While a couple of thousand old S40 saloons and V40 estates will be sold under the 'Classic' badge for the first few months of this year, the V50, which arrives in showrooms in April, squares off against premium German rivals.
The old model, a joint project with the Mitsubishi Carisma, was seen as a quality alternative to the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra, and the V40 estate was an attractive load-lugger sitting on the fence between workhorse and lifestyle wagon.
Volvo is keen to distinguish its range of estates from its saloons – even allocating them different numbers – and when the new S40 was launched to the press a few months ago, Volvo placed it in a vague sub-£20,000 premium sector listing rivals from the Mercedes A-class to the BMW 3-series compact.
However, the new V50 has the likes of the Audi A4 Avant and BMW 3-series Touring firmly in its sights, more or less matching them both for length, and with the rear seats folded comes close to the BMW 3-series Touring's 1,345 litres of luggage volume.
Volvo is keen to cash in on a growing premium compact estate segment, which has added 10,000 units to its total in the last three years, and last year accounted for about 33,000 sales in the UK.
Volvo believes V50 drivers will be looking at the existing premium brands, whose estate models in this sector favour form over function, hence the V50 offering less luggage volume than the outgoing V40 – different sector, different customers.
Volvo thinks it can offer drivers more performance for the money, with a potent five-cylinder turbo T5 and with an all-wheel drive option to tempt Audi A4 Quattro drivers.
Some customers, perhaps, will upgrade from mainstream estates (and it expects to carry over a great deal of V40 customers), with aspirations to drive a premium car for a similar list price.
And research has shown that younger drivers, with active lifestyles, are more attracted to estates and saloons, so Volvo thinks the V50 can help lower the age profile of the average Volvo driver.
Despite trying to differentiate its saloons from its estates, the V50 and S40 were developed as the same car, and the V50 benefits from many of the features as the S40.
There is the unique 'centre stack' floating centre console, which comes with an optional but showy translucent plastic design in the estate.
There are rear seatbelt reminders (a message on the information display rather than an annoying chime) and a catalytic coating on the radiator to help clean up the emissions of other cars when in traffic, converting ozone to oxygen.
The V50 platform was a joint project with Ford (Focus C-MAX and next-generation Focus) and Mazda (Mazda3), but Volvo hasn't resorted to the economics of the parts bin, with trademark features still intact.
Switches and controls help the V50 (and S40) feel 100% Volvo for the occupants, even though a variety of components are shared with Ford and Mazda.
Standard S models gain electronic climate control, dynamic stability control and traction control (DSTC), 16-inch alloy wheels, reach adjustment for the steering wheel and emergency braking assistance over the outgoing V40, while the leather-clad interior of the SE with extra features is available for a premium of £2,250.
The car will be launched in April with 2.4i, T5 and 2.0D variants, with a 1.8-litre petrol (with an all-important lower entry price), and all-wheel drive option for the T5 following in June. A Euro IV compliant version of the diesel and a Sport variant will be offered in the summer, while entry level 1.6-litre petrol and diesel versions going into the S40 range will not make it into UK versions of the estate.
The Volvo V40 sold an average of 9,100 units a year in the UK during its eight-year life cycle. Volvo has more modest predictions for the V50 because it competes in a difference sector but from 2005 believes 8,000 a year is comfortably within its reach – close to what BMW achieved last year with the 3-series Touring and 3,000 units behind the Audi A4 Avant.
Behind the wheel
IT'S only when you get close to the new Volvo V50 that you realise it's a compact estate. With styling echoing the larger V70, it is bound to appeal to existing Volvo V40 drivers, but the challenge will be attracting customers from rival premium brands.
The distinctive centre console feature gives the interior a modern feel (although I would advise against the transparent 'iced aqua' version available on the SE as scratches showed up too easily) and it feels more like a scaled down larger Volvo than the old S40/V40 ever did.
At the press launch, we were given the choice of T5 AWD models and the new Ford/PSA-derived diesel also offered in the Ford Focus C-MAX and Peugeot 307.
Although there are no final performance and fuel economy figures for the all-wheel drive model (we only have the standard T5 to go on), manual versions at least felt lively and were near silent on the motorway. With a flat torque curve from 1,500rpm to 4,800rpm the T5 AWD had huge reserves of performance accessed by changing down a gear. Grip levels were high, and the extra traction afforded by the AWD was appreciated on damp roads. Volvo had set up a short gravel track to test the Haldex all-wheel drive system in the V50 that transfers power to the rear wheels when necessary.
Although it lacks the constant surefootedness of a true permanent four-wheel drive system found in Audis and Subarus, it reacted quickly to power slides on the loose surface with the DSTC turned off.
The diesel proved keen to perform, although it has a narrower torque band than the T5. Motorway refinement is exemplary, even though you can just about tell it's a diesel in the background. With combined fuel consumption of 49.6mpg, it promises top-notch fuel economy in this class.
The V50 shares the S40's progressive, communicative steering and always feels composed even when tackling tight hairpins and fast, sweeping corners. The V50 also has a smooth, compliant ride ensuring long journeys are relaxed.
THE V50 is elegant, stylish and agile and carries with it Volvo's reputation for safety. It feels pure Volvo is terms of comfort, refinement and engineering, but is better to drive than any previous Volvo estate.
|Engine (cc):||2,435||2,521||2,521 turbo|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||170/6,000||220/5,000||136/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||170/4,400||236/1,500||136/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||137 (auto:134)||149 (auto:146)||130|
|0-62mph (secs):||8.3 (9.0)||6.9 (7.3)||9.6|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||32.8 (30.7)||32.1 (29.7)||49.6|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||204 (220)||209 (227)||153|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||62/13.6||(2.0D 55/12.1)|
|Service intervals (miles):||12,000|