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Volvo V50 Estate 1.6D DRIVe Review

Green Car Guide Road test of the Volvo V50 Estate 1.6D DRIVe

Model/Engine size: SE Start/Stop 5dr 5sp 109PS
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 72.4 mpg

Green Car Guide rating:

The Volvo V50 Estate 1.6D DRIVe Start/Stop has incredibly low emissions of just 104 g/km CO2, which is certainly class-leading for an estate of this size.

The Volvo V50 estate being road tested by the Green Car Guide team

Volvo V50 Estate

This translates to 72.4 mpg – which is better than most superminis – yet this is for an estate that comes with all the safety features that Volvo is renowned for.
The V50 is not the largest Volvo estate, but there is certainly no other estate car on the market that combines this amount of space with these levels of efficiency. Of course you get the bonus of a huge range between fuel stops – over 800 miles potentially – as well as zero road tax for the first year and just £20 per year thereafter due to the low emissions figure.

The increased efficiency is courtesy of a range of now familiar changes. These include improving the aerodynamics by reducing the ride height and fitting drag-reducing spoilers, increasing third, fourth and fifth gear ratios, reducing parasitic loads on the engine such as the power steering, and fitting low rolling resistance tyres.

However the key to achieving the super-low emissions of 104 g/km on this model is the addition of a start/stop system, which aims to ensure the engine cuts out when stationary, and restarts when moving off. This reduces the emissions from 118 g/km on the previous model without start/stop.

The engine management system has also been updated to err on the side of economy over performance, and the technology generally works well, however you do feel that when pulling out of junctions at low revs the car would prefer to kill the revs rather than let you over-rev it.

You’re also prevented from disabling the traction control system. This is understandable from Volvo’s safety perspective, but with the front-wheel drive this is sometimes annoying in certain conditions when the driver may need a small amount of wheel slippage to assist with forward momentum, as we found on loose-surface passing places on narrow Welsh back roads.

Not only is it very economical, it’s also a refined car to drive. From the driver’s point of view, everything works smoothly, and the suspension is well tuned, with body roll kept in check without the ride becoming overly firm. The V50’s steering isn’t particularly precise, and it’s probably obvious that this isn’t the most exciting or sporty car to drive. This throws up a slight issue with Volvo’s marketing of this car, as the company calls it a Sportswagon, a term which may run into difficulties if carefully analysed under the Trades Description Act.

The cabin is a relaxing place to be, with engine, road and wind noise generally well controlled, aside from some noise from the diesel engine at low speeds.

Build quality and trim

Build quality is impressive with high quality materials used throughout the cabin. The dashboard, although simple, is a quality piece of design; the thin, floating centre console is stylish although there are a lot of small buttons arranged very close to each other, very low down behind the gearstick. And a minor gripe is that the handbrake is positioned extremely close to the gearstick.

The Volvo V50 DRIVe goes camping and proves easily capable of handling all our outdoor gear

One aspect of the V50 DRIVe we know some people have an issue with is the wheels. The flat discs, which help with the aerodynamics, make it look like some sort of special ‘eco-car’. Other than that, the exterior gives you the individuality of Volvo styling.

Another very annoying Volvo quirk, again supposedly in the name of safety, is the seeming inability to get into different doors without lots of clicking of key fob buttons to lock/unlock the car.

And for a company that builds its reputation around safety, it’s extremely difficult to access the Isofix bars that are hidden behind the rear seat fabric, making it less likely that people will fit a child seat safely.

The V50 Estate 1.6D DRIVe is available in three trim levels: ES at £21,045, SE at £22,795, and SE Lux at £24,045; as the spec goes higher it makes the V50 relatively expensive, but you don’t gain a huge amount in practical terms from the higher specs; ES trim means climate control, front and rear electric windows, a CD player with MP3 input, remote central locking and alloy wheels. You don’t seem to get much more with SE trim apart from different fabric and cruise control. SE Lux models gain leather upholstery and heated front seats. So we’d recommend sticking to the ES spec. If you’re not comfortable paying the full price there’s always the cheaper option of looking through the used cars from or any other site that sells second hand cars. This a good way of getting the top spec SE Lux at a discounted price.

As you would expect safety is a strong point with a 5 star rating.

Although we’re celebrating the fact that the car is supposed to officially return over 70 mpg, did we achieve this in real-life? No. The V50 consistently managed 50-55 mpg during a variety of mixed driving, which is a fair way short of the official 72.4 mpg figure, but 50 mpg-plus for a decent-sized estate is still much better than average.

The Volvo V50 Estate 1.6D DRIVe gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 8 out of 10. It scores highly for its combination of space, safety, refinement and economy. It loses marks for not being the most involving or exciting of driving experiences.

View of the Volvo V50s dashboard from the driver's seat

Review of the Volvo V50 1.6D DRIVe

Achieving 72.4 mpg is amazing for an estate car of this size and just a few years ago would have been thought to be impossible. Therefore Volvo should be applauded for bringing such a car to market, and we’d recommend the estate over the saloon because of its added practicality. If you want a car offering this amount of space with the promise of 70 mpg, with no significant drawbacks, this is the car to choose.

Car details and fuel economy data

Fuel economy extra urban: 83.1 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 57.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 104 g/km
Green rating: VED band B – first year £0
Weight: 1427 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 13%
Price: £22,795 (From £18,220 – £27,255)
Insurance group: 21
Power: 109 bhp
Max speed: 118 mph
0-62 mph: 10.9 seconds
DPF: Yes

Rear space with back door open of the V50 Estate

Other cars to consider in this category:

Renault Megane Sport Tourer (80.7 mpg)

Skoda Fabia Estate (83.1 mpg)