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The Volvo V70 is spacious, but suffers from vague steering and old engines

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The Volvo V70 is the archetypal big estate, although this has been challenged by the big three German makers recently and even more so by Skoda, with its excellent Superb

But they don’t have Volvo’s long heritage, which began with 1953 Duett PV445 wagon and grew with the classic Amazon (1962) and the 145 (1967) that became the big-bumpered 245/265 (1974).

There’s no hill holder when there’s an electric handbrake on the dashboard. Hill starts are a challenge

The rectilinear, American-esque 740/760 and 940/960 came in 1985, to be followed by Volvo’s first big front-drive estate, the smaller 850 (1993), which morphed into the first V70. The S80-derived V70 appeared in 2000 and was replaced with the current-generation model you see here in 2007.

You’d expect any Volvo estate to be substantial, comfortable, reliable and safe, but also not massively desirable or enjoyable to drive. But Volvo has not been content to follow the same old path this time. You don’t have to probe far into the press blurb about the new V70 before you begin tripping over words and phrases such as ‘athleticism’ and ‘on-road dynamism’. Volvo is claiming a certain style and sportiness for its new master load-hauler as well as all the usual versatility.

Aside from an upgraded chassis, the key improvements are in safety (particularly for children), improved comfort, a more luxurious interior and more options. The relative lack of truly new features is, if nothing else, a tribute to the excellence of the outgoing V70.

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For 2012, Volvo introduced a raft of revisions both inside and out to keep the V70 fresh. The interior features an upgraded infotainment system called Sensus, which has music streaming capability and links with Volvo's smartphone app to control some vehicle features.

The new D5 and D3 diesel engines have also been upgraded with a number of tweaks including a new camshaft and conrods, low-friction piston rings, a chain-driven oil pump and a stop-start system on the manual versions. Volvo also claims that the drivability of the D3 has been ‘far improved’ thanks to fine-tuning of the turbocharger. Volvo's City Safety low-speed automatic braking system is now standard on all V70s.

But has Volvo gone far enough to see off an ever-talented wave of rivals in the big premium estate market?

DESIGN & STYLING

Volvo V70 rear light

The basic profile of the Volvo V70 is immediately familiar. It has the same long nose, swept A-pillars and near-vertical rear end as the previous V70 – and it’s a shape that has always suited the car well.

Volvo’s real achievement is in the way it has updated the car’s styling without over-egging the pudding. The more muscular shoulders, more pronounced grille and more shapely rear lights succeed in making the car more interesting, but that’s if you care to look – the new V70 doesn’t visually shout for your attention the way that a BMW 5 Series does. To do so would be very un-Volvo indeed.

The boxy shape means reversing isn’t a chore

Although similar in concept and execution to the old V70, the fundamentals of this version are very different, because it’s based on Ford’s EU-CD building block (the Mondeo, S-Max and S80 are from the same root) rather than the old P2X platform.

So apart from powertrains, there’s little component carryover from the old car, although the transverse, front-drive layout remains, as do MacPherson struts and multi-link rear suspension. Traction control and stability control are standard. The new body is stiffer than before, benefiting from four grades of high-strength steel to improve its crash behaviour, and side impact protection has been upgraded. 

The side curtains now extend deeper to protect children’s heads, and there are optional, two-position built-in booster seats – a world first. Also new is an optional collision mitigation system, called Collision Warning with Brake Support, that works with radar to provide audible and visual warnings if you’re too close to the car in front, as well as preparing the brakes for instant application. There’s also a second-generation anti-whiplash system, and pedestrian protection performance has been improved.

The new body (which scores a decent 0.31 Cd) is bigger, and there’s more interior room. Luggage capacity has swelled by 60 litres.

INTERIOR

Volvo V70 dashboard

Volvo has made a real effort to improve both the practicality and luxury of the V70 cabin, although this has been a stiff challenge, given the excellence of the old car.

The new cabin looks far fresher. Its architecture is entirely new and features the same floating centre console theme trialled on the S40/V50 and reprised on the S80.

