd Expect

But does this fuel miser make for a miserable drive? No - granted, it's no GTi, although with 0-60mph in 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 121 miles per hour, the V50 DRIVe is lively enough. From behind the wheel the steering feels light and accurate, with only a touch of understeer through the sharpest bends. Gear changes through the six speed manual box are smooth, and of the high ratio variety at the top end for motorway cruising.

The V50 is packed with all the safety features you'd expect from a Volvo and one or two optional extras like the Blind Spot Information System, which flashes bright orange when in close proximity to other vehicles. Cramming a car with 'alert' technology that is constantly in your face can prove a bit wearing, but in this car it's at the right level. Safety conscious rather than nanny state, you could say.

There are a few niggles. The ride becomes fidgety over poorer surfaces, the diesel engine is lackluster below 1,500 revs and gets a bit noisy when pushed. The Swede is a bit pricey, too. Our SE Lux Edition costs £2,000 more than the comparable Golf estate - although the Volvo pips the VW on equipment and running costs.

So there's plenty of life in the V50 yet. It's stylish, compact and incredibly frugal - making it bang on trend for these belt-tightening times.

Posted on 05.12.2011 by Pat Holliday
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