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Superb diesel Volvos driven

2005-04-15 07:03

SA's car of the year now with diesel power

John Oxley

What's more the new cars have all the sophistication and power and especially safety expected from the Swedish manufacturer, together with new levels of refinement and economy.

Fitted with the latest super-smooth high-tech 16-valve common rail intercooled turbo-diesel engine from Peugeot, the S40 sedan - the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists' Car of the Year for 2005 - and the V50 estate both come exclusively with a new short-shift 6-speed gearbox.

Power output from the four-cylinder engine is 100 kW at 4 800 r/min, with 320 Nm of torque at 2 000 r/min - plus a four second burst to 340 Nm when needed - to give both versions a zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 9.5 seconds and top speed of 205 km/h.

And the car's are particularly frugal, Volvo claiming a combined cycle overall consumption of 5.7 litres/100 km.

One particular feature of the engine is its self-cleaning diesel particulate filter, which ensures exhaust pollution is minimised.


The cars' specification levels are similar to those of the petrol-powered S40 and V50 2.4i, except for the addition of front foglamps on the diesel versions.

All S40 and V50 models also now get a space-saver spare wheel, freeing up extra space in the boot/load area.

And, says Volvo's Andre Oosthuizen, S40 and V50 sales are sitting at their highest levels to date, with a record 605 sold in March this year, with even more expected when the diesels go into showrooms in May.

On the road

The interior of the S40 and V50 never fail to please, their stylish aluminium centre stack - designed to look like a shaped aluminium billet, and almost separated from the dashboard - still takes my breath away.

It's got to be the best interior feature I have ever seen on a car, stylish and practical at the same time, more reminiscent of a B & O sound system that part of a motor car.

The 2.0D models, like the rest of the S40 and V50 range, have the ignition key - a plastic affair that's impossible to copy - inserted into a slot on the left-hand side of the steering wheel.

The engine starts first time, and the first surprise is that there's none of the "diesel knock" usually associated with an oil engine.

The next surprise is how positive and slick the gearchange is. It really IS like slicing a knife through hot butter, and at the same time the ratios are beautifully spaced to make the best of the engine torque.

Pullaway gives the next surprise - there's nothing agricultural about this diesel!

It's got lots of grunt from way down - with its maximum torque available at a mere 2 000 r/min, and I could detect no "turbo lag" at all, at any stage.

The car simply pulls away cleanly and quietly, with the sort of acceleration one would expect from a six-cylinder car.

Using our performance comparitor, both cars are well positioned against their opposition, with similar acceleration to the bigger-engined Mercedes-Benz C270 CDI turbo-diesel, Alfa Romeo's 2- 156 Sportwagon, the Subaru Forester 2.5 wagon, and even the Alfa 2.0 Twinspark Spider - the latter four all petrol-powered!

Great ride

On the road both Volvos impress with their great ride qualities, and handling that make a lot of sports cars sit up and take notice.

On tight and twisty roads the S40 in particular is so absolutely neutral that we defy anyone to say it has "front-wheel drive" characteristics - in fact you can sometimes get the car deliciously sideways before correcting and powering on your way.

It features a high degree of mechanical grip without having to resort to electronic aids to keep it on the island - in Volvo fashion, these can be regarded as more braces than belt.

Only once, turning onto a highway quickly through a 90 degree bend, did I encounter the traction control, and even then, benignly.

With slightly less torsion stiffness because of its station wagon configuration, the V50 doesn't feel quite as taut as the S40, but it's still a great handler, with the added benefit that you can carry a lot of extra luggage, as well as having the facility to fold down the seats in a 40/60 split.

You can even push the front passenger seat backrest forward if you want to carry a really long object.

Features include climate control aircon, electric windows and mirrors, a powerful sound system with front-loader CD player and cassette/radio, and remote locking.

The steering column is adjustable for tilt and reach, while the driver's seat is adjustable for height as well as rake and reach.

Both S40 and V50 come standard with STC (Stability and Traction Control) anti-spin system. In Volvo tradition the S40 has extremely high safety levels - both protective and preventive.

This includes WHIPS (Whiplash Protection System), SIPS (Side Impact Protection System), side-impact airbags and inflatable curtains.

The cars also boast headrests designed to protect against whiplash and seatbelt pre-tensioners.

The Volvo's suspension is independent all-round, by struts up front and a multi-link rear.

Tyres measure 205/55 on 16-inch alloys, and steering is by rack and pinion.


Diesel-powered vehicles have shown a tremendous growth as a portion of the total South African passenger car market. In 1995 diesel-powered passenger vehicles accounted for a mere 1% of sales, however, by January this year it had increased to 13%.

The one drawback has been short service intervals because of South Africa's abysmal diesel fuel. Even our so-called "low sulphur" diesel isn't really in line with European standards, although it IS an improvement.

Despite this, Volvo has managed to extend oil change and oil filter intervals to 10 000 km, while main services are at 20 000 km. All are covered by the standard 5 year/100 000 km maintenance plan.

So suddenly diesel becomes a particularly attractive option, especially when viewed against ever-rising fuel prices.

That Volvo SA has managed to introduce these two models at such affordable pricing is little short of miraculous. Prices are, says MD Jacques Brent, based on the fact that the S40 and V50 are soon to be made locally, having been delayed by production line changes at the Pretoria plant.

Volvo quality, Volvo safety, and Volvo performance - but at family car prices. Expect S40 and V50 sales to take a quantum leap!


  • S40 2.0D R240 000
  • V50 2.0D R250 000.

    The stylish Volvo V50 estate

  • Volvo S40 gallery
  • Volvo V50 gallery

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