2008 Volvo V50 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2008

The 2008 Volvo V50 has the efficiency and compactness of a small car with the available safety features and poise of a larger sport wagon.

To bring you this review covering the 2008 Volvo V50, the experts at TheCarConnection.com have read some of the most respected reviewers; then TheCarConnection.com’s editors added their own firsthand driving experience with the new V50.

Volvo’s small V50 wagon returns for the 2008 model year with some significant revisions inside and out. The center console and door panels get more storage space and an update to the audio system, while a new front-end appearance, and new tail lamps give the 2008 Volvo V50 a more “grown-up” look, and turbocharged T5 models see a bump in power.

A 2.4-liter inline five-cylinder engine in the base 2008 Volvo V50 2.4i model makes 168 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque in the base V50 2.4i model and exhibits perky performance with the five-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is especially good in the 2.4i, at 31 mpg highway. Higher-powered V50 T5 models take on the turbocharged, 2.5-liter inline-five, which functions especially well with the five-speed automatic; the engine increases in power from 218 to 227 horsepower. The six-speed manual gearbox is no longer available.

The top 2008 Volvo V50 T5 AWD model has the latest version of the Haldex all-wheel-drive system, which is electronically controlled. It relies on the instant of slippage from the front wheels before torque would be sent to the rear, but responds well to the V50’s needs on wet or slippery roads.

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With impressive stability and poise in high-speed cruising and curvy mountain roads, the 2008 Volvo V50 has the refined responsiveness of a larger sport wagon, especially in sporty T5 form. Handling in the T5 feels markedly sportier than in Volvo’s larger sedans. Though the ride of the T5 can be somewhat pitchy at lower speeds, road noise is not at all the problem that it can be in other small wagons and sedans.

The V50’s interior follows an especially distinctive design, with a thin, "flat panel" center control stack housing audio and climate control functions. It allows pass-through space between the driver and passenger footwells and a feeling of greater spaciousness. In front, generous seats permit an upright, near-perfect position for most, but the backseat area is quite limited in legroom.

Where Volvo admits interior storage was an issue, a new center console and revised set of door panels add more bins and room for miscellaneous items—10 CDs, for example, even though the audio system now includes an iPod jack and MP3 capability. The clock in the 2008 Volvo V50 is newly positioned, and air vents are improved.

The base 2008 Volvo V50 model comes decently equipped for its price range, with keyless entry, cruise control, and an 80-watt, six-speaker sound system included. But the sporty T5 model adds a lot more—including the turbocharged engine, flashy alloy wheels, fog lamps, electronic climate control, aluminum trim, an upgraded audio system, and six months of Sirius Satellite Radio—for a modest amount.

Active bi-xenon headlamps, which swivel in the direction the car is steered, are available on the 2008 Volvo T5 AWD, as is a navigation system and keyless drive. Safety features are by no means forgotten; Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) is an option on the V50, along with a new integrated child booster-seat system—a Volvo exclusive.

The 2008 Volvo V50 has not been crash tested, but standard safety features on the V50 include front side impact airbags, side curtain bags for front and rear outboard occupants, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control.

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2008 Volvo V50

Styling

Subtle changes inside and out make the 2008 Volvo V50 an even more aesthetically pleasing ride.

Fresh and modern at its 2004 introduction, the 2008 Volvo V50 welcomes exterior and interior tweaks to keep it competitive and address some niggles with the interior.

With an exterior described by Car and Driver as “athletic, highlighted by short overhangs and bulging fenders,” Volvo adds, according to Cars.com, a “V-shaped hood bulge [that] runs into a more sculpted nose” and a broader lower air intake for the 2008 model year. Further exterior changes include a Volvo logo 50 percent bigger than before, high-intensity LED rear lights, and restyled front projector beam headlights.

Inside, the V50 provides a functional, cool place to work its controls. Kelley Blue Book says the V50’s interior is “Scandinavian in nature” and that it must surely “qualify as no-frills.” The interior retains “the button-and-knob-infused stack” that “isn't immediately intuitive,” according to Car and Driver, but Volvo has made numerous changes in response to complaints. Chief among the changes are additional storage cubbies for “more storage space in the doors and the center console,” Motor Trend says. Cars.com adds that “the center armrest is modified for greater comfort, and the handbrake handle is smaller and less intrusive.” Of the V50’s tailgate, Automobile feels that its “V70-like tailgate,” a standard clamshell design, is “a shame--designers should have gone with a wackier C30-like butt.”

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2008 Volvo V50

Performance

The best choice among the different versions of the 2008 Volvo V50 seems to be a T5 minus the sport package and all-wheel drive.

The 2008 Volvo V50’s mechanical bits are all over the map, from sedate to ferocious, comforting to kidney-jarring, according to reviews from around the Web.

Comments on the V50’s standard 2.4-liter inline-five, which registers 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet, range from “perfectly adequate” (Edmunds) to “unimpressive, especially up long grades” (Consumer Guide). The optional 2.5-liter turbo in the T5 brings 227 horses to the table, but perhaps even more significant, its 236 pound-feet of torque is available from 1,500-4,800 rpm, allowing, says Car and Driver, “launches off the line” and great highway passing, all with “no noticeable turbo lag.” Kelley Blue Book feels the “turbocharged engine brings the little V50 to life.”

Some bemoaned the cancellation of the T5’s manual transmission option, leaving a five-speed automatic the lone choice for the turbo engine in 2008: “the Geartronic manual shift mode is not as quick nor as fun to drive as the discontinued six-speed manual,” declares Edmunds. The base engine still has a choice of five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. “Go easy on it and the stick can be slid from gear to gear with barely two fingers,” remarks Kelley Blue Book reflecting general praise for the manual transmission. Of the automatic, they feel it “seemed to work quite well.”

