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Volvo V50 1.6D DRIVe Sportwagon review

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Offering lower CO2 models with a wide range of trim and equipment levels has become a major sales initiative for most car companies.

The buying public, retail, fleet or business users are increasingly looking at ways to lower their motoring costs in terms of fuel consumption, road tax and P11D Benefit-in-Kind taxation for company car users.

Volvo now has a wide range of DRIVe low CO2, lower tax incurring models, seven ranges in total and climbing. Currently they cover C30, S40, V50, V70, S80 1.6D ranges and 2.4D XC60 and XC70 two wheel drive crossover vehicles.

Prices vary enormously from £16,245 to £31,695 and CO2 emissions vary from just 104g/km up to 159g/km, all very competitive in their sectors.

Company cars users can also take heart because DRIVe models benefit significantly from much lower BIK taxation - 13 to 22% and fuel economy figures look even better; as low as 72.4mpg. Many of these models only incur £35 in road tax as well.

DRIVe characteristics

All DRIVe models benefit from a lowered chassis with ride height dropped by 10mm. This lower ground clearance reduces fuel consumption at the same time as lowering the centre of gravity that, consequentially, has a positive effect on the car's handling.

Front airflow deflectors have also been moulded into the body ahead of the front wheels to help channel airflow and a lower, front lip spoiler has been added.

Road wheel design was is another area of development and drag has been cut with the adoption of a new, flush-style 16-inch diameter alloy wheel dubbed the Diamond Cut Libra.

As for tyres, Volvo says they have worked closely with Michelin to develop a compound with uncompromising handling and wear characteristics coupled with low rolling resistance.

Further economy benefits are made by optimising engine and gearbox management software and introducing electrohydraulic steering. There is also a Gear Shift Indicator that informs the driver of the optimum time to change gears and achieve better fuel consumption.

The final ingredient is a low friction transmission oil used in the gearbox. Individually, the modifications may seem small, but when, combined they produce a dramatic effect on overall efficiency.

DRIVe specifications

Unlike some other fuel efficient models offered by other manufactures with just one level of specification, Volvo offers DRIVe with a variety of trim and equipment levels.

One of these is R-Design for an extra cost of £500 - well worth the money because the bodystyle package really adds a modern image to the range with more than its fair share of conservatively designed models.

The sports-inspired R-Design specification offers low levels of emissions and the highest levels of visual appeal which includes front and rear spoilers, lower door trim and side skirts as well as roof and lip spoilers and 17-inch five spoke alloy wheels.

The interior also carries R-Design features such as upholstery in cream leather and off-black Flex-Tec, distinctive centre stack and blue instrument dials.

DRIVe stop/start

Volvo has also just added a £200 optional Start/Stop function lowering CO2 emissions further to 104 g/km and improve fuel economy to 72.4 mpg for the C30, S40 and V50 1.6D DRIVe models.

Start/Stop or Stop/Start, whichever manufacturers choose to call these systems is now widely used. Volvo has, with typical thoroughness, added a second small battery which supports the larger battery by providing extra power.

This allows for a quick and smooth start-up and the audio system also remains unaffected when the starter motor is activated. The standard larger battery has also been upgraded to handle up to 175,000 Start/Stop cycles.

The driver continuously receives feedback about system status via the in-car information display. The Start/Stop function can be engaged and disengaged via a DRIVe button in the centre console and in the default setting, the function is activated.

In their DRIVe programme Volvo has also added front-wheel drive versions to the XC60 and XC70 to bring CO2 emissions below 160 g/km. The introduction of front-wheel drive and the new 2.4D engine to the XC60 crossover and XC70 premium estate sees CO2 figures tumble to 159 g/km and fuel economy improve to 47.1 mpg.

This will mean the XC60 will be the first premium SUV falling below the all-important 160 g/km Writing Down Allowance threshold for company cars, making the award-winning XC60 an attractive choice for the Fleet Manager. Company car drivers will also benefit significantly from lower Benefit-in-Kind taxation bills.

With such a wide range of eco and tax friendly models, editorial space does not allow for a full review but generally I found DRIVe models gave significant advantages in fuel economy and lower CO2 ratings.

Volvo V50 DRIVe

The most impressive model, size versus performance wise, having tested several DRIVe offerings over an 85 mile Cotswold driving route, was Volvo's best selling V50 five door, five seater estate in DRIVe form.

At a little over 4.2-metres in length the V50 sells against such estate models as the Honda Accord, VW Passat, Renault Laguna and Ford Mondeo. The V50 range is priced from £16,995 for the 1.6 S petrol model. However the all important new DRIVe 1.6 D turbodiesel models begin at £19,095 without Start/Stop or £19,345 with it.

If you are going this fuel saving route Start/Stop is a must-have option. The test model was the 1.6 D DRIVe SE specification and costs £20,845.

The figures that matter about this model are the 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine which produces 109PS and 240Nm of torque from 1,750rpm. Top speed is 118mph, 0-62mph takes a healthy 10.9 seconds. Even better is the official 72.4mpg for the Combined Cycle with just 104g/km of CO2 which in turn means a road tax bill of just £35 and a low 13% for BIK company car tax.

The low emissions and real-life fuel economy better most hybrid cars and the impressive figures speak for themselves. This is a seriously good, solid, well built vehicle with low running costs.

The performance is much better than I would have expected from a 1.6-litre diesel engine in a car of this size. My test car returned 55.5mpg with ease and I'm sure on a longer run, particularly on motorways, where its taller gearing will help improve that figure even closer to the official one.

Volvo V50 MILESTONES

Volvo V50 1.6D DRIVe Sportwagon SE with Start/Stop

Price: £20,845

Engine/transmission: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel, 109PS 240Nm of torque from 1,750rpm, 5-speed manual

Performance: 118mph, 0-62mph 10.9 seconds, 72.4mpg (55.5mpg actual), CO2 104g/km, VED Band B £35, BIK tax 13%. Dimensions/capacities; L 4,252mm, W 1,782mm, boot 433-947-litres, maximum braked towing weight 800k

Insurance group: 10

For: Fuel and CO2 changes that really work, real-world fuel economy figures, very low CO2 emissions, low road and company car tax liabilities, stylish, well built estate

Against: bland and dark interior trim, not as roomy as some estates in this sector, road noise intrusion