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~ Background ~
I do around 25,000 miles in my car every year, which entitles me to a company car. My previous model, a Vauxhall Zafira 2.2 Elegance, had served me very well over the previous 3 years but it was really starting to show the signs of a lot of miles in a short time. I was fortunate enough early this year to have finally got a long awaited promotion, which meant I could have a look at something a little more interesting. Having said that, the car is still primarily a tool of my trade and so it needed to meet some strict criteria before I decided which car I was going to have for the next 3 years.
Part of the deal we have with our agency is that we get extended test drives on 3 choices from the car list. The cars I chose were the new Audi A4, a Volvo V50 1.8SE, and finally the Jaguar X-type 2.0D S Estate. All three cars had features that really stood out, and whilst the Jag won out in the end I thought I'd share a few things about the Volvo with you.
Being on the road a lot, and having a young child, there are certain things that I need from a car. I do some seriously long journeys so comfort is paramount, as are safety and reliability. Needless to say, it has to provide good handling on smaller roads and be responsive on motorways. Since I spend half my working life sat inside a car, the looks and feel of the interior tend to be a lot more important than the exterior, though I freely admit there are some cars I wouldn't be seen dead in.
~ Comfort ~
In the relatively short time I had to test it, this car proved to be pretty comfortable, although the seats were a bit more firm than I'd have liked. Longest journey I did was 150 miles, but I'm willing to bet that after more than 200 miles, this one could be quite tough on the buttocks. The suspension provides a very smooth ride, although it lacked that little bit of extra firmness for that sporty feel.
~ Reliability ~
I only had this car for a weekend, so I asked our company fleet manager about the reliability of this car. He said that in the time they've had these, nobody has reported any problems, and everyone who has chosen one seems delighted with it.
~ Performance and handling ~
Performance this is where I felt the car really let me down. The use of the term 'Sportwagon' is really tenuous with the car I was given. I have to say that I only had the 1.8l version, which was always going to seem slow after a 2.2, but putting your foot down in this had all the responsiveness of treading blancmange. It also provided one of those seriously scary moments when, as you go to overtake, you realise that the huge gap ahead of you just isn't going to be anywhere near enough. Not only did this car fail to respond quickly, when it actually kicked in it felt like there wasn't much at all in the way of power. It didn't perform too well on the motorway either, as it just seemed so drastically underpowered that I spent all my time in the inside two lanes. Official figures state an acceleration rate of 0-60 mph in 11.0 seconds with a top speed of 124mph, though I have to say the only way the model I got would do those kind of figures would be if it fell of a steep cliff.
Handling wise, the car was very good and copes particularly well on small country roads where you don't need too much power due to its Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) anti-skid system. In fact, the only time this car could be described as being fun to drive was around some tight little country lanes we have nearby.
The other sticking point with this car was the 6 speed manual gearbox. Whilst it's nicely set out, the gears are far too close together and result in much irritation as you play 'hunt the gear'. Call me vain, but I really don't enjoy people staring at me as I crunch the gears in the middle of town.
~ Safety ~
It's a Volvo, so safety comes as standard. This is where the car beat it's rivals, as you would really expect from a company renowned for producing safe cars. In addition to driver and passenger and side impact protection airbags, the Volvo also includes an inflatable curtain for added protection. The V50 also features a Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS) and Anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution and assistance systems.
~ Features ~
I have to say that this is one of the areas the Volvo really exceeded my expectations. The temperature in the car is maintained by ECC (Electronic Climate Control) with AQS (Air Quality System) and Pollen Filter fitted as standard. Having tried out a few different models with either air-conditioning or climate control, I would have to say this is probably the best I've seen, and the ability to split the climate in the car between driver and passenger sides was a real step forward.
Unlike the other models I tried, cruise control comes fitted as standard, the controls for which are mounted on the steering wheel. Controls for the audio system are also conveniently located on the steering wheel.
Front and rear windows are both electric, as are the power adjustable, heated door mirrors. A nice touch is the auto-dimming rear view mirror. The steering column is manually adjustable for both height and reach.
