Remember the good old fashioned station wagon? Well, Sweden's Volvo has sold a lot of them over the last half century, and their mainstream model, the V70, is all new for 2008.
Although my Seashell Metallic test car was a 2008 model, the 2009 version gets a few new colors, but otherwise is virtually identical. Importantly, 2008 marked the debut of the third generation of the V70. Now based on the larger S80 flagship model, it boasts major upgrades throughout. Although it is obviously a Volvo to the eye, it is really a fresh design.
Big news is the new 3.2-liter V6 engine, sourced from Great Britain. It puts out 235 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, plenty for a 3,500-pound car. It was designed to provide the best possible compromise between performance and fuel economy. Advanced technology includes Cam Profile Switching in the valves and a variable intake system. These computer-controlled mechanisms work invisibly, adjusting to variable driving conditions.
They must work pretty well, because I averaged 21 miles per gallon, which is very good for a car of this size. The EPA claims 16 City, 24 Highway, and their Green Vehicle Guide awards a 7 for Air Pollution and a 5 for the Greenhouse Gas score.
The new V6 works through a Japan-sourced six-speed automatic, which, like so many today, lets you shift through the gears sequentially if you'd like.
Volvos may not be at the top of an enthusiast's list, but for most of us, the mixture of comfort, safety and practicality is irresistible once you actually get in and drive the car. It's like slipping on your favorite pair of nicely broken-in dress shoes. Volvo's legendary "ortho-posture" bucket seats supply the ergonomic comfort and safety we all associate with this brand. You get Volvo's WHIPS, or whiplash protection system, in those chairs.
With the third generation remodeling, the V70 receives a cool, slim center console while retaining the Scandinavian Design feel of the past. That means clean design, non-glare matte finish surfaces, and easy functionality. The dark instrument panel with woodgrain and satin finish metallic trim feels elegant. There are no overdone chrome accents or extra curlicues here.
Despite this tradition, it's up to date, too. The start button is mounted high on the instrument panel; slide the keyless electronic fob in and push. The electric emergency brake is a miniaturized button on the lower left of the dash.
Volvo has been on a perennial search for improved safety.
"In developing the all-new V70 we aimed to produce the safest car in its segment," says Ingrid Skogsmo, Director of Volvo Cars Safety Center.
Not only do you get electronic sentinels like Dynamic Stability Traction Control and a tire pressure monitoring system, but the side impact protection system (SIPS) lives on, with its Passenger Safety Cage with high-tensile steel of different grades. And, there's a host of airbags to back it up.
To protect your kids, Volvo provides new standard height-adjustable integrated booster seats-a world first-and there are an extended inflatable curtain airbag and power child locks too.
You can enhance the safety system with options. These include adaptive cruise control, which keeps your distance automatically from the car in front. There's also the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) which warns you when someone's in the blind spots your mirrors can't show and blinks like crazy when you try to move into them.
Wagons are great for hauling stuff as well as families, and this new V70 doesn't disappoint. The rear seats fold down nice and flat, and the carpeted surface is kind to your luggage. You can pack 33.3 cubic feet in with the second row up, and a generous 72.1 cubic feet with them folded-nice. You get handy aluminum rails and movable anchorage points in the floor and more eyelets on the sides, so it's easy to keep your stuff from moving around. A lockable compartment underneath is good for small valuables, such as a laptop or purse.
The V70 is one model, priced at $32,465, with a $745 destination charge. My tester also charged $475 for the metallic paint and $725 for the Climate Package (heated front seats and windshield washers, headlamp cleaners, rain sensitive wipers). Bottom line was $34,410, which is competitive in the entry luxury wagon/crossover/SUV market.
Buying a Volvo wagon is a traditional choice, offering great comfort and safety, and more than reasonable fuel economy for a family of five. You don't get the "above it all" feeling of an SUV or crossover, but there's plenty of peace of mind in the new V70.