2009 Volvo V70 Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2009 Volvo V70

New Car Test Drive
© 2009 NewCarTestDrive.com

The Volvo V70 is a comfortable, practical, nicely finished car, with a lot of utility, and it's pleasant to drive.

Volvo's flagship wagon was completely redesigned for 2008 to be smoother, quieter, and better than ever. Updates for 2009 are relatively minor. A Bluetooth hands-free phone interface is now standard. So are front fog lights. There are some new colors and some revisions to options and option packages.

With this latest V70, Volvo's emphasis on safety is stronger than ever. The V70 comes standard with an array of features designed to protect its occupants. Among them: advanced-technology airbags, whiplash-reducing seats, new-generation electronic stability control and the latest anti-lock brake system (ABS). Safety options include a blind spot warning system, a collision mitigation system that preps the safety gear in advance of a pending crash, and two-stage child booster seats with adaptive seatbelts.

The most refreshing news, however, is that Volvo has finally injected its big wagon with a healthy dose of Scandinavian style.

It starts inside, with what might be Volvo's best interior yet. It's quite sophisticated and we think it's fantastic. The layout of the various controls is smart and immediately accessible, and the ease with which the driver interacts with the car trumps most of the European competition. There's seating for five, with a 40/20/40 split rear seat and flat-folding front passenger seat that allows for a very flexible cargo space. With the rear seats folded flat, the 72.1 cubic feet of available cargo volume surpasses what you'll find in many SUVs.

On the outside, the V70 is not a radical design departure; Volvo loyalists wouldn't have it. Instead, it maintains its familiar box silhouette, ensuring the car remains identifiable from 200 paces. But the details have been tweaked. The face is more defined than in the previous model, marked by a larger grille and bigger headlights. In back, the rear glass slopes forward slightly, with giant brake and taillights that no one will miss.

Power comes from an inline six-cylinder engine, a change for the wagon, which has for a long time relied on five-cylinder engines. The 3.2-liter straight six turns out 235 horsepower, with 236 pound-feet of peak torque available at 3200 rpm. The automatic transmission has six forward gears, upgraded from Volvo's usual five. (But the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive models offered in previous years have gone away, at least for now.)

The six-cylinder is considerably more powerful than the previous five-cylinder. It's also much smoother and more refined. It delivers power more evenly. The automatic transmission works well, responding to orders from the gas pedal in short order, and the package delivers solid acceleration. The newest V70 is the smoothest, quietest Volvo wagon ever.

Those looking for a bit of off-road capability might opt for the rugged XC70, virtually identical to the V70 in design but featuring standard full-time all-wheel drive, increased ground clearance and brush-friendly lower body cladding and protective skid plates underneath. In the daily grind through the suburban jungle, however, the V70 is the better ride.

All told, the 2009 V70 features everything Volvo wagon fans have always loved, and more of it: more safety, more utility, more civility. It focuses more attention on delivering a luxurious and stylish package, without sacrificing its familiar, beloved character. And compared to other comparably sized European luxury wagons, the V70 is a relative bargain.

Model Lineup

Volvo V70 ($32,900)

Walk Around

The Volvo V70 was completely redesigned for 2008. Exterior dimensions were changed along with everything else. The current V70 (along with its off-road alter-ego, the XC70) is built on Volvo's latest large car platform, which was introduced with the 2007 S80 luxury sedan. The previous V70 shared its underpinnings with the intermediate S60 sedan. The important point is that the V70 now has more in common with the line-topping S80 than the mid-size S60. It's longer and wider than the previous V70 (by 3.6 and 0.1 inches, respectively) and rides on a two-inch-longer wheelbase. Overall, the 2009 V70 is a bit shorter but wider than a BMW 5 Series wagon. It's lighter, too: The 2009 V70 weighs 3,527 pounds, the BMW 535 Sport Wagon around 4100.

The V70 body was developed with Volvo's usual attention to impact-dissipating crumple zones, and it features fully laminated glass. The styling is Volvo evolution, but this latest V70 is smoother, less gangly and visually tighter than the previous, pre-2008 V70. In profile, the character line at the bottom of the windows rises a bit more dramatically, creating a more forward leaning, dynamic stance. The rear glass now angles forward toward the front of the car, rather than dropping cliff-like from the back edge of the roof, yet there's still there's a bit more cargo volume inside.

