2008 Volvo V50 T5 – Not Your Aunt June’s Sp-agen


Pulling into the parking space a friend, Chris, loudly exclaims, “Very dyke to see you!” With an opener like that I can’t resist, “Yes, it’s boxy, but good. Would you like to ride my ‘vulva’.” So much for political correctness, but face it, the 2008 Volvo V50 T5 is fighting a few brand identity issues within the community and some long standing bad puns.

The V50 T5 “Sportwagon”, or “sp-agon” as contributors Kevin Miklossy and Justin Mastine-Frost have dubbed the niche, needs to lay waste to a lot of Volvo’s historical traits. Luckily, this is not your Aunty June and her “special friend’s” Volvo then.

Inside the interior might lead you to believe that Volvo got the “sp-agon” concept wrong, or as passenger Chris puts it, “I feel like I’m in a hockey bag.” The seats are upholstered in a hard wearing material called T-Tec with the feel of Kevlar-laced neoprene fused with Cordura and stitched in an industrial feeling orange thread. As JMF quipped, “I feel like I’m sitting on a hockey player. That’s not a bad thing.”

Right, so the gear fetishists will be happy, and so will the rest of us.

The multi-way adjustable electric seats are comfortable and heated, the cabin nicely trimmed in aluminum accents, 60/40 split rear seats, and an overall sense of solid functionality. Volvo’s even kept the up market elegant floating central console faced in aluminum (with an odd storage space behind it), relatively straightforward controls for cabin climate, and enough leftover buttons to build a universal remote. Our tester came equipped with Sirius Satellite Radio, the DynAudio Package, and the least sensible key in the world.

Here’s an idea, lets take the worst of all possible key worlds and combine them. Huge fob? Check. Pokey key blade hanging out… Wait that’s not fragile enough! Let’s make the blade out of breakable plastic! Now where to put the ignition? To the side of the wheel where everyone else puts a Start-Stop button. That way you can stare at the massive fob while stuck in traffic and have endless hours of fun wondering, “Why? Why, why, why skimp there?”

Beyond those foibles, the V50 is no penalty box.

The 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder turbo pumps out 236 ft-lbs of torque, with the power starting low down and pushing late into the RPM range. It’s this beautiful mid-range grunt that hustles the sp-agen from 0-100kph in just over eight seconds. Not hugely quick, but Aunty June and her soul mate of the month wouldn’t approve.

That meaty mid-range means the V50 T5 is delightfully easy to get along with in traffic.
You don’t need to be snick-snick-snicking through the short throws of the slightly notchy six-speed manual transmission, or playing with the light but snatchy clutch.

The Sport Styling package, with the little spoiler hanging off the wagon’s back and the 17-inch rims, isn’t just an affectation either. It’s a declaration of intent. At full boil the engine whips up 227 horsepower.

This is a front wheel drive however, so a planted foot results in torque steer and the squealing of tires. On wet roads, this would be the domain of wheel spin, but the traction control system and spin control (or DSTC as Volvo calls the system) keep it in check. If you call replacing wheel spin with a jackhammering of power throughout the drive train “in check”. We’ll take the wheel spin thanks. Mind you, most of the V50’s intended buyers probably won’t be wantonly applying the throttle in cow floating rain.

That will have you grasping the leather sport steering wheel (part of the sport package) with the cold aluminum inlay attentively – and whose idea was that? If this were a Saab, the slippery inlay would come with the marketing spin of, “visually recalling a flight yoke.” On the V50 it offers an out of place tactile experience as your grip goes from grippy leather to icy aluminum.

Visually, Mr. Too-Fast-Too-Furious suffered the embarrassment of being ‘dissed on the Burrard Street Bridge by his Mom’s wagon – redone as a smoothed blur. That will leave you and the soccer moms grinning.

I’m not sure the situation would have been different on the twisting roads. The V50 T5 is a tight and taunt little number with a nicely ridged chassis. Yes, we’re still talking about a Volvo here.

Turbo whining away, the wagon has a linear and predictable feel. The handling is crisp and the feel at the wheel nicely communicative. Unlike its larger siblings in the Volvo line it isn’t hampered by earth fracturing weight and the accompanied inertia. Things feel a little less planted in sweeping turns, as body roll gets the better of the V50. This all translates to the ability to rail through traffic like nobody’s business.

Ah, the endless fun of strapping the kids into integrated child booster seats, then attempting to pin them to the windows at every tight turn. A wagon with sporting pretensions, the V50 can haul – literally and figuratively.

There’s 417L/14.7 cu ft from the hatches carpeted floor to the window line and 918L/32.4 cu ft from floor to roof. Fold rear seats flat and that capacity jumps to 2,015 litres/71.2 cu ft. Now assuming Aunt June and her new partner like cats, and what stereotype doesn’t, and a cat fits in about 6 liters (give or take), a filled to the gunnels V50 will hold about 330 felines. That’s before Aunt June makes a second trip for the white picket fencing. Of course in either case the front seats need to be moved far forwards to fold the back seats flat.

True, the storage space isn’t overwhelmingly huge, but this is a small wagon and that provides the benefits of maneuverability and driving ease in traffic. Case in point, we had an Audi Q7 at the same time as the Volvo V50. For those without a sense of cruelty you can’t fit any more people in the Audi than the Volvo, and in traffic the lumbering beast is a nightmare thanks to gargantuan proportions. The V50 T5 quickly disappeared into the distance, flitting through traffic with mercurial ease. Meanwhile in the SUV you’re left listening for the sound of flanks scraping, a la the Titanic.

Beyond actually being able to avoid an accident, the V50 offers more acronyms than an STD clinic, all of which are devoted to your safety; DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control System), ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System), EBA (Emergency Brake Assist), IC (Inflatable Side Curtains), SIPS, WHIPS… chains, dips… It’s a safety party.

When we first picked up the 2008 Volvo V50 T5 “sp-agon”, I’ll admit to being unconvinced. The V50 T5’s quality, ease of driving, compact utility, usable performance and European sensibility did something few cars have accomplished – it won me over. At the end of a week of testing I ended up enjoying the V50 more than at pick up, a sort of like it warts and all deep resonance of a relationship. Your Aunty June* would appreciate that, indeed maybe she had the Volvo business right all along.

* No cats or composite fictional Aunts were harmed in the writing of this review.

2008 VOLVO V50 T5

  • Base Price: $38,995; as tested, $47,745
  • Engine: 2.5-litre, turbocharged, five-cylinder
  • Horsepower/Torque: 227 hp/236 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Drive: Front-wheel-drive
  • Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 city/7.0 highway/14 performance; regular gas
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