A smartphone app can communicate with the V70 to check the fuel levels, alarm status and location

Although it doesn’t quite convey the aura of precision and sophistication that Audi’s Audi A6 presents, this is nevertheless a convenient and attractive design that can be configured with a wide array of wood, aluminium, leather and high-gloss finishes to achieve quite different ambiences.

Just as impressive are some particularly comfortable front seats, which make this V70 a soothing place to be. Their sumptuousness helps enhance the quality aura, as does the texture of the upper dashboard and some splashes of aluminium.

More important for many will be the extra 60 litres of luggage capacity and myriad convenience features that can be had to ease the load-carrying task.

Standard across the range are a 40:20:40 split folding rear seat, aluminium cargo-fixing rails, a folding steel load protection grille hinged from the roof, a concealed tray below the boot floor that locks when the tailgate shuts, a forward-folding front passenger seat (for long loads) and rear seat headrests that dip automatically when the backrest is folded.

There’s ample space up front (although the driver’s footwell is narrower) and back-benchers enjoy decent leg, head and knee room, as well as air vents in the B-pillars.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Volvo V70 rear quarter

Volvo has joined the ranks of manufacturers with the V70 replacing big-capacity petrol engines with smaller ones of equal power output and improved economy. The entry-level petrol T4 engine (unrelated to Volvo’s previous 1.6 petrol engine) is a revised, 178bhp version of Ford's Ecoboost unit.

This engine revs smoothly and freely, responds well even at higher speeds and, most important, is very refined when kept in the usefully broad powerband. The six-speed manual gearbox is also satisfyingly precise to use and works extremely well with this T4 motor.

V70 lacks the finesse of Ford’s S-Max which employs broadly the same chassis

On the diesel front, the range starts with a 1.6-litre four-pot that also propels heaps of Peugeots, Fords and the Mini. Many have sniggered at the prospect of a modest 1.6-litre turbodiesel pulling along this car, which is equipped with Volvo’s eco-special DRIVe badge. 

As you might expect, this is not a fast car, nor even a brisk one, but it does not feel slow. Pack it floor to ceiling for a holiday and you’ll probably have to work at it, but no more than you would have done for an average petrol-powered estate of a decade or so ago.

Other petrols include a 240bhp 2.0-litre four-pot for the T5 and a potent 300bhp six-cylinder unit for the range-topping T6. Elsewhere in the diesel line-up, there’s a 161bhp 2.0-litre five-pot for the D3 and a 2.4-litre five-cylinder unit with 212bhp in the D5.

Of most interest here is the big D5. It will sprint to 60mph in a brisk 8.9sec, and the 5.6sec it needs to shift from 30mph to 50mph in fourth is a solid effort. Unladen, this car feels surprisingly zestful for one so big.

But it also sounds unmistakably like an oil-burner. The growl, clatter and hum might be subdued but they’re there, leaving this engine a long way behind the refinement of a BMW diesel.

The D3 model is certainly worth consideration if the extra performance of the D5 isn't required. It's smooth and strong, even from low revs, while the five-cylinder layout lends it a distinctive soundtrack. A clutch and gearbox of ideal weighting complete a highly agreeable mechanical package.
 

RIDE & HANDLING

Volvo V70 rear cornering

Much of the time, the Volvo's V70’s ride quality – surely a priority in a family wagon – is impressively pliant and on the verge of displaying that loping absorbency that was once the speciality of French cars.

It doesn’t quite have that suppleness, though, and at times its body control could be tighter, but overall this is a restful place to be. Until, that is, the wheels pass over a particularly scabby piece of tarmac and thump out a crude drumbeat that shatters the calm.

New curtain airbags offer better protection for children

There’s often some light jerking to go with it, too. Which is a shame, because without this curious behaviour, the V70 would have a well-above-average ride, and handling that’s capable, if no more than that.

In fact, the V70 can be hustled along testing country lanes with some verve, but you’d hardly call it a precision instrument. Rising and falling cambers will occasionally have you sawing to provide correction. The steering lacks bite when you’re in a bend, too.

