August 5, 2008
Oshawa, Ontario – Let’s be brutally honest here: safe isn’t sexy. It can be stylish, but it isn’t going to be scintillating. The Volvo V70 wagon isn’t going to satisfy sporty drivers, but it isn’t meant for them. Rather, if the goal is a capable car with a buttery-smooth ride and all the amenities, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Redesigned into its third generation for 2008, the V70 borrows heavily from the S80 for its platform. Offered in a single trim line, it drops the naturally-aspirated and turbocharged five-cylinder engines of 2007 in favour of a 3.2-litre inline six-cylinder. It’s smoother and more linear than the previous powerplants, and at 235 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, it’s got 27 more horses and virtually the same torque as the 2007’s turbo engine. (The more powerful R variant of 2007 does not return this time around.) The sole transmission choice is a six-speed automatic with "Geartronic", Volvo’s name for manual shift mode.
The new V70 is also the requisite "larger-than-before", with a longer wheelbase (by 61 mm) and overall length (by 113 mm), and with extra height and interior space. It’s a handsome piece of machinery as well, with gently rounded nose, good proportions, and taillights that rise up along either side of the liftgate.
As with most Volvo models, there are no surprises when it comes to the V70’s performance: you do feel the wagon’s weight, but the six-cylinder is up to the task, and it does its job very quietly and smoothly; my combined mileage was 10.9 L/100 km, compared to the published stats of 13.3 for the city and 8.3 for the highway. The recommendation is for 91 octane, but 87 works just fine.
My tester was optioned with a "Four-C Active Chassis", which stands for Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept. In short form, there are three buttons on the centre stack that allow you to choose from Comfort, Sport or Advanced. You definitely know when it’s in Comfort, which soaks up bumps like a sponge; it takes more to feel the difference between Sport, which stiffens up the suspension and steering response, and Advanced, which controls the shocks to reduce body sway.
Dig deep into the vehicle information centre, and you’ll find three settings for the steering as well. The "light" setting is so over-boosted that I can’t imagine anyone ever thinking a car should feel this way; it’s so loose that the wheel is seemingly disconnected. The "medium" setting is better, but still too light; I kept it on "strong", and while I would have liked even a bit more weight to it, it was fun to take it through some sharp curves when combined with the Sport setting. There’s next to no road feel, but the car obeys the steering input accurately. Torque-steer has been left behind on the engineer’s desk; this car simply doesn’t feel like a front-wheeler, and that’s a compliment.
The interior is lifted from the S80, and it’s a handsome design, with a wavy dash panel, the famous "floating" centre stack – still beautiful, but still pretty much pointless as far as storage goes – and high-quality materials throughout. My tester was optioned with "Modern" walnut trim inlay, a new low-gloss dark wood that’s extremely good-looking, but which adds a hefty $600 to the bottom line. Without it, you get either a lighter "Classic" wood or brushed aluminum.
The centre stack contains a number of buttons, which are small and require more time with your eyes off the road than I’d expect in a safety-oriented vehicle. Climate control is handled cleverly with three buttons in the general shape of a person; push the foot, for example, and air comes out through the bottom vents. Although the buttons look like chrome, they rather ingeniously glow light green at night, along with all the rest of the controls, since every button, dial and switch is backlit. A keyless system is optional, but since my car didn’t have it, the ignition is a silly two-stage affair that requires you first insert the key and then press a starter button.
The seats are all-day comfortable, both back and front; legroom is generous no matter where you sit. Open up the hatch, and the V70 is more cargo-capable than most SUVs I’ve driven. Lift the flat panel off the floor, and it can be used as a divider, or with bags hung on its grocery hooks. Lift the whole thing, and there’s a cargo tray with dividers. The cargo area by itself is 110 cm long; fold the seats, which fall flat and don’t need their head restraints removed first, and you’ve got 175 cm of cargo length. There’s a nifty cargo tie-down system that won a prize in Britain: two aluminum rails run the length of the floor, with four sliding hooks that can be positioned anywhere along the rail, or removed entirely so the rail can be cleaned out. Simply pulling up on the hooks locks them into place. It certainly is smart enough to be worthy of an award, although in all honesty, I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone who actually ties down the load in an enclosed vehicle.
There are other new features as well including what Volvo says is a world first: height-adjustable integrated child booster seats. Part of my car’s Luxury Package II option, these seats are located in the outboard cushions of the rear seat. Push a button, and the cushion lifts up 7 cm; press another, and it goes up 10 cm. The seats can hold a child between 22 and 36 kg, or 115 to 140 cm tall in one position, and between 15 and 25 kg, or 95 to 120 cm tall in the other. The idea is that, as the child grows, he can sit safely in the seatbelt and see out the window, and with the dual-height system in both seats, two children of different ages can each have a favourite window, without having to sit on a size-specific booster seat.
My car’s other new feature was BLIS, for Blind Spot Information System. It uses rear-facing cameras in the mirrors to "spot" cars that enter the so-called blind spots on either side of the car, and warns with an orange lamp that illuminates in the door close to the mirror. I’ve tried similar systems in other vehicles, most notably the Audi Q7, and while I’m not entirely sold on them, the Volvo system did work very well, catching my eye without drawing my concentration away from the road, and giving me a little extra warning. However, the system works best in ideal conditions, and I got a number of false warnings at night, when it warned of vehicles that were two lanes away on the highway, and on a rainy night when I was the only car on the road. (The owner’s manual warns that such things as light reflections on wet surfaces, the car’s own shadow or the sun low on the horizon can trigger a false reading.)
Overall, station wagons have lost serious ground with the rising popularity of SUVs and crossovers, and many manufacturers have abandoned them. Volvo has always stuck with it, though, which could be a prime marketing scheme as high gas prices turn buyers away from bigger vehicles. But a wagon needs more than just a liftgate to be successful, and the new V70 has a lot more; designed for those who want comfort and capacity, this wagon delivers.
Pricing: 2008 Volvo V70
|(Premium Package of leather seats, retractable mirrors, power rear child locks, front fog lights and power passenger seat $2,600; Luxury Package II of Four-C Active Chassis, active bi-Xenon headlamps, front and rear parking assist, child booster cushions and rain sensor $2,850; Convenience Package of 12-volt luggage area outlet, garage door opener, compass, speed-sensitive steering, grocery bag holder, humidity sensor, power tailgate, private locking trunk, sunglasses holder, mass movement sensor and level sensor $1,950; Blind Spot Information System $750; metallic paint $650; Modern Wood inlays $600; sunroof $1,500)|
|Price as tested:||$||
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