You can blame the rise of the SUV and MPV for much of the modern station wagon’s woes. Unable to match the lifestyle appeal of the former, and also not the utter practicality of the latter, the station wagon market has shrunk into insignificance. Volvo, however, is also not without blame.
Of course, the Swedish manufacturer is synonymous with station wagons, having built and sold millions of them in the previous three decades. But it is these very same no-nonsense, boxy, practicality obsessed machines that have endowed the entire station wagon market with an unfortunate “uncool” perception.
Square is outWith its new V50, Volvo hopes to inject a degree of sportiness and desirability back into the station wagon market. It’s certainly an attractive car, this Volvo V50 2.4i . Based on the very popular S40 sedan, it features the same Viking long-boat inspired overview, well-defined shoulders and nicely sculpted rear end. Riding on stylish 16-inch alloy wheels that fill the wheel arches effectively, the V50 certainly has a hint of athleticism about it that few other station wagons can match.
It is obvious, however, that the slightly smaller dimensions and new found design focus have resulted in some compromises in the packaging of the interior. The wheelbase is slightly shorter than most of the competition, and consequently rear legroom is no better than the S40 sedan’s, which in turn is some way short of the best in this class. Furthermore, the boot is rather small. Save for the ability to pack “higher” in the boot, you may wonder what the point is of this station wagon. It is all about changing market trends. You see, station wagons are apparently no longer to be bought by antique furniture salesmen, but rather by active families who need a car that is sporty and comfortable for the daily slog to the office, but which can transform into a bit of a leisure vehicle for the weekends.
Once you start playing with the Volvo’s seats, it all starts to make sense. The rear seats fold flat completely, leaving a long and very flat floor which, combined with the increased vertical space (compared with a sedan), allows for some very big objects to be transported. Then there are also roof rails, good for carrying a load of up to 75 kg. Overall, the V50 is certainly a more practical all-rounder than the S40 it is based upon.
Comfort & safetyIn typical Volvo fashion, safety has been a high priority. There are six airbags, integrated booster cushions in the rear seats, Isofix anchorages and a number of other clever touches. No wonder the V50 has achieved a five-star EuroNCAP crash rating. It also boasts ABS with EBD, as well as stability traction control.
In fact, Volvo has been generous with the overall specification; Climate control, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, radio/CD with remote audio controls and front and rear fog lamps are all standard. Further boosting comfort levels for the driver are a steering wheel adjustable for rake and reach, and a seat with manual height-adjustment. Volvo has always been good at fitting supportive seats that remain comfortable during long-distance driving, and the V50 is no different.
Surprising powerThis V50 derivative is powered by the brand’s 2,4-litre, five-cylinder engine that delivers a surprisingly “naughty” exhaust sound that do much to substantiate Volvo’s claim that this is a performance wagon. The outputs are good, too, with 125 kW and 230 Nm on tap. In reality, however, the V50 feels even livelier than those figures suggest. It will sprint to 100 km/h in around 10 seconds – not bad for a “wagon”, and faster than most of the competition. The big-displacement engine also shows excellent flexibility during high-speed cruising, with enough overtaking punch remaining available without the need for constant gear changing. Speaking of which, the five-speed manual transmission is very impressive, delivering accurate, fast shifts.
One typical downside of a large-capacity petrol engine tends to be fuel consumption. Normal daily driving in the V50 2.4i should realistically result in a consumption figure of around 10 litres/100 km, perhaps even significantly more at altitude and when transporting goods or more than just a driver. Then again, drive in an economically minded fashion, and you could achieve below 9 litres/100 km without resorting to economy run shenanigans.
Riding on a multi-link rear suspension set-up and boasting a body shell that one senses is very rigid, the Volvo V50 2.4i does excellently in the dynamic department as well. The ride quality is superb, with the car portraying a loping, cushioning gait during cruising that will certainly please the family. And yet, when the opportunity presents itself and the driver is in a playful mood, there’s also good body control, responsive steering and lots of grip. It is very enjoyable, yet relaxing car to drive, with superb levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) refinement being the cherry on top.
VerdictIf you’re looking for an old-fashioned station wagon that prioritises space above anything else, then you should look elsewhere – the V50 is a true sports wagon that offers appreciably improved practicality compared with a sedan, but which remains an entertaining and agile car to drive. Volvo, which at a time not so long ago seemed to exist entirely to produce humdrum, box-shaped wagons with limited driving appeal has really reinvented not only itself but the genre with this impressive product. The V50 is great value.
We don’t like:
Ignition slot placement
Engine: 2.4-litre, five-cylinder, petrol
Power: 125 kW @ 6 000 rpm
Torque: 230 Nm @ 4 400 rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: 218 km/h
0-100 km/h: N/A seconds (10 seconds EST.)
Fuel economy: N/A litres/100 km (9.5 litres/100 km EST.)
Ageing and lacking in power, but the BMW remains a solid choice if performance is not that important. Resale value should be superior to the Volvo’s.
A fair bit pricier, but the Audi is arguably the Volvo’s most serious rival, offering similar power, more space, and a very upmarket cabin environment.
Compared with previous Mercedes station wagon offerings, this C-Class is certainly less boxy, but this has impacted its load-carrying ability – the boot is similarly small to the Volvo’s. The Mercedes is also down on power.