19.12.2008 Volvo V50 1.6D DRIVe review
Nobody prescribed that eco-driving had to be a painful experience as Ford-owned Swedish carmaker Volvo is prepared to demonstrate in its outstanding new diesel estate car – Iain Robertson investigates.
Although many consumers will feel that car buying incentives are as welcome as a nasty rash at the moment, with the turn of the year upon us and the lure of a new car for the New Year, Volvo has something up its festive sleeve to cut exhaust emissions and reduce the inevitability of high VED. Of course, placing Volvo alongside low-CO2 may not be as hard to imagine as you might think. After all, the Swedes have always kept an eye open towards protecting their largely green and lovely countryside, even though it may only be for around six months of the year (the rest of the time it is 'white').
So, here is the incentive: 118g/km CO2 = £35 VED. Do you want more? Okay: an Official Combined fuel figure of 62.8mpg, allied to sensible, 'real world' driveability. I can detect a sense of responsibility... and, yet, there is no trade-off in terms of on-road performance, trim quality or status. The only outward signs lie in the subtle 'DRIVe' badges on the tailgate and the five-slot, aerodynamic alloy wheel design, clad in skinnier but no less grippy tyres.
Slotted beneath the car's shapely bonnet is the same ECOnetic 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine that Ford uses in its Focus range, a factor that is largely understandable, as the Volvo V50 is based on the same platform as the popular Ford offering. Yet, there is something more appealing that comes with the Volvo badge and it is that firm's premium branding that places it on level pegging with an Audi A3 or Merc C-Class. You see, until the arrival of the latest crop of smaller models from Volvo, four years ago, the Swedish firm was just another peripheral 'large car' company. Both S40 (saloon) and V50 (estate car) sealed the brand's fate in the upper echelons of car consciousness.
Of course, technological changes abound within the new model, the Ford-PSA engine is a gem that is rated at 110bhp (PS) and is assembled at Ford, Dagenham. Already renowned for its relative smoothness and first-class torque delivery, the engine's strengths are aided by various aerodynamic alterations that provide the V50 with a significantly sportier stance. A 10mm lower ride height, while not fouling speed-humps, does hunker the car towards the tarmac and aid its air-penetrating qualities.
Longer gear ratios disguise the diesel unit's usual shorter legs and a 'shift-light', which is a surprisingly racy addition, does foster an interesting optimised up-shift option that takes road conditions into account. I found myself using its enticement (in my peripheral vision) constantly and I was, therefore, able to extract a wholly reasonable 57.4mpg (noted on the in-dash read-out), without trying too hard. If I harbour one issue, it is that the car could have benefited from a 'stop-start' facility, which would make a significant contribution towards reducing in-town pollution levels, would have lowered the CO2 level by a few more percentage points and raised the economy figure by another few MPG.
However, Volvo's determination was to create a green car for its customers that provided all of the benefits of conventional motoring but none of the demerits. Personally, I think that the company has achieved its aim and, while the on-road behaviour is all but identical to the less 'green' models in the line-up, although 'bump-thump' transmitted from the new tyres into the cabin might be termed a minor distraction, it is gratifying to appreciate that Volvo is tackling environmental pressures in such a proactive manner.
In terms of comfort and general acceptability, the V50 is beautifully built and possesses a hewn-from-the-solid feel that translates into a very positive on-road experience. Equipment levels are good, with a full complement of electrically-powered features, a great sound system and that Bang & Olufsen style centre stack.
Intriguingly, the company has kept the extra cost of the developments down to a premium of around £500 per model and the V50 is available in DRIVe form in S, SE and SE Lux trim levels. For business users, the benefits are equally enticing, as the Benefit-In-Kind tax rating drops from the 18% of the standard 1.6D to just 13%, while taking the regular performance figures resulted in a 0-60mph dash in just 10.7 seconds, with a top speed of 118mph at the other end of the register. It seems that Volvo knows how to apply a palliative, even though a cure may be around the next corner.
Model tested: Volvo V50 DRIVe
Body-styles: 5-door mid-size estate car
Engines: 1.6 (TD4)
Trim grades: S, SE, SE Lux
Prices: from £18,263 to £21,199
In the showroom: Jan 2009
Review star rating: 5 STARS
Warranty: Three years, 60,000 miles
Iain Robertson © Next Green Car.com 2008
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