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.
The standard V70 stereo offers five-band equalizers for both front and rear compartments.
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.
We like Volvo's unique climate control programming interface.
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.
The "Read" button can be used to access text messages from the car.
More impressively, the V70's options sheet includes a rear-seat entertainment system with two 7-inch headrest-mounted displays ($1,800). It is rare to see seatback-mounted screens even on luxury vehicles, and their availability on the V70 shows that Volvo is aiming at the higher end of the market with its third-generation model. An auxiliary video input jack also allows connection of video games or external DVD players.
Another notable--if gimmicky--tech highlight on the V70 is the Personal Car Communicator ($495), which uses two-way radio technology and a heartbeat detector (whatever that is) to notify the driver if there is anyone in the car while the alarm is activated. While we can see the benefits of this system to notify parents that they have left a child behind or to warn the driver of the presence of would-be car-jackers, who have circumvented the security system and are now lying in wait, we doubt that most people will ever have cause to use the system in the course of daily driving. More useful is the Keyless Drive system, which lets drivers unlock the car and start the engine without removing the key fob from their pockets.
Under the hood
The 2008 V70 is available with a single engine choice in the shape of a 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder plant, which gives this grocery-getter plenty of get-up-and-go. In our week with the car, we took it on something of an odyssey from San Francisco to San Diego and back, clocking up more than 1,000 miles in the process and giving us plenty of time to observe the V70's driving dynamics. From the moment you engage the push-button engine start, you get a feeling that this is a station wagon with some performance credentials, and this preconception is borne out by the car's hearty throttle response and notably responsive handling. With its low stance and flowing, aerodynamic profile, the V70 admits minimal wind noise at freeway speeds.
In some cases, the V70's sports-car tuning can be problematic as we found when cruising between 60 mph and 70 mph. Rather than shifting into sixth gear at these speeds, the V70 remained in fifth while in self-shifting automatic mode, meaning we found ourselves barreling along with the engine ticking at more than 3,000rpm. While this was very helpful for providing the quick bursts of speed needed to pass traffic, it did not bode well for our fuel economy figures, and we found ourselves having to flip the shifter over to the semi-automatic mode to put it into sixth gear manually. We suspect that the unwillingness of the car to kick up to sixth gear may have been attributable to the V70's "Adaptive Shift Logic," which is designed to tailor itself to the current driving style. If so, the system could use some finer tuning.
The V70's six-cylinder engine produces a maximum of 235 horsepower.
The V70 can be had with an impressive number of "preventative" safety technology options and packages, none of which was installed on our test vehicle. Most significant among these is the Collision Avoidance Package ($1,695), which provides many of the safety features usually associated only with luxury models, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and Collision Warning with Auto Brake, which intervenes if it detects that the gap to the car ahead is suddenly reduced by sounding a chime, flashing a warning light, and preparing the brakes for a hard stop. The most individual tech feature on the V70 is also part of the Collision Avoidance Package: Driver Alert Control is designed for situations where the driver is most likely to lose concentration, according to Volvo, for example on a "straight, smooth road that lulls the driver into a sense of relaxation" Using sensors that monitor the road markings, DAC determines the danger of the driver losing control. If it detects that the driver's attention is deteriorating, the system alerts the driver by sounding a chime and showing an image of a coffee cup in the driver-information display. Volvo's Blind-spot detection system is also available on the V70 for an additional $695.
If any road is tailor-made for the DAC application, then it must be Interstate 5 that links the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego, and upon which we spent the best part of 20 hours in our time with the V70. Without the Collision Avoidance Package, we were reduced to timing our own breaks, listening to California Central Valley FM radio stations, and watching our average gas mileage readout. Over the course of around 1,300 miles during our week with the car, most of it cruising at freeway speeds, we observed an average fuel economy of 25 mpg, more than both the city (16 mpg) and highway (24 mpg) EPA estimates. Adding to the V70's credentials is a ULEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board.
Our 2008 Volvo V70 came with a base price of $32,465. To this we added $475-worth of metallic paint, the $725 Climate Package (heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, rain sensor), and a $745 delivery charge to give us an as-tested price of $34,410. As noted above, this price could easily drift into $40,000 territory on a fully loaded model. At that price, the V70 slots in neatly between the 2008 Subaru Outback and the 2008 Audi A4 Avant, although drivers who want a four-wheel drive option from Volvo will have to upgrade to the XC70, which also gets an update for the 2008 model year. The V70 is a comfortable and capable long-haul cruiser that takes Volvo's traditional safety focus, enhances it with some advanced technology, and wraps it in a stylish design inside and out. The result is a stylish, well balanced car that will appeal to tech-savvy and safety minded drivers who don't mind wearing Bluetooth headsets.