For the image conscious, both driver and passenger sun-visors contain illuminated vanity mirrors. And finally, what car would be complete without the double front cup holder and the armrest that opens to provide extra storage space.
Audio in the car is provided by the High Performance Sound Audio System that comprises a 6 CD changer, Radio, 4 x 40W Amplifier and 8 Speakers. I'm pretty fussy about sound quality as music is the one thing that keeps me sane on long journeys, and I found this system gave excellent quality and plenty of power. The CD changer also meant I could store 6 CDs at any one time and not have to find storage space for CDs and cases.
~ Security ~
Having had both of my previous cars broken into, I was looking for something that was a little more secure this time around. The Key Integrated Remote Control Central Locking with Deadlocking System, laminated side windows and an Anti-theft Alarm including Immobiliser made me feel a lot more comfortable.
~ Space ~
After a Zafira, space is a really difficult one to judge as it's like comparing the Tardis to a normal phonebox. I could best describe this as being comfortable without being particularly roomy. Rear passengers legroom wasn't too bad although it wasn't fantastic either. Headspace is adequate, I'm around 6 feet tall and whilst I didn't feel cramped I didn't feel there was much room left either. According to Volvo, the V50 HAS boot space of 14.7 cubic feet with the seats up, and 46.2 cubic feet with the seats forward. I'm not going to crawl around with a tape measure just to argue with them, so all I'll say is the boot space itself is more than ample and lacks those awkward lumps and bumps which makes so many cars impractical.
~ Looks - exterior ~
Whilst it's not a bad looking car, I have to say I found the V50 a little dull. The model I had was a metallic maroon colour, but I've seen a few other colours that tend to make the car look small and 'dumpy'. Even the presence of 16 inch alloy wheels didn't really lift the image enough to get the pulse racing.
~ Looks - interior ~
Of the interiors available, the one I received wouldn't have been my first choice. Beige leather seats and wood trim just isn't my cup of tea, but the black leather seats and aluminium trim is an extremely nice alternative. The 'free-floating' centre console which houses the CD changer and air conditioning controls is a really beautiful design and really does make a huge difference to the desirability of this car. Combined with the leather steering wheel, gearknob and centre armrest you have a truly striking interior. The dashboard itself is well set out, stylish and very easy to learn quickly, matched by the controls on the steering wheel itself. These controls cover audio and cruise control.
~ Fuel consumption ~
For a medium sized car, I was pretty impressed with this engine. I'd have to say that so far I would have to largely agree with the official figures of:
CO2 emissions are also good at 174g/km. The car is Euro IV compliant, which is vital as company car drivers get an absolute hammering from the taxman based on emission levels.
~ Overall ~
Out of the three cars I had a choice from, this one came bottom on performance but top on additional features and safety. Unfortunately, the performance was such a big issue that the other factors were almost irrelevant. I spoke with the salesman about the sluggishness, and he admitted that he thought that would be my opinion. He said that the 2 litre diesel version was a totally different kettle of fish, and I'm inclined to believe him. Remove that problem with performance and you have a great medium-sized estate car, with loads of extras fitted as standard. Whilst I wouldn't recommend the 1.8 to anyone who likes to drive more than 30mph I would say the 2.0D may be worth more than a cursory glance.
Price : Recommended 'On the Road' price for this model is £19,640
After my husband crashed and wrote off our Ford Focus we decided that we were going to replace it with two cars (his and hers). Since my husband uses a car for work most of the money went on his car, a Volvo S80. I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of driving it around for the first month as he was away and I must say that I fell in love with it. Unfortunately I no longer get a look in and have to drive my cute little Escort. Fab review. Jane x
jesi 14.03.2006 10:52
I have never been keen on Volvo cars and I like my space - but the climate control being split between passenger-side and driver independantly seems a good deal - I'd be interested to understand how that works in practice - when I'm with my husband, sometimes he wants it warmer when I am boiling, and vice versa ~ and then when the windscreen needs de-misting, my feet are cold even when he has the setting on both feet and windscreen ~ .................................................................................................... ~ ♥ ~ jes ~ ♥♥
solamarie 18.02.2006 19:57
I used to drive an XJS and that had many faults, not sure about a volvo either, great review though, Sue
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