What it also lacks is the finesse of Ford’s S-Max (a car that employs broadly the same chassis). There’s a slight tippy-toed feeling to the Volvo as you turn in to a bend, and although it rolls less than you’d expect after this fleeting moment of uncertainty, it doesn’t feel terribly well poised.

Some of this composure is restored with the R-Design chassis. New springs and dampers, a modified self-levelling system and lower ride height (20mm at the front, 15mm rear) offer a settled ride and a greater appetite for corners. In our opinion, all V70s should be fitted with the R-Design changes as standard.

It undoubtedly improves the current car over the old V70, which wasn’t comfortable with a press-on approach, but this new V70 is nowhere near to challenging the poised athleticism – and comfort – of BMW’s 5 Series Touring.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Volvo V70

The Volvo V70 used to offer one of, if not the, best ownership propositions in its class. That was until the Skoda Superb estate came along, offering the same space for much less buck.

In its entry-level form, the 177bhp T4 in ES trim is yours for around £28,000. The entry-level Skoda Superb S costs around £10,000 less. Okay, its 123bhp 1.4 TSI engine is hardly comparable on performance, but it gives you an idea of just how much Skoda you can get for you money.

Fold-down, roof-mounted dog guard/bulkhead grille is standard

Standard on all V70s are an excellent eight-speaker stereo, rain-sensing wipers, six airbags, a steel load protection grille, a lockable load floor, climate control, cruise control, a trip computer, a powered driver’s seat and a forward-folding passenger seat.

High-spec SE Lux models also get leather trim, wood and extra chrome decor, a power tailgate, rear parking sensors, an electric front passenger seat and bi-xenon lights. But a passenger airbag switch really ought to be standard on a Volvo, as should an electric tailgate. The 4C active suspension option, incidentally, is not worth the bother.

Useful options include Volvo’s excellent blind-spot warning system and the family pack, which gets you the child booster seats, a rear armrest with cupholders and storage, and audio controls in the rear. The navigation system, although good, is painfully steep.

The decent fuel economy is good news, as is its low benefit-in-kind exposure and a promising depreciation performance – all of which should make it relatively economic to run for its type.

That’s particularly relevant for the DRIVe model, which boasts an impressive 62.8mpg and CO2 emissions that dip below the crucial 120g/km threshold. But even without opting for the dedicated eco-special, all V70s are competitive in terms of efficiency. The D3 diesel returns an official fuel consumption figure of 57.7mpg and emits 129g/km.

VERDICT

3.5 star Volvo V70

In some respects, Volvo has not gained greatly from redesigning this car. The chassis, although improved over the old V70’s, is still unexceptional, and the new interior, although better finished, is not conclusively more convenient.

You can, however, create a strikingly inviting cabin with the wide choice of decor, and the V70 remains as practical – and safe – as ever, with a fine choice of options. Like all good Volvos, this is a reassuringly pleasant car that delivers where it counts. It is not a huge step ahead over the old V70, but that was a very good estate, and this new version is (just) a better one.

The V70 is the last remaining example of a boxy Volvo

If you have a family, lug lots of stuff and want a safe, high-quality wagon that’s a pleasure to live with, then the V70 should be high up your shortlist. Its practicality and convenience will soon seem indispensable, while its safety systems and aura of robust good quality will repeatedly remind you that you have bought a durable beast of burden.

Yet this is no frill-free mule, being tastefully trimmed and equipped with exceptional seats and high standards of equipment. If you want a sports estate look elsewhere, and the same applies if you can’t live with the (light) grumblings of a stout(ish) diesel.

But the elephant in the room is quite a large one: the Skoda Superb estate. It operates in the E-class-for-the-masses territory that Volvo once claimed as its own. Still, with this in mind, there's likely to be more than a few V70s cluttering up showrooms, so if you can get a good deal, then don't overlook the dusty V70 in the corner

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Volvo V70 2007-2016 First drives