Ivalo, Finland - Fifty journalists from all over the world were invited to test-drive the V50 in Ivalo Finland. Had we known Boston was going to have colder weather that winter than Ivalo we could have driven there, but a trip to the artic circle was a great place to test drive the newest station wagon in the Volvo fleet.
When they told me we were to meet at sunrise I grimaced. When they told me sunrise wasn't till 10ish am my smile came back. The sun comes up around 10 in the morning, sits there, not rising in the east and setting in the west, just up and down. Sunset is before 3, one of the shortest work days for me. My driving buddy, Perry Stern from msn.com, and I scrapped the snow and ice off our red V50. Okay, he scrapped, I turned the car and heated seats on and took pictures. Thirty kilometers away from the Russian border we all met at Mellatracks testing center, the track of choice for many an automaker.
For the V50, there was a very twisty, very slippery handling course. The XC90 had an off-road course with a number of steep hill climbs through several inches of snow. Both vehicles were also tested on a snow-covered skid pad and slalom set up on ice as well as snow.
You would have thought Volvo would have outfitted the tires with the studded Michelin Ivalos, but the vehicles were fitted with Gislaved NordFrost tires with studs. There is a clear difference in winter tires mainly because of the conditions they are intented for. In mainland Europe roads are typically wet and might have some wet snow but in Northern Europe roads are covered with snow and ice from November to April and therefore tires need to be different.
Some of the better studded tires for nordic conditions are; Biridgestone Noranza, Continental WinterViking 1, Gislaved NordFrost 3, Goodyear UltraGrip 500, Michelin Ivalo, Nokian Hakkapeliitta 4. The studded tires add to the grip in the snow and ice, making me feel very secure in my V50.
Volvo has other safety features that helped keep me on the circular skid pads and weaving slalom track. All-Wheel Drive gives more stable and predictable winter characteristics while the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Traction Control System (TRACS) and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control System (DSTC) give enhanced driving properties.
A surefootedness when one hears the grinding of the traction control, meaning the wheels are gripping the ice the way your feet can't when you're trying to stand on the ice, but slip and fall. TRACS starts operation on slippery surfaces by braking any wheel that starts spinning. TRACS operates independently on the front and rear axles. DSTC keeps the wheels from spinning when you are increasing speed and keeps the vehicle from losing control in a side slip or spin-out condition.
At first the grinding noise and sensation was unnerving but when I figured out what it was I looked forward to it, waited for it to happen then the next time around went a little faster till it started again. Each time I got a little faster.
The V50 offers two engines: a normally aspirated, 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter five-cylinder and the 218-horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter in the T5. According to Volvo you can buy the T5 with a close ratio six-speed manual transmission or all-wheel drive in the United States or both. The S40/V50 is built on the same platform as the European Ford Focus and the very hot Mazda3. Base price: $25,690
The end of the day brought a toast with ligonberry wine; vodka and ligonberry juice. A toast to good people, good food, great cars and no accidents. And no one getting a ticket which in Finland is based on your income, not the speed you were going.