Volvo has been taking energetic measures to shake off some of the time-hardened and not necessarily helpful assumptions that cling to the brand like barnacles to a boat.
Assumptions connected with conservatism, earnestness, being boring — that kind of thing. To this end, in a counter-intuitive moment to match the appearance of Daniel Craig’s James Bond in a Ford Mondeo, Robert Pattinson, the vampire dreamboat, was seen positioning his chiselled jawline and freeze-dried facial muscles behind the wheels of Volvos in the Twilight movies — specifically the dinky and sculpturally distinguished C30 hatchback and the sublimely thunderous XC90 SUV. Neat work. In one bold twist Volvo had gone from being the car your dad drives to the car the undead drive.
Still, anyone dizzied by this abrupt and unlikely development — and by the attendant news that even certain rap artists are now happy to be seen in Volvos — can steady themselves by leaning on the back end of a Volvo V50 for a minute and taking a few deep breaths.
For here is a compact Volvo estate that is solidly and reassuringly of the old school: searingly practical yet visually negligible, slightly bloodless to drive and cool only in the sense in which Sven-Göran Eriksson is cool. One isn’t predicting much of an uptake among vampires or Tinchy Stryder for this one.
Yet the V50 is as boundary crashing as any car in the Volvo range. In its DRIVe form — ie, kitted out with the maximum number of frugality-enhancing systems, such as a stop-start mechanism to reduce idling time, and regenerative braking to recycle some of the car’s own energy — the V50 emits only 99g/km of CO2.
Ninety-nine! That’s almost a joke. Here is a premium, leather-enriched estate, offering more than enough room in its boot for a labrador and a child’s trike, and yet which smogs up the world on a daily basis only a fraction more noticeably than a Fiat 500, and which thereby, being under the 100g limit, attracts maximum tax benefits. People who buy cars for company fleets will be flinging themselves off the tops of their filing cabinets in joy. So will private buyers who want to avoid the London congestion charge while nevertheless driving around in a fairly lumpy load-hauling car.
Observe, also, the almost tear-inducingly high fuel consumption figure for this slightly chuntering but easy-to-handle model. Good luck with achieving it yourself, of course. It has long been clear that manufacturers’ published claims for mileage are to be taken in the spirit with which one takes the “serving suggestion” on a packet of Angel Whip: nice to look at, but not something you’ll pull off at home. Still, the V50 has a dashboard monitor of your fuel consumption and, during my week in the car, it stayed healthily in the mid-fifties — which is more than twice what you’d be likely to get out of an old V70.
And then, being a Volvo, it’s fastidious about your on-board safety. The reversing sensor, which lets out an increasingly frantic shriek as you close in on unwitting objects, is loud enough to be heard in Gothenburg. Omit to fasten your seat belt and an iron cage drops around the car and a warrant is out for your arrest in Sweden.
And, also being a Volvo, it suggests that, in a head-on collision with a cliff face, it would be the cliff face that came off worse. For an estate car that’s a cool trick in itself.
Volvo V50 DRIVe SE
Top speed 121mph
Acceleration 0-60 in 10.9 seconds
Average consumption 74.3mpg
CO2 emissions 99g/km