VOLVO FINALLY CLICKS
At last, the Ford automotive group has got its hands on something that can shake a (gear)stick at Volkswagen’s epically good DSG gearbox. It’s called Powershift and the technology employs the same parallel doubleclutch system as DSG features, so combining the comfort of an auto change with the performance focus of a stickshift.
If £1,400 is weighing your wallet down, you can tick the Powershift box on a C30 hatch, C70 convertible, S40 saloon and V50 sportswagon, but it only seemed democratic to test it first in this best-selling model, the V50, the new option being available solely with the 2.0D engine. For full-on Audi-baiting plumage, this can be served up in R-Design couture which, with Powershift, comes in at £22,770. That’s not cheap, but it is proof that an automotive pulse exists north of Hanover. Volvo says R-Design adds an “adrenalin kick”, though the V50 is sporty enough in outline. The mesh grille, deeper bodykit, slicker 17-inch alloys, rakish roof spoiler and R-Design badges simply add more edge. Inside, cabin changes include two-tone leather upholstery, a cow-clad steering wheel, aluminium “floating” centre dashboard and blue dials – all pretty cool, though some large swathes of plastic remain and are less convincing to the fingertips than the eye. Still, the linear pattern on the dash is superb and the seats fit for driving kings. So does the drive deliver a fitting reward?
Bear in mind that R-Design also entails a “dynamic chassis” and a front-strut stiffener. So the steering feels weighed up at slower speeds, but given the 236lb ft of torque and 134bhp at hand, that impression is soon shed. On the way up, you’ll notice the smooth, muted ride, despite the squat, corner-ready stance. Slide the gearstick over to the bottom of the J-gate and you can get busy with the six-speed options. Sadly though, the fun is single-handed: there are no steering-mounted paddles.
Crux question is whether this is as good as a DSG system? Judging from here, I’m not convinced. It’s certainly sophisticated enough to rank with the best auto boxes, but changes feel somehow less velvety and slightly slurred at moments when the DSG would barely blink. Other elements in this pricey equation don’t help either. Pit the standard six-speed manual 2.0D against this and you’ll reach 62mph 0.1 second more quickly, average 1.6mpg more overall and chuck out 6g more CO2 over a kilometre.
All of which begs the question, what’s this £1,400 exactly for? Oh, and the car weighs in 35kg heavier, which is akin to using that capacious boot area to carry a sack of spuds. It’s my enduring suspicion that Volvo buyers are infinitely more discerning about true value than those who buy by Pavlovian brand reflex. But the Powershift equation doesn’t add up unless it’s essential that you buy an automatic. My advice is to stick with the ecological and economic edge offered by manual – and ponder the infinitely sweeter and more affordable 1.6D.
RIVALS: FORD FOCUS 2.0 TDCi TITANIUM POWERSHIFT ESTATE, VOLKSWAGEN GOLF SPORTLINE 2.0 TDI DSG ESTATE
- Engine: 1997cc, 4 cylinder turbodiesel
- Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Max Power: 134bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 236lb ft at 2,000rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 1,500kg
- Combined Consumption: 47.1mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 159g/km (D)
- 0-62mph: 9.7secs
- Max speed: 127mph
- Insurance Group: 10