The Volvo has a strong following among the sector of the population that prizes a certain style marked by a conservative air and yet underpinned by a dogged individuality – almost a contrariness.
One of the more obvious manifestations of that insistence on following a rather individual path has been the installation of the Jekyll and Hyde T5 as the flagship of the Gothenburg manufacturer’s mid-sized 70 series. This split-personality model can’t make up its mind if it wants to be a refined but sporty transport, or an utter tyre-burning hooligan.
Thankfully the first excesses of the original 850 T5, as it was then known, have been toned down. Now a purpose-built wagon, it no longer even bears the moniker “Sportswagon”, preferring to simply play the numbers game. But family
vehicle or not, it still flirts with overkill when it comes to performance in a front-wheel drive luxury car. Perhaps that is why it has so many fans…
Things have changed for Volvo since our last test of the big wagon in 1996, with the company having been absorbed into Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. But within PAG there is a degree of independence and the V70 is still very much a Volvo, though, with the Swedish character that the name implies.
At the time of our 1996 test, station wagons and a motley collection of minibuses covered less than half a page in our Car Guide. That listing has trebled in size, yet despite the increasing competition from the likes of minivans and MPVs the wagon or estate car is holding its own.
Contemporary Volvos have rapidly, erm, evolved away from the squared-off boxmobiles they were until recently. They have managed to retain a hint of angularity, while evoking the curvaceous models of decades ago that gained them renown. One characteristic design feature now is the distinct “shoulder” line and presumably this also has implications for side impact safety. So the current 70 and the recently created 80 and 60 series all have a strong family resemblance.
At 4 711 mm long and 1 804 wide the V70 is a substantial piece of metal, though it continues with the low-roofed look of its predecessor. Significant changes have been made to the interior, with a smoother, sculpted and more integrated look to the control panel and a centre hangdown section of the facia angled towards the driver. The neat switchgear looks familiar from the previous model, though it has been upgraded. Somewhat haphazardly scattered before, the controls are now a model of clarity; Volvo deserves to be regarded as one of the better exponents of ergonomics. For those frustrated with the plethora of fiddly buttons on many modern facias, it offers plenty of sensible rotary knobs.
A full executive-level trim pack is par for the course at these prices. Sink into sumptuous leather upholstery in a stone colour scheme, cast a critical eye at the superior-quality headlining and the lustrous wood cappings-yes, this definitely passes muster. A superb eight-speaker sound system adds to the sense of well-being.
Driving position is excellent thanks to a six-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat with memory facility, and a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. Four occupants will travel in outstanding comfort, with ample legroom and headroom front and rear. Incidentally, Volvo trumps the usual centre console-mounted rear air vents by installing its own vents for rear passengers more effectively in the B-pillars.
Among the more unusual features is a CD frontloader/changer/combination radio-cassette player, in effect a compact jukebox. Close by are grouped controls for the climate control, which can be set for both left and right halves of
the car and use an overlaid diagram of a mannikin to make selection of airflow direction easier.
Modern wagons such as the Volvo have several distinct touches that set them apart from their four-door equivalents. In addition to the substantial load space (400 dm3, increasing to 1 406 with the rear seats down) there are numerous stowage areas. But it’s not just their number that intrigues – it’s the attention to detail as in the partioning of the front door bins and the double map/magazine pockets in both front seatbacks. The front seats also have built-in elasticated pockets at their leading edges. Other neat touches are the two-stage lid for the centre console storage bin that becomes a little table, the 12V power socket at the rear of the centre console, and the two-piece cargo net that allows
easier access to the load.
A major plus is the flat rear floor, even with seats folded. Small storage hollows are located under the floor, as is the full-sized Z-rated spare wheel. To further ease loading the tailgate rises to a useful 1,8 metres.
The familiar 2 319 cm3 engine has been massaged to produce 184 kW of peak power at 5 200 r/min – 11 per cent better than before – and 330 N.m of torque at 2 400 r/min. The torque improvement is 10 per cent, but the peak is 400 r/min higher than before. As before, the torque peak is really a plateau stretching all the way to 5 200 r/min.
To put some flesh on that skeleton of bare numbers, we have to point out that it takes a stern effort of will, not to mention traction control, to tame this bucking bronco once it gets the bit between its teeth. If all you need to do is tootle around town, the T5 can tootle with the best of them. But a moment’s inattention to the position of the right foot can result in positively neck-snapping acceleration.
Our comparison table (page 81) shows that the new car has a significantly better power to weight ratio than its predecessor’s, but performance as measured out on the test strip is much of a muchness. We also failed to match, albeit not
by much, the manufacturer’s claimed performance figures, though of course all our testing is done with a team of two and a full load of fuel and test equipment. Whether this disparity could be put down to lower-octane fuel – previously we used 97 leaded – or the taller overall gearing or having only 857 km on the clock, is a moot point: it’s still plenty exhilarating. Switch out traction control, wind ‘er up and wait for the turbo to kick in with an irresistible rush.
Frankly, it just wouldn’t be the same without the siren song of the howling turboed five, either. Although a big-capacity normally aspirated engine with a higher cylinder count might provide a more consistent flow of oomph, it wouldn’t have the fizz of the T5 power-unit. Incidentally, efficiency has certainly improved, with our previous figure of 13,0 litres/100 km in overall running now at 11,7.
In common with most modern auto transmissions, the Volvo provides in addition to the usual PRND selection a toggle position for sequential up or downshifts. Dubbed Geartronic, the system shifts smoothly through the gears. Ride refinement, rated one of the less satisfactory aspects of the old model, is much improved, judged subjectively. Our measured noise level data show that there is a definite lowering of noise intrusion, particularly at low speed and on poor roads. There are still lingering doubts, though, about the ride comfort. Previously we might have considered it to be unduly firm, if not downright harsh. The V70 can still be somewhat jiggly and less composed than the prestige-brand competition, with a noticeable vertical bobbing over typical country roads. In twisty going the V70 exhibits excellent grip, but responses through the seat of the pants and steering wheel are not as clear and precise as some rivals. Failsafe understeer dominates; go in too fast, lift off, and it will tend to maintain, rather than tighten, its line.
About the only sense in which this otherwise outrageous vehicle can be said to play safe is in regard to occupant safety. Swedes and safety seem to go together, and Volvo’s battery of protective measures includes twin front dual-thresholdair-bags, side impact and whiplash protection systems (SIPS and WHIPS), five adjustable head restraints, and three-point inertia reel safety belts with automatic pre-tensioners. Complementing this is an inflatable curtain that comes into play in side impacts.