If you're looking for the definitive estate car, look no further. Jonathan Crouch reports on Volvo's improved V70.
Ten Second Review
Before the advent of people carriers, sports utility vehicles and crossovers, if you wanted a vehicle with a serious amount of space inside, there was this: the large Volvo estate. Today, badged 'V70' for the modern era, it's as uncompromisingly big and practical as ever, bridging the gap between medium range Mondeo-sized estates and the very largest fully-fledged Executive-shaped station wagons. Hi-tech safety features and an updated, more efficient range of engines continue to keep its appeal strong.
Think of a big, boxy estate car. You're probably thinking of a Volvo. Though the Swedish marque now makes models of this kind that don't conform to such a stereotype, it knows that loyal buyers always have a soft spot for squareness. So it's difficult to forsee a time when there won't be a place in their range for a car like this V70, as Scandinavian as IKEA, as Swedish as meatballs and as practical as ever. This is a model synonymous with its brand. Just as a 911 is most people's picture of Porsche, the V70 is most people's idea of a Volvo, an estate car that, over the generations, has built a peerless reputation for swallowing whole entire families and the kinds of cargos that leave rival estates' tailgates ajar and secured with rope. For the latest model year, Volvo has made a few subtle changes with a slightly smarter look and a bit of extra high-tech in what is now an all-diesel line-up, notably with the introduction of a class-leadingly efficient 2.0-litre 'Drive-E' range of diesel enginesw. Is it all enough to keep this car competitive against the German rivals the brand would like to beat? Let's find out.
So what should your expectations be when it comes to driving one of these? On one hand, moaning that a big Volvo estate can't be thrown round the lanes like a sports saloon seems a bit ridiculous. Yet as the Swedish maker well knows, only slightly pricier German rivals like BMW's 5 Series Touring and Audi's A6 Avant have shown that it really is possible to produce a car like this with plenty of carriage capacity, yet at the same time, quite an accomplished dynamic repertoire. It simply isn't good enough for the Scandinavian marque to produce tank-like handling in this day and age. Which to be fair, it doesn't. In fact, since front wheel drive first made an appearance on this class of Volvo with the 850 and V70 series models of the mid-Nineties, buyers have mostly been pleasantly surprised at the speed at which this big car can be hustled around tight corners. But that doesn't make it a BMW. The word 'Volvo' is literally translated from the Latin as 'I roll' and sure enough, around sharper bends where the steering can feel rather vague, the lean is more pronounced than that you'd find in one of the German alternatives. To be fair, if you really want to, you can do something about it by specifying the lowered sports chassis or the company's 'Four-C active chassis system' which allows you to manually select between three suspension settings to suit the mood you're in and the road you're on. I'm not sure I'd bother. Even with this feature fitted, other rivals do the whole executive sports estate thing do much better. Under the bonnet, much has changed since this third generation model first put in an appearance, with the choice now limited to just two 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre diesel engines, the 150bhp D3 and the 181bhp D4.
Design and Build
You'll really have to know your V70s to notice the aesthetic changes visited in recent years upon this revised version.There's a smarter front grille, Daytime Running Lights and added chrome touches to give the car a more upmarket and luxurious feel. The rear has completely redesigned bumper and tail lights. Overall though, Volvo hasn't been diverted from this car's raison d'etre - lugging gear. Lots of it. The clever trick is that the designers have disguised the car's inherent boxiness with neat detailing like the split high-level tail lights. There's a class-competitive 540-litres of virgin space back there and a massive space can be liberated if you fold the rear seats down and stack your cargo to the roofline. The 40-20-40 three part split/fold rear seat offers 16 different combinations and the loadbay floor itself features aluminium rails and movable anchoring points. A sliding load floor is also offered as an option as is a powered tailgate. Slip behind the wheel and you're treated to an example of Scandinavian design at its very best. The Adaptive Digital Display we first saw in the smaller V40 has been added to allow users to adapt the look of the instrument panel. New to the range is the Sensus Connected Touch infotainment system with its 7-inch centre touchscreen and microphone above the driver to enable voice control. Via this, you can connect to the internet using a mobile 'phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. This allows you to connect to apps like Spotify.
Market and Model
Cost-wise, the V70's typical £26,000 to £35,000 pricing bracket sees it occupying a middle ground between estate versions of familiar medium range models - estate versions of the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Superb for example - and station wagons based on Executive saloons - with the BMW 5 Series Touring, the Audi A6 Avant and the Mercedes E-Class Estate being the obvious examples. If you're looking at a diesel version of this Volvo and quite like the idea of an SUV-like look with or without all-wheel drive, then your sales person will point you in the direction of the XC70 model, little more than a V70 in automotive hiking gear. Whichever V70 variant you choose - D3 or D4 diesel - you should find this car to be reasonably equipped. Alloy wheels, roof rails, four electric windows, an 8-speaker MP3-compatible CD stereo, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and rain-sensing wipers are standard across the range. Parents will want to specify the option twin child booster seats that fold out from the rear seat cushions. And you get 'Volvo On Call', the brand's roadside assistance and emergency set-up which can be combined with the available Bluetooth mobile 'phone service. Safety-wise, there's freshly developed Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection technology which scans the road ahead and, if necessary, helps you to brake when a person or a bike veers into your path. There's also an upgraded version of Volvo's City Safety system that automatically brakes at up to 31mph to avoid low speed traffic collisions. And Active High Beam Control to dip your lights for you at night.
Cost of Ownership
There are no petrol models on offer any more - or any AWD variants. Nothing then, to get in the way of an exemplary set of diesel-powered efficiency returns. Volvo's initiatives in this regard have recently reaped benefits in this regard but it's still best to avoid the Geartronic auto gearbox if you really want to maximise returns. The 150bhp D3 diesel is the best bet if you want to completely reduce your fuel bills, this variant managing 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 108g/km of CO2. Only just behind though is the 181bhp D4 model. This achieves 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 114g/km of CO2. It's arguably the pick of the range. What else? Well assuming you don't go too mad on the options list, you should find residual values to be strong - there's always a ready market for good used V70 models.
This improved third generation V70 is unquestionably a more capable car than its predecessors and offers more for your money with a less brash look and feel than big German rivals. They may be better to drive but they're also more expensive to buy and arguably less practical. Pricier to run too, in many cases at least, thanks to Volvo's introduction of its latest 'Drive-E' engine technology. Here's a car that'll probably out-last you. A car that'll become part of the family as it takes ballet lessons, boating trips and skiing adventures in its stride. MPVs and SUVs might sound cleverer but there's still little to touch this Volvo when it comes to doing what big estates need to do. If you're looking for the definitive example of the breed, look no further.