By Patrick James on 2010-10-03 - The author has been a motoring writer for more than 16 years. Formerly motoring editor at the Coventry Telegraph, he now produces motoring copy, on new car launches and road tests on a freelance basis.
Volvo V50 D2 ES 1.6
THE Volvo V50 is a bit like an iPod - it may look simple but it's crammed with clever technology. The Swedes have well and truly bucked the trend with the new less is best approach.
One or two cars I have driven have looked like the inside of a Nasa shuttle and you need a PhD and two hours to figure out the master dial, controller or wheel thingy. But the Scandinavian designers studied high-tech audio equipment, computers and cameras to come up with the new stylish and simple interior - and it works.
It's an instantly comfortable and classy place to be. Everything is solid, stylish, well thought out, and built to last. They have stripped back all the buttons and cleverly crammed everything into what they call a "remote control" in the middle.
The unusual ultra slim and stylish silver console appears to float and houses the controls for the audio system, climate control, and menu system. Minimalist can be a by-word for cheap, but not in the V50. All of the controls and high end equipment is housed in this clever bit of kit, which is very easy to use.
There is also plenty of leg and headroom and clever storage spaces around the car including the small net style pocket hidden on the front of the driver seat between your legs. I have walked off and left my wallet and phone on display in the central well in almost every car I have ever driven, but the boffins at Volvo have solved this with a very simple piece of netting.
The outside looks match the classy appearance and feel on the interior with a sporty low-slung profile, nicely set off with smart alloys and neat light clusters.
If you want real performance you can really push the boat out with a very powerful turbocharged petrol T5, which produces an enormous 230bhp and a sprint time of 6.4 seconds, but the tourqey 1.6 diesel test car produced more than enough power and hugely impressive economy.
It was particularly good on the motorway and it handled superbly on winding back lanes. But it feels most comfortable in the higher gears and has to be pushed through the gearbox to get the best out of it.
Volvo has also managed to drag plenty of miles out of the super efficient diesel engine, a stunning, claimed 65mpg and has added fuel saver tyres and a gear change indicator to help achieve this.
The V50 is a very capable work wagon, with its standard fit roof bars, seats that fold right back and a boot that is more than big enough for it class.
Standard kit include folding, electric, heated mirrors, alloys, dual zone climate control, roof rails, steering wheel controls and those important split fold rear seats.
On the face of it this car is well equipped and needs to be for the price, but many of the other useful features on the test model model turned out to be quite expensive extras.
These included electric sunroof (£595), cruise control (£265), bluetooth (£265), heated seats (£265), rear parking sensors (£375) and very nice two tone white and black leather seats (1,250).
The extras stack up and add another £3,000 onto the price tag, but the most bizarre extra fit is the £30 charge to have the option of turning off the passenger airbag.
Thankfully, the cutting edge safety specifications that Volvo has built its reputation on comes in at no extra cost. The five-star score in Euro NCAP crash tests was achieved with the help of the standard traction control, side impact bars, electronic stability programme, belt pretensioners, whiplash protection, side, curtain and passenger dual stage airbags and ABS as standard. They also throw in rain-sensing wipers. The alarm, imobiliser and deadlocks are also standard fits.
The V50 is a sporty family car that lives up to the practicality is sports wagon name suggests. You are guaranteed excellent safety, superb and reliable build quality and the bags of space.
Volvo V50 D2 ES 1.6
Mechanical: 115bhp, 1,560cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox
Max Speed: 121mph
0-62mph: 10.9 seconds
Combined MPG: 65.7
Insurance Group: 21
C02 emissions: 114g/km
Bik rating: 13%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles
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