The headlights and grille are larger, a bit more angular and more prominently defined. From the rear, the V70's hexagonal shape reminds us of Volvo's new, small C30 coupe. The tail lights are very big and bright enough to startle in the dark, and the rear glass window extends down lower than the side windows to improve rearward visibility. The optional, hydraulically operated power tailgate is handy if you approach the back of this car with arms loaded, and it keeps hands cleaner if the tailgate is coated with grime.

Interior

The Volvo V70 cabin is the company's best interior yet. It's understated, elegant and nicely polished. Materials and overall finish are high-grade. While its interior borrows heavily from Volvo's line-topping S80 sedan, taking both design themes and components such as gauges, switches and console, the V70 interior has its own feel.

Safety was a priority. With the current V70, Volvo refined its whiplash-limiting seat design, called WHIPS. During a rear-end impact, the seatbacks move rearward to reduce acceleration forces on the occupant's back and neck, while the headrest pushes forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head as they are thrust backward.

The V70 driver sits before a fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, looking at big, crisp gauges with bright-white backlighting and number gradients that are easy for the brain to absorb. The standard trim is etched aluminum, but the optional genuine wood is gorgeous. The overall effect is very Scandinavian.

The coolest element may be the thin-panel center stack. It's no more than two inches thick, with open space behind it. Most controls are placed here, with audio above climate and a display at the top, arranged in a neat, symmetrical pattern. The primary knobs are big and raised substantially from the surface, and the airflow controls are fashioned in an icon shaped like a seated person, so there's absolutely no confusion about directing air toward the face, feet or windshield.

It's all quite clean and pleasing. Most significantly, measured by function and simplicity of operation, the V70's various controls are better than most other luxury brands, and particularly German brands, which still insist on layering more menus in their interfaces while adding more buttons. This might be enough reason for some to choose Volvo.

The navigation system was new last year as well. The screen pops up vertically from the center of the dash, though it's canted forward at what seems like a strange angle. The driver surfs through menus and makes choices with buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes, almost where you'd expect paddle shifters for an automatic transmission. Our initial reaction is that it's better than other systems (unless, of course, you absolutely need those paddle shifters). The menus are no more difficult to learn, and they're managed without taking hands from the steering wheel and fishing for the controls. Passengers can control the system with a remote.

The seats are excellent. It's hard to find a better mix of comfort and support for daily driving. The optional leather upholstery is smooth and stretched tautly over the front seats.

The value of the fold-flat front-passenger seat should not be underestimated as it allows hauling of long items, such as a ladder or a nine-foot fly rod rigged and ready to move to the next spot upstream. The design seems to do nothing to diminish the seat's comfort, yet its back can fold forward to a level on the same plain as the folded rear seat and cargo floor. In-cabin storage tends to be short in modern Volvos, though it's decent in the V70. The center console and glovebox hold quite a bit of stuff. The pockets behind the front seatbacks are handy and the cupholders work well.

The rear seats are not the roomiest, given the apparent size of the vehicle. We wouldn't recommend six-footers sit back there for a cross-country trip. However, there is enough room that someone 5-foot, 9 inches won't get claustrophobic or cramped riding across town, and we think it would be fine for families until the kids are well into their teens. The rear DVD system puts a screen in the back of both front headrests, which we prefer to those that drop from the headliner.

The cargo area is one of the V70's strengths. The rear seat folds easily, 40/20/40, allowing lots of flexibility with passengers and long cargo. Folding just the center section, for example, can work like a pass-through for skis or hockey sticks. With a maximum cargo capacity of 72.1 cubic feet, the V70 surpasses the Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon (68.9 cubic feet). The V70 also compares favorably with larger, heavier SUVs such as the Mercedes ML350 (72.4 cubic feet) and BMW X5 (59.7).

There's a bit of storage under the load floor, though the locking bin there is no more than six inches deep. The cargo floor has aluminum rails with movable anchorage points for securing loads. The anchors can be tucked down into the rails when they're not used, to keep the floor perfectly smooth, and there are more anchorage points in the side panels. There are also a host of load-related accessories, such as hooks, nets and space dividers.

One disadvantage of the V70 compared to a taller SUV is its lower ceiling; potentially, an SUV could accommodate taller items. Our experience, however, is that that extra height is rarely needed. In short, the V70 excels as a cargo hauler. The V70 also features a lower liftover height than most, so it's easier to load heavy objects. One of our favorite features is a sliding floor that locks into the rails and pulls out beyond the bumper for easier loading. It will easily support 50 pounds. Other accessories include a cargo fence that could add safety when hauling the dog around.

