For this week’s test I had the opportunity to drive about 1500 miles with two 700+ days of driving. I was looking forward to a more in-depth review with some opportunities not always available with other reviews. Namely, how does this car really feel after being in it for 12 hours straight. Well, when it comes to the Volvo V50, it just feels all right.
Clearly I could have done worse for this trip. I can’t imagine if I would have gotten a Nissan Titan or other ridiculously sized vehicles, or even a two-seater; the wife and I had luggage you know. But as it turns out, wagons make great road-trip cars. We filled this one with two bags of clothes, some food, and a wake board. The back seat laid down nicely and I had no problem fitting it all in. My wife and I hopped in, and we too fit well. It is definitely a smaller car though, which you notice as soon as you sit down and realize how close the passenger is to you.
The biggest and largest complaint I have about this car is that the brake pedal crowds the gas pedal, and there is little room to slide your foot past the brake pedal and onto the gas. When wearing my standard running shoes, which I wear everyday and drive all my cars in, I couldn’t get it past without lightly brushing the brake pedal. This was very annoying and I was irritated after 45 seconds in the car. Luckily, I noticed this the day before the trip, and for the long drive, brought narrower Puma sneakers, which solved the problem. However, it still very irritating to not be able to wear the shoes you want because the pedals are unnecessarily close together. My shoes are a size 12 by the way, not small, but not ginormous either.
This car is priced at $34,000. It has many of the creature comforts you expect for a car in this class, with electric everything, telescoping and tilt wheel, dual climate control, automatic tranny, decent stereo, fog lights, etc. In regards to value, it is decent. I think you can get a loaded VW Passat for that, and it might be a bit more comfortable. I know you can get a used 3 Series BMW, which I would prefer, but alas, I’ve said that before.
For the most part this car did very little to surprise me with anything positive. I’d been in the newer, small Volvos before, so I’d seen the dash and all that, which I liked. It isn’t the most immediately apparent system for heat and stereo, but it is clean, elegant, and not overly complicated, which in this modern day, is rare.
The one thing that did surprise me, and in a terrible way, was how well it handled speed on the freeways. Driving through Montana (speed limits set at 75), I would be driving around 85. This car was not the type where you set the cruise at 90 mph and forget about it. If I was going to drive at that speed, it took concentration and both hands on the wheel. At one point, descending a mountain pass into Idaho, I was actually passed by a full-size Ford truck, at 85 mph. I felt very unstable, and couldn’t believe that this truck was descending faster than I was, but that truck smoothly and effortlessly went around high-speed corners while I was close to white-knuckled and nervous. That was terrible. I don’t know if it was the small wheelbase, or the narrow body, the small, narrow tires or what, but this car was not smooth and comfy at just slightly higher than normal freeway speeds. At one point, just to test it, I pulled it up to 100mph; it was terrible. I quickly slowed down and reveled in the fact that my old 1985 Toyota Celica handled 100 mph better. Very disappointing.
With that said, I don’t live in Montana, nor do I have the opportunity, need, or desire to drive that fast but once a year when visiting the in-laws. So, I can forgive this car, but I was very shocked and not at all comforted that this new car drove so poorly. For city driving, however, it was great.
One positive, while going up and down mountain passes, and definitely not adhering to the suggested 60 mph limit for best fuel efficiency, I did get 28 mpg on the highway over the course of the whole trip. Very good. Especially when gas is $3.10 + a gallon.
Overall, I didn’t mind driving it, so long as I remembered the narrow shoes, and I stayed within city limits. It wasn’t super powerful, even though it was small and light, but I just can’t seem to be able to recommend this car for what its competition is. And I really wanted to love it, too.