Versus the competiton:
Editor’s note: This review was written in February 2008 about the 2008 Volvo V70. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new for 2009, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
It’s probably no surprise that wagons have largely been ditched in the U.S. in favor of SUVs and crossovers. It’s unfortunate because, as evidenced by the redesigned Volvo V70, there are plenty of compelling reasons to consider one. This Volvo offers a comfortable ride, upscale interior, a number of safety features and a large cargo area.
There’s no denying that the V70 doesn’t have the swagger of a crossover, but when you want to haul around your family and their things — as both wagons and crossovers were designed to do — should styling trump everything else? If you don’t think so, a wagon may be right for you.
Volvo used to be known as the brand that sold rolling boxes, but that’s no longer the case, as models like the S40 and C30 can attest. Even though the V70 retains the classic wagon shape, its front-end styling is appealing thanks to a sleekness that may surprise shoppers who haven’t been in a Volvo showroom recently. The wraparound headlights, protruding nose and mesh inserts in the lower bumper give the V70 a surprisingly athletic look (see a side-by-side comparison with the 2007 model).
The V70’s appearance is a little bland from the side, though it does feature Volvo’s characteristic bulge where the side windows meet the sheet metal. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, but 17-inch rims shod with run-flat tires are optional. The back of the wagon has tall taillights that extend all the way up to the roof of the car. Silver-colored roof rails and xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights are optional.
I spent a lot of time driving the V70 on the highway, and the wagon is a comfortable cruiser that doesn’t leave you feeling worn out, even after hours behind the wheel. Credit goes to comfortable front bucket seats that provide good support, but the wagon also delivers a smooth ride and is very quiet at speed; at 75 mph, wind rush is nearly nonexistent and the engine, turning at about 2,500 rpm, can barely be heard. It all comes together to make for an inviting place to rack up some miles.
The V70’s suspension isn’t as firmly tuned as some European brands, which seems appropriate for a family car. The setup also leaves Volvo some room if it decides to launch a high-performance version of the wagon, as it’s done in the past. On undulating pavement, the V70 floats up and down a bit as you cross dips in the road — kind of like a full-size American sedan of yore. Unfortunately, potholes and other road imperfections disturb the calm of the cabin, which is surprising considering the suspension’s otherwise soft sensations.
The steering tuning contributes to the V70’s easy-going driving experience; the wheel spins on its axis with little effort. It’s also very precise, though, which lets you place the car on the road exactly where you want it.
The sole engine offered in the wagon is a 3.2-liter inline-six-cylinder that makes 235 horsepower and 236 pounds-feet of torque. This engine drives a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission that incorporates a clutchless-manual mode for driver-controlled gear changes. With EPA estimates of 16/24 mpg city/highway, gas mileage in this front-wheel-drive wagon is unimpressive.
While the inline-six engine is smooth-running and delivers adequate power when driving in the city or on country roads, it doesn’t offer a lot of high-speed passing power. It’s not poky, but I was expecting more from a larger-displacement six-cylinder.
Like the steering system, the V70’s brake pedal responds to the lightest of touches. The system’s linearity is appreciated, but to bring the car to a complete stop you have to push rather hard on the pedal.
The V70’s new dashboard and center console feature the flowing elements seen on Volvo’s flagship S80 sedan. The cabin is available in black or beige, and my test car’s all-black interior was quite attractive and upscale, featuring interesting design elements like a center display screen that changes from black digits on a white background in the daytime to white digits on a black background at night.
The front bucket seats, as mentioned above, are comfortable and supportive, and the driver’s seat has three standard memory settings. Fabric seating surfaces are standard, but leather seats are optional.
While the front of the cabin is rather comfortable, backseat passengers aren’t so fortunate. The rear seat is on the small side considering the overall size of the car, and more than one backseat passenger complained that the seats were hard and uncomfortable.
The rear seats’ saving grace may very well be the standard two-position child booster seats that are integrated into each outboard seating position. Volvo says the booster seat allows for proper seat belt positioning on children; the weight and height range for the lower position is 50-80 pounds and 45-55 inches tall, while the higher position is designed for passengers who weigh 35-55 pounds and are 37-47 inches tall. If you have small children or transfer kids regularly, this could be a very handy feature.
A navigation system and a backseat entertainment system with two 7-inch screens in the front head restraints are optional.
The V70 has 33.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats. With the 40/20/40-split backseat folded flat, the wagon has 72.1 cubic feet of total cargo room, and the wagon’s low ride height and bumper make loading luggage into the cargo area pretty easy. Volvo paid attention to details here: There’s a strut that holds up the cargo floor to make it easier to access the under-floor storage area. Standard rails are built into the cargo floor, and there are cleats that can be secured at various points along the track to hold larger cargo items.
When properly equipped, the V70 can tow up to 3,300 pounds.
Standard features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, an electronic stability system and active front-seat head restraints.
The list of optional safety features is lengthy. It includes Blind Spot Information System ($695); Volvo’s Personal Car Communicator system ($495), which lets you check to see if someone is hiding inside your car via a “heartbeat sensor”; and a Collision Avoidance Package ($1,695) that bundles together adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, Driver Alert Control (a system designed to gauge how tired or distracted the driver is by observing the car’s trajectory) and Collision Warning with Auto Brake (a feature designed to reduce the severity of rear-end collisions by automatically braking when necessary).
Pinning down the V70’s competition is complicated. The Mazda6 wagon is a logical competitor, but it’s been discontinued, and never offered the V70’s level of premium cabin appointments. Subaru’s Outback wagon seems to be the most logical competitor, but again they’re not as premium (or expensive) as the V70; if you’re looking at the offroad-themed Outback, then Volvo’s XC70 is more likely to be on your test-drive list. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all offer midsize wagons, but they cost much more than the V70’s starting price of about $33,000.
So where does that leave the V70? With few direct competitors, that’s where. It’s a double-edged sword in the automotive world — lots of upside for gaining buyers, since competition is scarce, but also potential for limited sales opportunities if no one else feels it’s worth selling to this small group of buyers. That, of course, is the automaker’s problem, not the buyer’s. Wagon loyalists will find the V70 a refined and well-executed car that meets the majority of their needs. It’s easy to recommend.