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Car reviews - Volvo - V70 - T6 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, comfort, safety, luxury, technology, practicality, family-friendly cabin, relative scarcity
Room for improvement
Cruise control’s ability to hold speed, T6’s thirst when driven hard

19 Feb 2009

THIS is a tale of two tourers. Sharing virtually the same body, each has a different heart and – ultimately – contrasting souls.

Both are Swedish, by Volvo Cars, and both are closely related.

But while one – the sturdy, spacious and practical XC70 D5 ‘crossover’ – is pretty much what you might expect from the brand, the other – the V70 T6 station wagon under scrutiny here – adds a higher level of performance, refinement and luxury to take on similarly sized German rivals costing almost twice as much.

Neither is perfect, but – quite unexpectedly – it is the more traditional, thirstier and slower selling latter that impresses us more. Much more.

Design-wise, we are divided. While some love the new looks, others feel that the styling – though still neat and irrefutably Volvo – lacks the multi-layered character of the old version. Over a seven-year run, the 2000-2007 edition is a timeless reminder of this.

What you think of the interior depends on how familiar you are with the previous car.

Although extremely well built and finished, the V70 inside fails to show any progress over its predecessor in terms of aesthetic design and layout, since that car’s cabin was probably one of its strongest suits, and even manages to look a little less opulent.

This is at odds with the truth, however, because the T6 in reality is sumptuously fitted out.

Maybe that ‘floating’ centre console as found on the C30/S40/V50 trio is a tad trite at this level. Nevertheless, Volvo has all the basics well and truly sorted.

There is sufficient space for five adults, with the front seats sliding back sufficiently for even the tallest person’s feet not to be fettered.

Seat comfort rates particularly highly in these cars, with all four outboard positions offering almost plush levels of accommodation. And though you sink into these, you’re simultaneously both supported and cosseted.

Volvo is making much noise over its revamped inbuilt child booster seat with a dual-height mode, and this fact alone is good reason for a family to fork out for the V70. And everybody will appreciate the effective reverse sensors and deep windows that help make parking stupendously simple for what is quite a long vehicle at 4.82 metres.

And then there are the almost sinfully delicious details that adorn the car inside and out, like the hefty thud of a closing door.

And whatever you may think about Volvo’s ‘floating’ console, it stands as a simple and elegant alternative to Audi’s MMI or BMW’s iDrive interface, since everything is housed within the symmetrical set of buttons and switches.

The steering wheel has an equally accessible bunch of cruise control and remote audio buttons, and both are supported with visual representations within the instrumentation or middle-console screens.

The dials are clearly presented, combining crisp analogue markings with digital fuel, distance and warning light information, as well as a trip computer functionality operated by a rather fiddly twist action located on the indicator stalk.

On the subject of fiddly bits, our car was fitted with Volvo’s BLIS blind-spot information system as well as lane-departure warning (LDW) – with the former being part of a (highly recommended) $4725 Teknik package that also includes radar-adjustable cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and a rear-view mirror-mounted digital compass.

The BLIS device works quietly and unobtrusively, unlike the $2075-extra LDW, which ‘bongs’ annoyingly as opposed to the more effective seat vibratory ones found in, say, a Citroen C5. However, both work well.

So does the bin in the deep centre console, large glovebox, sliding-slat jalousie for the cupholders, front-seat cushion pockets and cornucopia of storage spaces all add further to the V70 interior’s smarts.

No surfaces feel cheap either, while the plethora of contrasting textiles show, once again, that the Swedes are experts in making an enclosed environment seem salubrious and upmarket.

This extends to the 555-litre cargo area, which is quite vast and utilitarian in shape, but beautifully finished nonetheless, with quality carpet, aluminium sliding rails and a number of hooks to secure things to. Compared to before there is 70 litres of extra luggage space to boot.

Lift the hinged floor that is nicely supported by a strut and there is a second, shallow area for storing smaller items, that can also be taken out to reveal the temporary spare wheel. A window line-high cargo cover keeps prying eyes out, while it takes a hefty tug to shut that tailgate.

Volvo is a wagon specialist with decades worth of experience, and it really shows in the V70.

Experience with the older model, too, might mean that you may appreciate this model’s big strides in the area of dynamic capability.

