Long-term tests

Volvo V50

No doubt about it, the Volvo XC90 was one of our best-ever long-termers - the giant SUV never put a foot wrong. Of course, this made it harder to say goodbye after nine months, but the pill was sweetened by its replacement - a V50.

  • Five-cylinder engine note, useful load bay features, interior design, comfort levels, gearchange
  • Boot volume, small door pockets, squeaking clutch pedal, firm ride, Isofix not standard

No doubt about it, the Volvo XC90 was one of our best-ever long-termers - the giant SUV never put a foot wrong. Of course, this made it harder to say goodbye after nine months, but the pill was sweetened by its replacement - a V50.

We're big fans of the new S40/V50 range, awarding the saloon our compact executive title at this year's New Car Honours, and putting the V50 ahead of rivals from Jaguar and BMW in a group test (issue 803). However, rather than go for the frugal 2.0-litre diesel, we've opted for the 220bhp T5 version. That may sound extravagant, but at less than £25,000, it's cheaper than equivalent models from more illustrious marques.

The Audi A4 Avant 3.0 quattro SE is £27,825, and the BMW 330i SE Touring an even more distant £29,025. Yet neither is as well equipped as the Volvo. SE spec is standard on all T5s, and includes leather trim, attractive 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a trip computer and rain sensor.

To this, we've added a £700 electric sunroof, the £2,500 RTI Navigation System which was so handy on the XC90, and the £250 Family Pack with integrated booster seats and powered child locks. However, I was very surprised that Isofix child seat mountings are a cost option on such a safety-conscious car. I have to admit I'd been spoiled by the XC90 - for a new dad (I have a 10-month-old daughter), it was perfect. All I had to do with the stacks of baby gear was casually load the vast boot. You simply can't do this with the V50 - its 417-litre hold is 198 litres smaller.

Weekends away require military-style planning. Put a buggy and rucksack-style baby carrier into the boot, and it's virtually full. But the V50's load bay isn't small compared to its main rivals' - the A4 and 3-Series struggle just as much. Plus the Volvo has several useful features. There's an umbrella cubby built into the load cover holder and the boot mat is reversible, with rubber or carpet sides.

However, it's the overall comfort and interior design that make this car so appealing. It's fresh and contemporary, with great seats and a first-class layout - but it's not perfect. The door pockets are pointlessly small, it's easy to bang your knuckles when releasing the handbrake and the clutch pedal has been squeaking since day one - not even WD-40 has managed to cure it.

It also took a while to get used to inserting the key into the dash on the left side of the steering wheel, although it's a good security feature. Despite our quibbles, there's a real feelgood factor surrounding the driving environment - it even beats the XC90 in that regard. And the V50 is a lot quicker, too. We kept to 3,000rpm for the first 1,000-mile running-in period, and have gradually extended it. The long-geared six-speed gearbox helped, only showing a little over 2,000rpm at 70mph. Keeping the revs down has aided fuel economy, too. We've averaged 28mpg, but this will fall as we use more of the engine's potential.

Nevertheless, the five-cylinder unit doesn't feel bedded in, although the gruff engine note sounds good and the turbo delivers lots of mid-range thrust. And while the ride is firm, the handling is neat and composed. Overall, this Volvo takes a lot of beating; we didn't think anything could replace the XC90, but the V50 is already winning admirers.

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