Car and Driver hails the base suspension’s “firm ride that manages to be both comfortable and compliant.” Cars.com agrees: “curves produce only modest body lean, and the sedan corners crisply.” The stiffly sprung sports suspension, standard with AWD models and included with the Sports Package, “makes for an uncomfortably stiff ride,” discloses ConsumerGuide. Edmunds concludes, “most drivers would be more content with the standard setup as it offers a more livable compromise between performance and comfort.” Of note is the electro-hydraulically assisted power steering standard across the board. It's a willing ally with the V50’s responsive chassis, one that Edmunds feels provides “high-speed confidence and low-speed ease.” “Just the right amount of effort,” agrees Road & Track.

Remarkably, both base and turbo engine achieve identical city/highway fuel-economy ratings of 20/28 mpg with the five-speed automatic. All-wheel drive drops both figures by 2 mpg.

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2008 Volvo V50

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Volvo V50 feels refined, though backseat passengers will be compressed.

Following Volvo tradition, the 2008 Volvo V50 belies its mid-20s base price, Ford Focus roots, and entry-level status across the model spectrum with comfortable seats and quality construction.

Up front are ergonomically designed chairs whose “comfort on long drives is undeniable,” remarks Kelley Blue Book. The high quality of the interior is undisputed: “From something as simple as a high-quality headliner to the clean and classy gauges, the cabin conveys an upscale feel from top to bottom,” says Edmunds. Model year 2008 also addresses a sore point with the interior, as Volvo wisely adds “more storage space in the doors and the center console,” according to Motor Trend.

Alas, the rear seat isn’t as hospitable, but none of its European rivals have Cadillac-large backseats either. Kelley Blue Book criticizes a “cramped rear seat and moderate headroom.” ConsumerGuide is kinder, stating, “two adults get decent head and elbow space, but three will feel pinched.”

As to its value in the marketplace, the V50’s pricing makes it a strong competitor. Kelley Blue Book remarks that it “undercuts the base Audi A4 and BMW 335 by a good margin,” but notes “the pricing gap closes quickly once comparable features are added.” The pricing starts in the mid-20s for a base 2.4i all the way to the low 40s for a loaded T5 AWD.

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2008 Volvo V50

Safety

Building on an already safe vehicle and a stout chassis, incremental upgrades to the 2008 Volvo V50 make it an even better choice for the safety-conscious buyer.

Staying true to its safety roots even in its smallest entry-level wagon, Volvo has designed the 2008 V50 with standard and optional, as well as active and passive, safety features found on many of its newer platforms.

In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, the V50’s platform-mate, the S40, scored four stars for the driver, five for the passenger in frontal crash tests. It scored five stars for side impact testing for both front and rear seat passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the S40 “good” across all measures for its frontal offset test. We expect the V50 to perform similarly when it is tested.

Standard active safety features include side impact and side curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, electronic stability system with traction control, and tire pressure monitoring. For 2008, the hazard lights now automatically engage any time the airbags are deployed. And with standard EBL (Emergency Brake Light) functionality, the new, brighter LED rear lights will flash rapidly in a panic braking situation.

Volvo’s BLIS (Blind Spot Information System), “which lights an indicator just inboard of either of the V50’s side mirrors when a car occupies its corresponding blind spot,” according to Cars.com, is a stand-alone option. Self-steering bi-xenon headlamps are available in T5 models. The Haldex AWD system can be had only on the T5 AWD for a premium of about $2,000. It engages only when front wheel slip is detected.

Building on the foundation of what Volvo dubs “Intelligent Vehicle Architecture,” it seems the company has attempted to include “the levels of safety found in the flagship S80 luxury sedan,” according to MyRide.com. That means four grades of steel in the front structure “to create optimal crumple zones” (Car and Driver) and “extremely rigid cross members for side-impact protection” (Kelley Blue Book).

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2008 Volvo V50

Features

The 2008 Volvo V50 offers brilliant audio systems, navigation, and other technophile features—but you better be happy with the factory sound.

Says Kelley Blue Book, “even in the base 2.4i trim, [the Volvo V50] features air conditioning, side-curtain airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), an engine immobilizer, traction control, rear fog lamp, keyless remote entry, heated power mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels, a single CD player and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel.”

Autoblog describes Volvo’s Dynamic Trim package as “a $1,895 bundle of body kit baubles we would normally forego.” It incorporates front and rear spoilers, rear valance panel, side sills, and lower moldings at the doors’ edges. Kelley Blue Book mentions that “popular options are mostly bundled into packages,” such as the Climate Package and Select Package. Stand-alone options include leather seating (2.4i), the Blind Spot Information System, and the five-speed Geartronic automatic transmission (2.4i). The T5 offers active bi-xenon headlamps, a sport steering wheel, sport suspension, 17-inch "Zaurak" wheels, navigation, and Volvo's Keyless Drive remote start system.

The biggest changes for technogeeks and audiophiles seem to center around the updated--and iconic--floating Volvo center stack, which can now be ordered in Nordic Light Oak or Virtual White (think Steve Jobs). The Auto Channel mentions “more dynamically styled instrument panels for the T5 model, Dynaudio speakers for the Premium Sound system, a new hard drive-based RTI road traffic information and satellite navigation system and a redesigned remote key fob with Auto Open and Auto Close for all side windows and sunroof.”

Navigation is standard on T5 models but not available on the 2.4i. Bluetooth is standard across the board. But inherent in the Volvo’s unique center panel design is the inability to upgrade to an aftermarket radio. Of the optional Dynaudio stereo, Jalopnik warns, “Don’t expect bass-thumping demonstrativeness…it’s strictly about midrange clarity.”

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8.2
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Styling 8.0
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