1999 Volvo S70
1999 Volvo S70. Photo: Volvo. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

It’s not uncommon for a car’s exterior design to undergo subtle changes at some point during a model’s production run. It’s the auto industry’s equivalent to plastic surgery – a proven way to maintain interest in a commodity that’s past its prime. What’s not as common is for these automotive face-lifts to come in the form of a new name attached to familiar sheet metal.

That’s what happened to the Volvo 850 a few years after its introduction in 1993 as Volvo’s first front-wheel drive model. In 1998, the Swedish company introduced its new naming scheme, moving from the three-digit numerical designations it had used for years to an alpha-numeric naming system wherein the 850 sedan became the S70, while the ultra-boxy wagon became the V70 (Volvo’s upscale model of the day, the 960, became the S90 and V90.) Incidentally, the names changed again in 2001 when the S70/V70 was redesigned and the sedan became the S60, while the wagon kept the V70 badge).

Odd naming practices aside, there wasn’t much difference between a 1997 850 and a 1998 S70/V70 cosmetically, aside from a revised interior that was less reminiscent of the 240 that the 850 replaced. Outside, the 70-series cars were virtually identical to the 850.

Under the hood were the same inline five-cylinder engines with the same nifty exhaust note as the 850. Sedans were available only in front-wheel drive form, while wagons were available with all-wheel-drive. The base 70-series got a 2.4-litre engine producing 168 horsepower, while mid-level GLT models, as well as the all-wheel-drive V70 wagon and SUV ‘wannabe’ V70 XC, used a 2.3-litre turbocharged version that made 190 horsepower. The main powertrain difference between the 850 and its replacement was found in the 2.3-litre turbocharged engine top-of-the-line T5 (front-wheel-drive) and V70 R (all-wheel-drive), which got a 14-horsepower boost to 236 compared to the equivalent 850 T5. Gone from the line-up for 1998 was the super-potent 250-horsepower version of the 2.3-litre engine that powered the 1997 850 R.

1998 Volvo S70
1998 Volvo S70. Photo: Volvo. Click image to enlarge

All 1998 S70s were front-wheel drive only, while 1999 and 2000 sedans became available with an all-wheel drive option, though only in one trim level whereas the V70 AWD was available in three different forms.

The 70-series cars carried on Volvo’s commitment to occupant safety, offering ABS and dual front airbags and side airbags as standard equipment, while traction control remained an option on all but the all-wheel-drive models. All the safety gear added up to good results in U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, which gave the 70-series five stars each for driver and front passenger protection in front impact tests. In side impact tests, the car earned four stars in front seat occupant protection, but the 70-series wasn’t tested for rear-seat occupant protection.

The carry-over engines meant carry-over fuel consumption numbers too, ranging from 11.2 L/100 km city and 7.6 L/100 km highway for a base S70 with a manual transmission to 13.1 L/100 km city and 9.2 L/100 km highway for a V70 R AWD.

2000 Volvo V70
2000 Volvo V70. Photo: Volvo. Click image to enlarge

While Volvo had mastered the art of automotive safety long before the 70-series came along, these Swedes hadn’t quite figured out how to put together a reliable electrical system, which shows up in Consumer Reports’ used car rating for these cars. The 70-series gets a failing grade for its electrical bits, and brakes and air conditioning get so-so ratings too. Redeeming those shortcomings are robust mechanical components, specifically engines and transmissions, which seem to hold up well.

If you start investigating prices for used 70-series’, you’ll find a car that offers much of the comfort and luxury of a German car for significantly less money. Case in point: a 2000 S70 GLT is worth $15,575 according to Canadian Red Book, while a 2000 BMW 328i is valued at $20,800. While the BMW offers the advantage of rear-wheel-drive for hardcore performance enthusiasts, it doesn’t do much better in the reliability department, with similar problems related to electrical components.

While the 70-series Volvos carry on the company’s obsession with occupant safety, you’ll have to weigh the importance of that against Volvo’s reputation for electrical issues. Volvo nuts may argue that the cars possess a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that makes up for their quirky and temperamental nature but if all you’re after is a comfy, trouble-free ride, you’re better off going with a Japanese luxury brand like Acura, Infiniti or Lexus. It might cost you more up front, but will likely save you both time and money down the road in not saddling you with tricky electrical troubles.

On-line resources

www.swedespeed.com: SwedeSpeed is part of the Vortex Media Group, a significant on-line presence that hosts discussion forums for owners of a number of different cars. The forums are very model-specific, including a section for the 1998-2000 S70 and V70. Registration is free and the many members who populate this busy forum are very knowledgeable.

www.brickboard.com: The Brickboard is a real blast-from-the-past, with a layout that seems to date back to the Internet’s earliest days. But behind the dated look is a thriving forum full of Volvo owners who are fanatical about their cars. This site isn’t much to look at, but from a useful content point of view, it’s quite possibly the best Volvo forum on the web.


Volvo S70 sedan

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999194; Units affected: 13,670

1998: On certain vehicles, the connections in the headlight switch may deteriorate. If this occurs, the headlights will not function and a loss of visibility will occur, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash. Correction: Headlight switch will be replaced.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999163; Units affected: 14,250

1998: On certain vehicles, the frontal passenger air bag may be overly sensitive to certain electrostatic discharges. This could cause the possibility of inadvertent air bag deployment. Correction: An extra ground wire will be installed on the passenger-side front airbag system on affected vehicles.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999007; Units affected: 7,225

1998: On certain vehicles, the “Vehicle Emission Control Information” label may be incorrect. The label originally affixed incorrectly states that the vehicle conforms to EPA and California requirements. Correction: Replacement label and installation instructions will be sent to owners of affected vehicles.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999037; Units affected: 254

1999: Certain all-wheel drive vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 301 – Fuel System. The margins to the requirements of the standard are insufficient because of the existing fuel filter bracket configuration. Correction: A fuel filter protection bracket will be installed on affected vehicles.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004374; Units affected: 9,151

1998-2000: On certain vehicles, the Master Light Switch may cease to function. If this occurs, the headlights will not function and a loss of visibility will occur, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the Master Light Switch.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001101; Units affected: 25,883

1998-2000: On certain vehicles, inadequate contact between the bulb and socket could cause the front turn signal not to function as designed. This would fail to warn an approaching driver that the vehicle is turning and could lead to a crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the left and right front turn signal bulb and socket.

Volvo V70 wagon

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998211; Units affected: 691

1998-1999: On certain vehicles, the location of the tailpipe and the possibility of variability in tailpipe length can present a unique set of circumstances where users of the third row seats may come in contact with the tailpipe when entering or exiting the vehicle. Correction: Owners will be requested to check their tailpipe length and, if necessary, return the vehicle to their dealer for modification.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000188; Units affected: 336

2000: Certain vehicles may be equipped with a defective tailgate locking mechanism which, in combination with cold temperatures, may cause the tailgate to not lock properly. Should the tailgate open when the vehicle is in motion, or as the result of a vehicle crash, personal injury could occur to unrestrained passengers. Correction: Tailgate locking mechanism will be replaced.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004334; Units affected: 29,805

2000-2001: On certain vehicles, the electric cooling fan may overheat, potentially causing heat damage and, in rare instances, a fire in the engine compartment. Correction: Dealers will replace the cooling fan with an improved version.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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