2008 Volvo V70
2008 Volvo V70. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Photo Galleries: 2008 Volvo V70 and XC70

Cologne, Germany – Casting off its sensible sweater image, Volvo has recently released some strikingly stylish new vehicles. Two examples are the C30 coupe and the elegant C70 hardtop convertible, both of which celebrate elements of classic Swedish design in their exterior lines and interior details.

Design, along with safety and the environment, are emerging as the three pillars of Volvo’s identity, and these were front and centre at the recent launch of the new V70, XC70, S40 and V50 in Germany (call it “responsible luxury,” if you will). This was the largest vehicle launch in Volvo’s history by the way, stickhandled from the palatial Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg, a former castle located 20 minutes from Cologne.

Classic Volvo wagons
Classic Volvo wagons
Classic Volvo wagons. Click image to enlarge

But even though the sensible sweater may be in the bottom drawer, it’s never really far from hand when you’re dealing with that most practical of cars, the family station wagon. Four classic Volvo wagons decorated the hotel’s vast front lawn, reminding those assembled of the company’s long heritage with this type of vehicle.

Continuing the wagon tradition, and introduced at Geneva last February, the third-generation V70 is Volvo’s best-selling wagon on a worldwide basis. It is also Volvo’s number-two vehicle behind the top selling XC90 SUV (hence the importance and scale of this introduction). Built on the S80 sedan platform, and using almost an identical interior, the V70 is effectively an S80 wagon. That means it can climb further into the premium segment than the Subaru Legacy or Volkswagen Passat, for example, which are two competitors cited by Volvo.

Powered with a new inline six-cylinder engine (mounted transversely) that makes 235 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft torque, the V70’s engine is now mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission. Our V70 test examples in Germany, however, featured the 3.0-litre, 282-hp/295 lb.-ft torque turbocharged version of this engine, the T6, that will be available in Canada for the XC70, S80 and XC60 for the 2009 model year, but not the V70.

2008 Volvo V70
2008 Volvo V70
2008 Volvo V70
2008 Volvo V70. Click image to enlarge

Clever safety features like Collision Warning with Brake Support, a Blind Spot Information System and a Personal Car Communicator with heartbeat sensor (the advanced keyfob tells you if somebody has broken into your car, and is still there) are available, in addition to the standard and comprehensive array of Volvo safety systems and Volvo’s active chassis technology that is selectable for comfort, sport and advanced driving.

New for the V70 is a pair of dual-stage, adjustable booster seats that can be set at two heights, allowing children of different sizes to see out the windows and ensuring the best position for the child in relation to their seat belt. Also new are a stronger side structure and electronic parking brake. An optional power liftgate is part of a Convenience Package (estimated price: $2,500-$2,750).

The V70, which ranges in price from $43,000-48,000, plus a selection of option packages, is expected to appeal to those in the 45-55 age bracket, 70 per cent male, married with children and an annual household income of $140,000. Expect the V70 to reach dealer showrooms in Canada by February, 2008, initially as a front-wheel drive version.

Complementing the V70, the XC70 is presented as the more adventure-oriented of the two vehicles. Trimmed to look more aggressive than its predecessor, it continues the theme of raised ride height, chunky wheels and SUV-style plastic cladding. “Rugged yet refined,” is how Volvo design director Steve Mattin puts it. More cargo room is an added benefit of the refinement.

2008 Volvo XC70
2008 Volvo XC70
2008 Volvo XC70. Click image to enlarge

Using the same 3.2-litre engine as the V70, the XC70 features Volvo’s electronic all-wheel drive system, and a newly introduced Hill Descent Control function that manages the car’s engine and braking systems to maintain a maximum speed of 10 km/h when descending a steep hill. Like the V70, the XC70 comes with the new dual-stage booster seats in the rear for children and is available with the power liftgate.

The XC70, priced from $48,000-$53,000 plus option packages, targets a slightly different demographic than the V70, and is expected to appeal to persons aged 40-55, 75 percent of whom are male, outdoor oriented, with a household income of $180,000. Competitors are the Audi A6 Avant, Volkswagen Passat 4Motion and the BMW X3. We’ll see the new XC70 in fall of this year.

On the road, the level of comfort and fine quality in the new V70 and XC70 are immediately evident. Both vehicles impress with their superb materials (fabrics, real woods, choice leather) and the sheer solidity of their construction.

There’s little point in telling you that the 3.0 T6 engine is responsive and powerful, as we won’t see that engine in Canadian spec cars for a year. But it’s hard not to compare.

2008 Volvo XC70
2008 Volvo XC70
2008 Volvo XC70. Click image to enlarge

That’s because the V70 weighs 1,735 kilograms (3,817 pounds) and the XC70 tips the scales at 1,856 kg (4,083 lbs), up approximately 17 and 15 percent respectively in relation to the 2007 models. While the 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine also offers an increase in power over last year’s inline-five, you’ll be spoiled by the 3.0 T6 engine if you wait until it’s available here.

In corners, on-ramps and exit ramps, the V70 feels more poised and sporty than the XC70, which I set to the sport suspension setting for all normal driving conditions. I found the comfort setting in the XC70 produced body roll and was too soft when traversing undulating pavement. For high-speed driving on the German highways, the sport setting is best.

Both vehicles are supremely quiet at speed, and very comfortable to drive. Only when you put your foot down hard do engine sounds intrude into the cabin.

The external lines of the V70 are now very sleek indeed. While a wagon will never have the pleasing symmetry of a sedan, the V70 can look genuinely fast and classy.

The XC70, with its raised height and contrasting trim pieces effectively communicates its “built for rougher stuff” image. Personally, I think the front of the car is too busy, what with the raccoon-eyes treatment of the foglamps, and highlighted skid plate. But it has its own personality, and the trim items and grille certainly differentiate it from the standard wagon. Those considering outdoor activities should find it complements their aspirations, and if owners never go off-road, they’ll at least look the part. The 2008 XC70 will be available in October, 2007.

2008 Volvo S40
2008 Volvo S40. Click image to enlarge

Also available for examination and short test drives were the “new” S40 sedan and V50 wagon. I place “new” in quotation marks because notwithstanding the extensive description supplied by Volvo designers of its many detail changes, these vehicles look much the same as the outgoing models.

Differences you will find are the “waterfall” grille treatment, revised headlamps and tail lamps, revised bumpers and exhaust tip placement, map pockets sculpted into the doors, better stitching on the seats, and a more useful centre console. Overall, the vehicles’ exterior design is aligned more closely with the S80/V70, although the drivetrain, major sheetmetal and external dimensions carry over. All that being said, it’s a very handsome look for a compact vehicle.

2008 Volvo V50 T5; photo by James Bergeron
2008 Volvo V50 T5; photo by James Bergeron. Click image to enlarge

Pricing for the S40/V50 remains the same, ranging from $31,494-$39,995 for the S40, and $32,995-$41,495 for the V50. The 2008 models will be available in late July/early August, 2007.

After decades of family-oriented vehicles, the words “Volvo” and “Wagon” now almost roll off the tongue as one expression, such is the association of this brand with this type of transportation. That can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the market. However, the latest generation advances the performance (especially the T6), sleek exterior lines and interior luxury to new levels. Rather than being simply practical, Volvo wagons celebrate the common sense of the buyer.

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