Sturdy as she goes
More commanding than its V40 predecessor, the Volvo V50 is faster, a little bigger and a lot easier on the eye.
The round-nosed, convex-sided 2008 model has been tweaked stylistically, with a curved roof line, aluminium roof rails and more abrupt tail section, and a longer and wider track makes the V50 more imposing.
With its cab-forward stance and broadened shoulder line, the V50 looks the part of a compact sports wagon that Volvo hopes can lure buyers away from the Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series wagons.
With its black egg-crate grille, sharper headlamps and sculpted tail, the V50 seems to give the compact wagon a harder driving edge - much like the C30 and C70.
Around Hong Kong, the V50 is comfortable to drive with responsive steering. The wagon's funky interior also makes driving the V50 more enjoyable. The cabin is a paragon of uncluttered Scandinavian design, with good quality, tactile materials and ergonomic functionality the order of the day.
The V50 was the first Volvo model to showcase the maker's trademark slim, free-floating centre console and it still looks cutting edge - the only silver element in a slick all-black leather-clad compartment.
The cabin's not huge, but as a mid-range wagon the Volvo V50 is 5cm longer than the old model, giving it a surprisingly large luggage compartment - 417 litres as standard, or 717 litres with the rear seats folded flat - so there's plenty of space.
Preventive safety is regarded as one of Volvo's fortes, and the V50's combination of a rigid body linked to a sturdy chassis makes for reassuring driving.
The body of the wagon has been designed in the form of a metal cage made of different grades of steel, where all the components interact to ensure 'controlled deformation' if you crash, Volvo says. All five seats are equipped with three-point inertia-reel seat belts, belt pre-tensioners and head restraints.
There's a host of safety systems to keep passengers securely in place and reduce the risk of serious injury, such as a whiplash protection system (Whips), side impact protection system (SIPS) and an inflatable curtain (IC) system. Volvo's advanced dynamic stability and traction control (DSTC) is fitted as standard and does a good job of stabilising the car if it has any tendency to skid. The T5 engine in the wagon is transversely mounted, making it possible to fit a five-cylinder T5 engine (used to great effect in the Volvo C30) within the compact V50 body. Volvo says the V50 has been designed to have as little impact as possible on the environment, with the engine producing low internal friction, more efficient combustion and a new exhaust filtration technology system to keep emissions to a minimum.
On a run out to Sai Kung, the five-cylinder engine is smooth, with a good spread of torque through the revs. Acceleration from the 230bhp is progressive, rather than startling, but the wagon feels perky enough to lug four or five adults without much trouble - thanks to the T5's turbocharger and a lively five-speed automatic transmission.
You feel the 230-brake horsepower on tap but this is more of a necessity than a virtue as the V50 wagon weighs nearly 1,500kg. Yet, the V50's no slouch and pace is as brisk as you'll ever need, even when full. Best of all, the V50 handles like its German counterparts with sharper cornering and a firmer ride than many cars destined for the US. The new Saab 9-3, for instance, has a much softer ride and you feel less connected to the road as a result.
Volvo seems to be finding its stride, and has plans to develop the V50 range within the next three years. Future V50s will be bigger and more dynamically potent as Volvo competes for its share of the medium-to-large car sector.
This is good news for drivers, and the V50 shows that Volvo has created a well-built, mid-range wagon with a large-car feel. With stronger styling and performance, an eye for detail and some competitive pricing, the current and future V50s could be Audi beaters.
AT A GLANCE: Volvo V50 T5
What drives it? A 2,521cc 20-valve, five-cylinder in-line T5 engine with 5-speed adaptive shift auto box.
How fast is it? Volvo says: 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds, with a top speed of 235km/h.
How safe is it? As houses - ABS (anti-lock braking system), EBD (electronic brake-force distribution, BA (brake assist) - plus a few more: dynamic stability and traction control (DSTC), door-mounted safety curtains, whiplash protection system (WHIPS) and dual-stage airbags all round make for safe driving.
How thirsty is it? Combined: 9.5 litres/ 100km/h on a 62-litre tank
Hong Kong friendly? Spews 227 grams of CO2 per kilometre, the fug equivalent of 1.89 Smart ForTwos
Nice touches: Smart interior, supple ride and surprisingly responsive thanks to the T5 engine.
Availability: HK$328,000, with the 2.4 costing HK$288,000, at Wearnes Motors (tel: 2927 3388)