Driving Impressions

The Volvo V70 makes a compelling alternative to a crossover or sport-utility vehicle.

It's Volvo's best wagon ever, and it delivers most of the utility one gets in a moderately sized SUV. It provides good passenger-cargo flexibility and more cargo volume than some mid-sized SUVs, but its exterior dimensions are relatively compact, and it's easy to park. It can tow a camper (up to 3300 pounds), but it gets decent gas mileage. It's more pleasant and comfortable as daily transportation than most any SUV (or crossover) we can think of, with a smooth, quiet and comfortable highway ride.

The V70 features a 3.2-liter inline-6. It generates 235 horsepower at 6400 rpm, with 236 pound-feet of torque at 3200 rpm. That's an upgrade of 27 horsepower over the five-cylinder 2007 V70 2.5T (though far short of the sporty 2007 V70 R's 300 horses, of course). The current V70 engine uses the latest in control and materials technology, including emissions-reducing variable valve timing.

The six-speed automatic transmission boasts one more gear than the previous model to improve response and fuel economy. Like the engine it is mounted transversely, or sideways. That's unusual with a straight six, but it's also one reason why the V70 packs so much interior space into a relatively modest overall length.

Volvo's latest six-cylinder reminds us why we like inline six-cylinder engines, or straight sixes as they're known. They just seem to power-up faster than the more common V6, spinning more freely and smoothly as they go. Volvo's 3.2-liter doesn't qualify as a screamer, but it delivers acceleration-producing torque in smooth, linear fashion and breathes well at high rpm, which means it doesn't gasp or get rough if you run it near the redline. From a stop or for passing at higher speeds, the V70 accelerates better than adequately, and the eager quality of its engine might make you actually want to shift the six-speed automatic manually as you go about your business.

No need to do so, however. Volvo's Geartronic transmission is probably its most effective automatic so far. It seems to shift in all the right places, and whether it's up a gear or down, those shifts are smooth, tight and relatively quick. The Geartronic manual feature can be enjoyable nonetheless, should the driver choose to get a bit more involved. There are no paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, as many cars now have (that's where Volvo put controls for its navigation system), but there's a manual slot for the shift lever left of the normal gear-selection path. The up-down gear change action has a smooth, quality feel, and the transmission won't insult the driver by shifting up on its own if the revs get too high.

Should economic conditions warrant it, we suspect Volvo might eventually bring its more powerful V70 T6 to the United States (with a manual-transmission option if we're really fortunate). But the V70 as it's currently available didn't leave us pining for the turbo, nor given the excellent performance of the automatic, for a manual. It's not a machine that makes you crave more sporty features.

If pure excitement is what a buyer seeks, he or she might do better with the more powerful, much more expensive wagons from Audi or BMW. Yet the V70 never gets tiresome around town or on the open road, as some sport-utility vehicles can. It rides comfortably and quite smoothly, though it's never mushy, and its seats make a fine place to de-compress during a long commute home.

The V70's brakes are superior to most. They stop the vehicle right now, with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) to instantaneously transfer the most stopping power to the tires with the best grip. Volvo has nearly eliminated the spongy feel that characterized its brake-pedal action for years.

As a package, the V70 delivers the same comfortable, stress-free and satisfying driving characteristics of a good mid-sized sedan. Yet it feels more solid, perhaps more substantial, than many, and it adds the sort of utility that compels many to choose a less-efficient sport-utility.

The 2009 Volvo V70 wagon was all-new last year, and is still the best wagon Volvo has produced to date. It's solidly built, with top-drawer safety features and fantastic interior design and finish. While the V70 isn't as exciting to drive as some other European sport wagons, it's quiet, maneuverable and pleasant for the sort of driving most of us do most of the time, which means carrying ourselves, our kids, our pets and things through the urban landscape. The V70 has a six-cylinder engine (as opposed to five) for the first time, with a more efficient six-speed automatic transmission. The package is silky smooth. The V70 retails for considerably less than other similarly sized European luxo-wagons, and it gets better mileage than many SUVS with similar interior space. For many buyers, it's probably the more rational choice.

J.P. Vettraino filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after driving V70 models in Germany and Detroit.

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