Car reviews - Volvo - V70 - T5 5-dr wagon
Potent engine, slick-shifting auto, improved styling
Room for improvement
Still feels a bit nose-heavy
7 Feb 2001
PUT away that bowls hat. Or at least hide it under the rear cargo blind.
Volvo's new V70 wagon is aimed at putting another few nails in the coffin of the Swedish marque's pipe-and-slippers image.
The newcomer is a distinct step forward from its predecessor, most notably in the styling department.
The box-on-wheels shape has been more or less consigned to history and in its place is a bodyshell that actually incorporates a few curves.
Perhaps its most distinctive styling touch is the "waterfall" flanks that first appeared on the S80.
The V70 also resembles its larger sibling when viewed from the front as it, too, features a protruding grille and V-shaped bonnet bulge.
Like all its ancestors, the third side window is longer than the others to show that the V70 is "a genuine wagon".
On the road, the new V70's lower and wider dimensions mean it looks more purposeful than its tall and somewhat staid ancestor.
In addition to being longer and wider than before, the wagon's wheelbase has been stretched by 100m to create additional rear-seat legroom.
Just two variants of the V70 were launched initially - the low-pressure turbo 2.4T and the high-performance T5.
The engines for these two models have been carried over essentially unchanged, but they can be mated to an all-new five-speed automatic transmission.
The Geartronic auto offers Tiptronic-style shift capability, which means the Volvo wagon can now compete on level footing against rivals from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.
Being an adaptive unit, the auto's shift patterns vary to suit the manner in which the car is being driven.
The T5's blown 2.3-litre engine cranks out an impressive 184kW at 5200rpm and 330Nm between 2400rpm and 5200rpm - figures that eclipse all its rivals, including the Saab 9-5 Aero wagon.
On the road, this translates into an ability that would humble many so-called performance cars.
Volvo claims the manual T5 can accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds on its way to a top speed of 250km/h.
As impressive as the car's outright performance is its tremendous flexibility, making overtaking manoeuvres a breeze.
Exploring the upper reaches of the rev range results in a distinctive - and rather pleasant - banshee howl being emitted by the tailpipe.
The engine is beautifully complemented by the five-speed auto, which offers a good spread of ratios and slurs between them almost imperceptibly.
However, with the surfeit of power being transmitted to the tarmac via the front wheels, torque-steer can make its presence felt when blasting away from traffic lights or powering out of tight corners - particularly in wet conditions.
Driver aids such as traction control help in this area but they do not altogether eliminate the problem.
Ride quality, formerly a Volvo bugbear, has been dramatically improved in the V70.
Volvo Car Australia has opted to specify a "comfort" suspension setting for the local market, although a firmer set-up can be optioned in the T5.
The standard suspension delivers a ride that is no longer choppy around town, although it does feel a little floaty when attacking twisty country roads.
While the V70's handling is tidier than before, the weight of the engine hanging over the front axle means it still feels a bit nose-heavy at times.
Stopping power has been improved, thanks to the use of larger brakes, consisting of 305mm ventilated discs at the front and 288mm solid discs at the rear.
Anti-lock brakes and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) - which apportions optimum braking loads to front and rear wheels depending on the vehicle's load - are standard features.
The T5 also comes with Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) - similar to Mercedes-Benz's ESP system - which is designed to detect and correct slides.
This feature makes driving in slippery conditions less of a white-knuckle exercise.
Passive safety features include six airbags - dual front and side items and curtain bags that protect against head injuries in side impacts.
Also standard is Volvo's WHIPS (whiplash protection system), which cradles the spine and coccyx in heavy rear-end collisions.
A pioneering feature is the use of airbags that inflate to 70 per cent of full capacity in front impacts that are less severe but may still cause injury.
In minor impacts only the seatbelt pretensioners are activated.
The wagon is also available with an optional rear-facing child seat that is equipped with headrests and inertia reel three-point seatbelts.
Although some rival manufacturers have criticised the fitting of third-row seats located in the rear crumple zone, Volvo says its statistics show these seats are the safest place for children to be in the majority of accidents.
The manufacturer says severe rear-end shunts account for only a small percentage of real-life collisions.
The V70's more stylish exterior is complemented by an interior that exudes a high-quality, upmarket feel.
Its dash and centre console is elegantly laid out, with easy-to-read instrumentation and all switchgear within fingertip-reach of the driver.
The leather-bound four-spoke steering wheel is nice to hold and it features built-in controls for the premium sound system.
Occupants are cosseted by sumptuous leather-trimmed seats that are comfortable and provide good lumbar support.
The front seats are heated - excellent for warming your buns on cold mornings - and electrically adjustable.
There is an assortment of storage compartments and cubbyholes for stowing oddments, as well as a map scabbard on the passenger side - but don't expect to stash your Melways in it because it won't fit.
The standard equipment list is more than adequate, with electric-powered everything and a host of driver aids and safety features included at no extra cost.
Storage capacity is similarly generous, with luggage space measuring 485 litres with the rear seat up or a huge 1641 litres if it is folded down.
Build quality is excellent, both inside and out.
Overall, the new V70 is an accomplished and well-engineered car that performs its intended role with aplomb.
Its new-found style will not only be a breath of fresh air for existing Volvo owners but may also attract several new buyers to the marque.
In T5 form, the V70 is a genuinely quick car with ample reserves of grunt to simplify overtaking semi-trailers and nipping into gaps in traffic.
A Volvo station wagon with panache? Hard to believe, but true.
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