But, as we have previously said about the existing S80 and XC70 models already, don’t kid yourself in thinking that this car is some sort of sports sedan/wagon… it just isn’t.

The best way to describe how this car steers, handles and rides is “competent”. And if we were using a metaphor, it would be like experiencing everything after a small but effective dose of anaesthetic. There is nothing uncomfortable, sharp, exhausting or taxing about the V70’s driving experience.

Turn the wheel and the Volvo faithfully follows, with no jarring or pulling from the wheel despite a hefty 400Nm of torque coursing through.

Drive faster and the V70 simply grips gamely, leans a little but continues to go where it is pointed, thanks to the tried-and-true Haldex part-time all-wheel drive system that apportions between 95 and 50 per cent of power to the front wheels.

Strike a pothole and the Volvo will simply traverse it without crashing or thudding into it too, yet you would never seek out your favourite set of bends to belt this car around, because there simply isn’t enough feedback or interaction to egg you on.

Then you see the three buttons at the base of the centre console labelled ‘Advanced’, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ – as we did, after assessing all of the above in ‘Advanced.’

Called ‘FOUR-C’, it is an adjustable damping and steering system that literally – at a press of button – changes the dynamic behaviour of the V70.

The ‘Advanced’ suspension setting is fine but keener drivers will appreciate the firmer set-up of Sport, which appears to not have a detriment to ride quality while adding some much-needed ‘meat’ to the feel of the steering.

Drivers can also dial up more steering feel and weight via the in-car menu interface: set on the highest level, the wheel is numbingly light and feel-free, but if you park the vehicle and select the opposite setting, most drivers will find a nicely weighted and progressive alternative.

Now things are getting better for the keener driver, particularly as we haven’t even touched on the urgent, potent and ultimately ultra-refined in-line six-cylinder turbo petrol unit.

Dubbed T6, this 3.0-litre engine delivers 210kW of power and 400Nm of torque. This compares with 125kW/230Nm for the previous five-cylinder non-turbo petrol unit, 175kW/320Nm for the 3.2-litre six in petrol-powered XC70s and 136kW/400Nm for the 2.5-litre D5.

Fitted with a twin-scroll turbo that looks after low-down performance as well as top-end response, the V70 T6 can storm to 100km/h in 7.2 seconds.

Now while that is not especially quick in this day and age of twin-turbo BMW sixes sneaking under the six-second barrier, it is the instantaneous acceleration available virtually throughout the rev range that impresses most.

Floor the pedal and the T6 shoots forward with no fuss or drama, and will continue to do so until the electronic speed-limiter kills the fun at 245km/h – should you be driving on an autobahn.

Volvo employs Aisin’s slick six-speed automatic transmission fitted with a sequential-shift plane for those who want to pretend that they are in a manual the better choice is putting the lever in ‘Sport’ mode and letting the turbo engine loose as it fully exploits the extended change-up points.

It can feel a bit busy in city traffic, though, so the regular setting is fine for most of the time.

Of course, being a Volvo, there are myriad electronic driver aids under the dynamic stability and traction control (DSTC) umbrella, yet the Swedish company’s engineers have ensured that intervention is subtle over most conditions.

But let’s not get carried away: the overwhelming majority of V70 drivers – even with the terrific T6 engine at hand – are likely to drive it in the softest and lightest damper, steering and gearbox modes, which means the Volvo’s overall dynamic feel is biased towards safe and secure understeer.

And, boy, don’t the brakes do their job! If you drive quickly and then have to execute a sudden manoeuvre, the V70 rises to the occasion by remaining cool and composed, backed up by progressive stoppers that feel fade-free.

About the only real complaint in the driving department concerns the cruise control, which was flummoxed in both the V70 and XC70 models we sampled by even slight inclines.

Nevertheless, in the end, we came away mightily impressed with the V70 T6.

Averaging in the low to mid-13 litres per 100km, that petrol unit might be significantly thirstier than the 9.5L/100km average we managed in the XC70 D5 diesel, but the V70 T6 looks smarter, goes faster, handles better and is far more refined, ticking all the boxes that luxury car buyers want.

So while we still came away quietly impressed with the XC70 D5, ironically enough we longed for the quicker, quieter V70 T6 more in this tale of two rather terrific tourers.

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