Boxy wagons have been the hallmark of Volvo for as long as I can remember, going back to the one my parents owned in the early 1970s.

Volvo wagons are still alive and well, but a lot more complex - not to mention more expensive - than they were in those early days.

The thing I remember most about the Volvo my parents owned was the ordeal they often went through when the car needed refueling.

Their dealer told them to put nothing but "white" gasoline in the tank. The problem was that the only place you could buy white gas back then in the Southeast, where my folks lived, was at Amoco stations.

White gas - which at Amoco was the premium grade - was lead-free, something that was rare for U.S. gasoline in those days. Lead-free wasn't introduced as a required fuel at U.S. gas stations until the mid-70s, when catalytic converters became standard equipment on new cars.

My parents traveled a lot to see the sights and check out the back roads. But it seemed that they often spent more time trying to find an Amoco station than they did sightseeing. It got almost comical at times, with the gas gauge heading toward the "E" and my folks frantically searching for the white gas.

The only other place you could get white gas was at a camping supply store that sold Coleman stove and lantern fuel in gallon-size cans. The Coleman fuel was lead-free because it wouldn't have been safe to use leaded gasoline for cooking. To my knowledge, my parents never had to resort to using the Coleman fuel - which cost probably $2-$3 a gallon, can included. But I'm sure my Dad had that in the back of his mind more than once as the Volvo's tank neared empty with no Amoco in sight.

My own experiences with Volvo wagons began with a used '71 that I bought in 1978. Later, I owned an '80 wagon as well.

And as nice and fun to drive as those Volvos were in their day, the 2008 V70 wagon I tested recently was a great improvement.

Volvo, the Swedish automaker owned by Ford Motor Co. since 1999, has evolved into a premium brand over the years. But the V70, which was redesigned for 2008, actually has a quite-affordable price tag considering what you get for the money.

Base price is $32,465 (plus $745 freight) for a fairly roomy midsize wagon loaded with premium features, including Volvo's renowned state-of-the-art safety systems.

Still, though, it took me back a bit. Even though the designers gave the new V70 a "more athletic stance and sporty attitude" for a more-modern look, the automaker said, the car still is instantly recognizable as a Volvo wagon.

This is the third generation of the V70, and it benefits greatly from sharing components with the also-new S80 sedan, Volvo's flagship model. The previous V70 shared its architecture with the smaller S60 sedan, so this is a real step up.

"Building upon 54 years of continuous wagon refinement and improvement, the all-new V70 raises the bar in Volvo's global leadership of the premium wagon sector," the automaker said in a release detailing changes from the previous generation. Under the hood is a new, normally aspirated 3.2-liter, 24-valve inline six-cylinder engine rated at 235 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque. That replaces the previous-generation's inline five-cylinder engines, which ranged from 165 to 300 horsepower, depending on the model.

The six-cylinder engine is connected to a new six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, which allows for manual or fully automatic shifting.

While not exactly a speed demon, this car has plenty of power for everyday driving, and top speed is 130 mph, which isn't legal on any American road.

With this engine and transmission combination, the V70 is EPA rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway. That's not great in these times of $3.50 and up gasoline, but somewhat better than what a larger, bulkier SUV would offer.

Most people think of safety when they think of Volvo, and to that end, the new V70 lives up to the brand's reputation. Among standard safety features is the latest version of Volvo's whiplash protection system, along with electronic stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and enhanced impact protection for pedestrians and cyclists.

Other safety features include seat-mounted side air bags for the front, and side-curtain air bags for both rows of seats. The V70 seats up to five people; there is no third seat offered in this model.

The V70 also comes with a new height-adjustable integrated child booster cushion, along with power child locks. This creates what Volvo says is "the industry's best passenger-safety system for children of different sizes."

The sides of the vehicle have been made stronger with high-tensile steel to help better withstand impact.

The "ortho-posture" front bucket seats are much more comfortable than the ones I remember from my old Volvos, thanks in part to the eight-way power driver's seat with lumbar support.

Although the seats didn't come with leather surfaces, the steering wheel and shift lever are leather trimmed, and the V70's steering column has a tilt and telescopic feature not found on my earlier Volvos.

Reached through a new one-piece power tailgate, the cargo area comes with one of those window-shade-style covers, which is useful to keep valuables out of sight when the car is parked. The 40-20-40 split rear seat can be folded to increase cargo space to 72 cubic feet.

The cargo floor has aluminum rails and movable tie-down points that can be folded away when not needed.

There is also a lockable storage area under the floor for smaller items.

Volvo says that "Scandinavian style" is used throughout the cabin to combine "clean design, intelligent functionality and exceptional comfort and luxury." The design includes an ergonomically designed instrument panel with a slim center stack for audio and heating/air-conditioning controls.

Other standard amenities include dual-zone electronic climate control, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, an electric parking brake, auto-dimming rearview mirror, cruise control, and a single-disc AM/FM/compact disc audio system with eight speakers. It has MP3 playback ability and an auxiliary input jack for iPod or other portable music devices.

New options include radar cruise control with collision warning and auto braking; and the new blind-spot information system that alerts the driver when there is another vehicle out of sight at the side of the car. Neither of these was included on my tester, however, so I didn't have the opportunity to try them.

The only options on my test vehicle were metallic paint ($475) and a climate package ($725), which added heated front seats and windshield-wiper nozzles, and rain-sensing wipers.

Total sticker was $34,410, including freight and options.


2008 Volvo V70 wagon

The package: Midsize, five-door, five-passenger, inline six-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, premium wagon.

Highlights: This is Volvo's midlevel wagon model, which has been completely redesigned for 2008. It now comes on the same architecture as Volvo's flagship S80 luxury sedan.

Negatives: No third row seat offered, which would be a great plus.

Engine: 3.2-liter, inline six-cylinder.

Power/torque: 235 HP./236 foot-pounds.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift feature.

Length: 189.9 inches.

Curb weight: 3,527 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side curtain, both rows.

Cargo volume: 33.3 cubic feet.

Towing capacity: 3,300 pounds.

Fuel capacity/type: 18.5 gallons/unleaded regular.

EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city/24 highway.

Major competitors: Saab 9-5 SportCombi, Audi A4 Avant, BMW 3-series wagon, .

Base price: $32,465 plus $745 freight.

Price as tested: $34,410 including freight and options.

On the Road rating: 8.9 (of a possible 10).

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at