The Volvo V70 embarks on its third incarnation for the 2008 model year with a number of external modifications and interior upgrades. A glance at the new V70 body style shows that the blocky, boxy Volvo DNA of old is almost completely gone, replaced by rounded edges and aerodynamic lines. For a station wagon, the low-slung V70 has a surprisingly sporty character, enhanced by a tapered roofline and standard 16-inch alloy wheels. Inside, Volvo has upped the ante considerably with high-quality cabin materials, an impressive standard audio system, and a range of tech options more associated with the premium luxury segment.
Test the tech: High performance sound
From a tech perspective, our 2008 Volvo V70 test model was a story of what could have been. While the V70 is available with all manner of advanced entertainment and safety systems, including USB audio support, GPS navigation, a rear-seat entertainment system, blind-spot detection warning, and adaptive cruise control, our review car had none of the above. Fortunately, the one redeeming factor was its as-standard Dolby Pro Logic surround-sound audio system, dubbed by Volvo as "high performance sound."
We have seen premium sound systems from Volvo before, but usually these have involved upgraded Dynaudio-branded speakers such as those we saw in the C70 cabriolet and the C30 coupe. With the V70, the best available sound system comes in the base model, an increasingly usual circumstance in the current automotive market of marginal extras and high-priced options. The system comprises a built-in amplifier pushing 4x40-watts of output through the eight speakers, including a subwoofer and a long center-fill speaker on top of the dash. One of the most remarkable features of the system is the level of customization it offers: two five-band graphic equalizers enable drivers to tweak audio for the front and rear speakers independently, while simple bass and treble settings are also available for on-the-fly tuning.
With this large number of speakers and powerful output, sound is unsurprisingly immersive and the large cabin of the V70 is more than adequately filled with volume. Despite offering full surround-sound architecture, the system does suffer from so-called "precedence effect," in which sound from the near-side speakers is dominant. The system can also sound too powerful for its own good at times as the bass output overwhelms the speakers and distorts the sound. Nevertheless, the system does deliver crisp midrange and high-end output and undistorted bass at lower volumes, making it one of the most impressive stock systems in its class.
In the cabin
The interior of the V70 mixes high-quality materials with well-integrated technology. The most conspicuous feature of the cabin is its highly stylized design. As well as the floating central stack and control panel, which we liked so much in previous Volvo models, the V70 has a wavy dashboard that rises from right to left and gives the car's interior a fluent feeling in keeping with its round exterior lines. We are also big fans of the V70's intuitive audio and climate-control interface. For setting the air-conditioning system, drivers are presented with a useful contoured button cluster that corresponds to a sitting passenger, which they can use to easily direct the fan to the desired area of the cabin.
Most electronic cabin systems on the V70 make use of a monochrome black-on-white LCD display, which inverts to become white-on-black in darkness. Here, drivers can call up information on climate control as well as the car's audio sources. Our stripped-down test car came with the base stereo, which consisted of a single disc in-dash CD player with the capability to handle WMA and MP3-encoded discs; however, the system provides no means of navigating digital audio libraries other than skipping through tracks one at a time. The only other standard audio feature on the V70 is a generic auxiliary-input jack in the central console, which can be used for playing iPods and other music players through the stereo via a patch cord. While there is no option to upgrade the audio infrastructure on the V70, digital audiophiles can option up a six-disc in-dash changer and a USB adapter to play files from thumbdrives and digital audio players with USB connections. Sirius Satellite radio is also available for an additional $295. One notable absence on the V70's option sheet is Bluetooth hands-free calling, which is especially disappointing on a car with so many available safety-related features. Bluetooth hands-free calling is available on the V70 in Europe, a fact that was frustratingly evident on our test car from the presence of a full keypad on the central control panel.
Complementing the stack-mounted LCD display in the center of the cabin, a pair of instrument panel multi-information displays provide vehicle systems- and journey-related information. The Volvo V70 has a conspicuous absence of illuminated instrument-panel icons or "idiot lights," and relies instead on text messages that are displayed in the center of the tachometer. Depending on the urgency of the alert, the V70 gives the driver advice on the best immediate course of action (stop safely, stop the engine, service urgent, or read the manual). Having been notified that they have a text message waiting, drivers access the details by pressing the "Read" button at the end of the left-hand stalk. A rotary dial on the stalk also provides an easy means of toggling between trip information, fuel economy, and average speed.
For those willing to splash out for cabin gadgetry, the V70 has plenty to recommend including Volvo's distinctive DVD-based pop-up navigation system ($2,120). We were not overly impressed with this system when we saw it in the C70: with the map screen sitting on top of the dashboard, it is prone to glare, and both the steering-wheel mounted controller and the TV-style remote proved to be cumbersome programming interfaces.