Volvo V70 R – a family wagon with a large dose of fun

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Much has been made through the years of Volvo’s safety features. Buy a Volvo and buy peace of mind for you and your family. Indeed, Volvo vehicles old and new have been and are as safe or safer than other forms of family transportation.

For instance, the 2006 Volvo V70 R wagon we tested recently came with such standard equipment as electronically controlled all-wheel drive, Dynamic Stability Control, unibody construction with an integral high-strength steel passenger safety cage, side-curtain head protection, side-impact air-bags, driver and front passenger dual-stage airbags, five 3-point safety belts with automatic height adjustment and force limiters with pretensioners on all five belts, Volvo’s Whiplash Protection System on the front seats, three-stage collapsible steering column and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution.

Safety obviously is still on the front burner at Volvo.

But what people who may not keep up with Volvo on a regular basis might not know is that performance has been getting nearly equal billing over the past few years.

For instance, the company’s mid-sized wagon and mid-sized sedan can be purchased with 300 horsepower. Performance has been raised to a new level for the Ford Motor Company owned Swedish car maker.

Volvo now has something just about every car company possesses, a performance division to ensure the competition doesn’t get too far ahead in going fast real fast.

High-performance models at Volvo receive an “R” designation (just like sister company Jaguar). The two most popular models entered the marketplace in 2004, the S60 R sedan and the V70 R wagon.

The trick here is turbocharging.

Volvo has been using turbochargers over the years like Ford uses V-8s, so the Swedish company knows something about turbocharged engines.

At the top of the 2006 lineup is a 2.5-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder engine that generates 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It can be mated to either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission.

There are two other V70 models, the base 2.4 with a naturally aspired 5-cylinder that produces 168 horsepower and the turbocharged 2.5T that makes 208 horsepower. The sporty T5, which produced 257 horsepower in the 2005 edition, has been discontinued.
Ignore the base wagon. It doesn’t possess enough power for a $35,000 car, in our opinion. If you buy that statement, that leaves you with a choice between satisfying performance with the 2.5T and cutting-edge performance with the V70 R.

The 2.5T starts at $32,765, more than $7,000 less than the R edition.

But the R carries thousands of dollars worth of standard equipment including all-wheel drive that comes on the 2.5T options list. Bring on the R.

The R engine is a bored and stroked version of the standard Volvo inline 5 with a larger turbocharger and stronger components. We found it satisfyingly receptive to inputs from the right foot with gobs of low-end torque. The power builds smoothly all the way to redline. The ubiquitous turbo-lag is mostly nonexistent.

With sophisticated automatic transmissions these days, there’s usually little difference in performance between a manual and an automatic. But according to published statistics, this is not the case with the V70 R. Volvo says there’s a second difference depending on transmission choice.

The R is fast either way, particularly for a family station wagon. Volvo claims a neck-snapping 0-to-60 time of 5.4 seconds with the 6-speed manual and 6.5 seconds with the 6-speed automatic.

No matter how you take it — manual or automatic — you won’t be disappointed. Our automatic transmission test wagon left us impressed. The R’s handling and cornering abilities compliment its performance prowess. This is one wagon that can be turned into a sports sedan at just the hint of a curving road. What makes this possible is what Volvo calls its Four C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) system, which combines its electronically controlled all-wheel drive system with a continuously adjustable suspension.

One disappointing factor is the V70’s rather large truck-like 43 plus-foot turning radius. Several times during our first couple of days behind the wheel we overestimated the wagon’s ability to safely turn into a parking space.

The interior feels like home with comfortable leather chairs up front, a nice dashboard layout and a good driving position. The stereo and climate controls are well laid out. We applaud Volvo for finally returning to a radio that features old-fashioned buttons for station pre-sets. For several years, Volvo used a rotary knob to store stations. User friendly it was not.

Rear seat leg room is adequate. With the seat halfway back, there was ample room for the second-row passenger. The back seat is firm but supportive. Despite the wagon’s mid-size stance, three people will fit across in the back seat. If a family needs more room for the little ones, an optional rear-facing third seat that folds out of the cargo floor is available.

The V70’s performance and handling abilities are praiseworthy. But these wonderful attributes aside, people still purchase a station wagon for its ability to haul stuff. And the V70 fills the bill with 37.5 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seat and 71 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.

And for those people who need to pull such things as jet skis, the V70 R has a rather impressive tow rating of 3,300 pounds.

When you purchase the V70 R for the base price of $40,240 you get a load of standard equipment including all-wheel drive and leather seating. But there are still options available, and our test car had more than $4,000 worth including power moonroof, upgraded sound system and automatic transmission bringing the bottom line to $44,885.

The V70 R offers the practicality and safety of a Volvo with a hefty dose of fun. That’s a pretty good combination. And the price tag seems in line with its competitors.