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Comfort Zone - cuddle up with the Volvo V50 estateBy: Tim Gibson

Volvo V50

If there’s one thing you can say with confidence about Volvos, it’s that they will always be among the most comfortable cars on the road. And the V50 test car I had recently was no exception. Even before I sat in the driver’s seat, I just knew it would support every millimetre of my back in a warming Scandinavian cuddle.

I was right: the V50 shares in the legacy established by cars like the 240, 740 and 940. That means it provides occupants with exceptional, figure-hugging comfort.

The V50 shares another feature with Volvos of yore – it is very much an acquired taste. After a week with the car, I was only just beginning to adjust to its quirky way of being, and excessively stylised interior.

This is a common observation among Volvo aficionados. It takes an age to get used to living with one. But once the brand gets under your skin, you’re unlikely to think that a car made by any other manufacturer will ever be capable of satisfying your vehicular needs.

That’s stuff and nonsense, of course. Truth be told, there are plenty of other car makers who are in many respects far superior to Volvo.

Take Ford, for example, whose Focus provides the platform on which the V50 is based. For many, this makes Volvo’s smallest estate car nothing more than a wannabe, a pretender to the Gothenburg heritage. Why buy a V50, they say, when you could buy a Focus for half the price, and half the running costs?

The answer is that, although it shares some characteristics with its more mainstream cousin, the V50 still feels like a bona fide Volvo. Those seats still cocoon you in an environment that feels by turns safe, cultured and very solid. Sit behind the wheel and, providing you’re stubbly and a bit gloomy, you could almost be Kurt Wallander.

For many, this feeling is all that matters. Volvo’s one-time Scandinavian rival Saab sold a huge number of cars in the UK by claiming that its customers were among the most educated in the country. Maybe it’s no surprise that Saab’s demise has coincided with the democratisation of Higher Education. Now you have to assume everyone has a degree, even if they drive a Corsa.

What matters for modern Scandinavian cars is that they project an image of sophistication. And the V50 just about manages to do this, even though its floor plan comes from Dagenham. Its daylight running lights, state-of-the-art floating centre console and – a Swedish must-have, this – peculiarly located ignition hole all contribute to a feeling that the vehicle is just a little out of the ordinary.

In the face of this, the actual quality of the car seems insignificant. Even so, I’ll tell you that it handles very well, though it has a very crashy ride on uneven surfaces. It also feels disconcertingly cramped, as if someone has taken a grown-up, full-sized, Volvo estate and put it in a shrinking machine. I lost count of the number of times I whacked my elbow against the driver’s door while turning the steering wheel, but it was enough to generate a noticeable bruise.

While we’re on the V50’s shortcomings, here’s another thing that disappoints. Unlike Volvos of old, its boot is tiny. I mean, ridiculously small. Like a hatchback. Or maybe a London apartment.

I could forgive the car most things, because it remains a charming, seductive vehicle to spend time with – one that lives on in your memory even when you’re back behind the wheel of a conventional person’s automobile. But a Volvo with a small boot seems ridiculous to me; like an Olympic football team without David Beckham in midfield. It’s been shorn of the whole reason for its existence, and will almost certainly fail to deliver what you expect from it.

Indeed, there’s only one thing that would be more insulting to me than a Volvo with a miniscule boot, and that’s if it wasn’t comfortable. In this respect, at least, the V50 comes up trumps… just so long as you don’t value your elbows.

Vital Statistics

  • On test: Volvo V50, 2.0 D3 SE 5d six-speed manual
  • Power output: 150bhp
  • Top speed: 130mph
  • 0-60mph: 9.3 seconds
  • Fuel economy: 55mpg
  • Price: £24,955

About the author:

Tim Gibson is a freelance journalist who writes for publications including The Daily Telegraph, Civil Service World and Total 4x4. He is a founding Director of The Writing Hut Ltd, a copywriting agency based in South Somerset


Features July 2012

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