Another Volvo Estate. Didn’t the Swedes invent this sector of the market?
Listen to Volvo and you’d believe that its estate car stands alongside Coca Cola and Levi jeans as one of the world’s leading brand icons. The estate car might not have been invented by Volvo, but it’s pretty hard to disassociate them. The reality is that Volvo brought acceptability to the large estate car with models like the 245, when rivals still reckoned that the utilitarian image of load carriers would bring down the prestige of their saloons.
It’s so generically Volvo it already looks like it’s been around for years
Clever that. Or not. It all depends on how much you value a new look. But there’s more to this than you might think. Volvo has always been keen to pitch the V70 as a stand-alone estate car, not merely a saloon derivative. But to hype up the new model there’s much talk of its lineage to the latest S80 saloon, whereas the previous model was S60-derived. Hence the feeling of deja vu. The hippy Volvo look has been around since the S60 and here it’s arguably in its best form yet. The boring saloon style of the S80 is transformed into a standout stylish estate car. It’s all S80 from the front door forward. There’s a genuine class to the facia and interior, improved space all-round, and some of the most comfortable seats in a car this side of £50k.
Still using that five-cylinder diesel?
There are petrol engines in the range, notably the new T6 with a 286bhp turbocharged version of Volvo’s new transverse six with 4WD, but it’s the diesels that will take the vast majority of sales. The core models are the 2.4-litre five-cylinder units that have been around since 2001 and launched in second-generation form in 2005. The higher-output D5 produces 182 bhp and 295 lb ft of torque, which sounds – and is – pretty reasonable. The issue is refinement. Five-cylinder diesels used to seem quite exotic, burbling along with their own distinctive sound that gave them some real character over clattery four-pots. Today most rivals offer six-cylinder diesels and the D5 just doesn’t compete. It’s not especially noisy - no-one doubts Volvo’s claims that it measures well on the sound level meter. But despite revisions to the injection system and engine mountings, there is a tiresome, underlying low-frequency rumble. Next year will see the budget two-litre four-pot diesel from the S40/V50 join the range.
So it’s a poor drive?
Not at all. The D5 unit has plenty of torque and mated to the six-speed transmission it moves along briskly. The Geartronic however, is nothing more than manual push-pull control over the ratios. There are no paddles to ease the manual changes, nor a sports setting for the gearchange pattern when in auto. However, you can beef up the steering weighting via a menu on the fascia, and this adds some real feel to what is already precise system. The test car had the optional Four-C active chassis which adjusts the damping either on demand or automatically. The result is a Volvo estate that handles and grips the road like no other.
Still, the A6 and 5 Series sound more enticing
As driver’s cars they are. The BMW is sharper and the A6 has a great 2.7-litre V6 diesel, but as a load carrier the Volvo wins hands down. It has the most upright rear window, and the tailgate wraps right around into the lighting cluster to maximise the opening space. Volvo has the criterion that a full-sized washing machine, in its packaging, must fit behind the rear seat, something you’d need to fold the rear seats to do in its German rivals. There are aluminium rails built into the floor and the option of a sliding boot floor that makes loading easier, so nothing new there. The dog/luggage guard that folds down from the roof behind the rear seats is a neat idea. So too is the secure under floor storage compartment that you can’t access if the tailgate is closed. The 40:20:40 divided rear seats simply flop down onto the cushion to extend the load area, athough Volvo seemed to have run a little short of good ideas for protecting front passengers at this point.
And the trump cards?
Safety is still a major Volvo calling card, despite what Renault and others have achieved. The Swedes have a personal pride in safety research and both Saab and Volvo use real accident data to improve their products. So as well as the whole gamut of airbags, you kind of want to believe that the deformable zones to the front, sides and back are better than others can manage. Take the detail of the optional integrated child booster seats. These rise from the rear seat cushions to two heights according to the size of the child. Volvo has recalibrated the rear safety belt system so that the loading is less severe on a child, and the curtain airbags have been made deeper so they are more effective with the booster in use.
If it wasn’t for the five-cylinder diesel engine, the V70 would get a very positive thumbs up. The style, comfort and practicality are absolutely spot on. It may not drive with the quite the alacrity of some competitors, but that probably doesn’t matter to the majority of buyers. Overall the V70 is good enough. Many buyers will also accept the grumble of that diesel. However, they probably won’t realise just how far the competition has moved on.