Minggu, 08 Juni 2008



By William C Montgomery

Safety legislation is killing Volvo. New rules and test procedures have virtually leveled the playing field, to the point where Volkswagen sells crash protection as credibly as Thor's mob. Even worse, the Swedish brand has at least partially surrendered the field. Sure, their cars still come laden with the latest safety-oriented gizmos and boast the best construction techniques, but the focus has shifted. According to the official website, you should buy the new Volvo S80 because of its “Scandinavian luxury.” In case you’re wondering, that means “comfort + power + safety.” Talk about changing priorities…

The new S80’s sheetmetal betrays the tension between Volvo’s desire to cling to its safe, stolid past and its [perceived] need to get funky with it. The even-more-gently-than-before sloping sheetmetal transitions (from the S80’s hood to its front windscreen and from the rear window to the trunk deck) continue the brand's established rounded radii = safety equation. At the same time, the S80’s broader and higher shoulders create a more masculine appearance. And the aggressive Aston/Jaguar-esque hood strakes try to tell the world that “me first” and “safety first” are not aesthetically incompatible– even if they are.

Anyway, Volvo wasn’t kidding about putting comfort at the top of the list. In typical Scandinavian fashion, the Volvo S80’s interior challenges the Audi for sybaritic supremacy. While both marques get full marks for top notch materials deployed with studied minimalism, Sweden pulls ahead with gloved user-friendly interfaces. The S80’s radio, for example, gives users immediate access to all functions without the previous model’s massive button array. If Swedes spent more time in the S80, Seasonal Affective Disorder would be a thing of the past.

Comfort? Check. Power? The $38,705 base S80 holsters an all-new 3.2-liter inline six that produces 235hp and 236lb.-ft. torque. The advanced cam profiles (toggling between high and low-valve lift) help make the engine relatively economical (19/28 mpg). Yes, well, that’s less horsepower, torque and fuel efficiency than a cheaper, equivalently-engined Audi A4. In subjective terms, S80’s mill labors to propel the car’s 3486lbs through its front wheels. She'll jog to sixty in a more-than-merely-adequate (but hardly spritely) eight seconds.

Scandinavian luxury ingredient number two isn’t missing from the premium S80– the first Volvo sedan with eight cylinders underhood. The same Yamaha-sourced 4.4-liter mill found in the XC90 sidewinds its way into the S80’s beak, pumping-out 311hp and 325lb-ft of twist. Even with almost a thousand pounds less to drag around, the S80 V8 scoots to 60 only slightly faster than the SUV– but a full 1.5 seconds faster than its lesser-engined sibling. Unfortunately, the S80 shares the truck’s dim-witted, mileage-seeking, stomp-to-go gearbox.

With great power comes great premiums; you have stump-up nearly nine more G’s for an optionless V8 ($47,350). Of course, the extra wedge also buys you all-wheel drive, which increases the S80’s bad weather capabilities, but does little to improve its handling dynamics. Whereas drivers of the base model are stuck in permanent plush mode, V8 owners select from Comfort, Sport and Advanced. More accurately, they choose between “Squishy, Slightly Less Squishy and Moderately Firm.” Only the Advanced setting would amuse the committed pistonhead. At best, the S80 is quick and controllable. At worst, it’s a Swedish Lincoln Town Car.

Completing Volvo’s not-so-secret luxury car recipe, the S80’s got all the safety kit covered: crumple zones, cushions and airbags aplenty (including kneepads for the front passenger), whiplash protection, ABS, stability and traction control, seatbelt pretensioners, collision warning adaptive cruise control and pre-panic brake charging. And you can bet that the new S80 will equal the previous model’s five-star NCAP rating when the government gets ‘round to smashing the S80 to smithereens.

The S80 has two unique safety selling points. For an additional $595, BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) radar sensors monitor your rear flanks ten meters aft. When another car is closer and it doesn't appear, the computer illuminates warning lights mounted next to the side mirrors. Unfortunately, the lights are not bright enough; I didn’t notice them turning on and off.

The second system consists of a forward facing radar system that computes the closing rate to objects ahead. If it reckons you're about to test your insurance compay's coverage, it sounds an audible warning and flashes a bright band across the windshield (unlike Mercedes' effort). It's a terrific unique selling point– buried under the general heading of Adaptive Cruise Control. Clearly, the S80 remains a Volvo in the traditional sense. Whether the ever-smaller extra safety margin is worth sacrificing power, handling, price and let's face it, snob value, remains an open question.


By Alex Dykes

A Volvo sports car is like a porno star wearing a condom: it makes perfect sense, and none at all. And yet, for reasons lost in the notes of a Ford strategy session gone bad, the brand best known for passenger fortification has developed an ongoing need to engage in protected sex appeal. Currently, the 300 horse S60R and V70R are the lead characters in this oxymoronic endeavor. Snicker if you must, but Volvo has publicly proclaimed that their R’s are suitable competition to BMW’s unassailable M3. Them’s fighting words!

On the face of it, the V70R wants to make love, not war. Despite distinct visual clues to its adrenal agenda– a lowered stance, aggressive grill, rear spoiler, twin exhaust tips and “R” badges– the basic design embodies the same mellow two box gestalt that won the hearts and minds of generations of New England grad students. In that sense, the V70R is as good an example of respectful evolution as Porsche’s 911 S; it’s slightly aggressive, thoroughly modern and instantly recognizable.

A non-sporting V70’s cabin rivals Audi and Lexus’ caverns for materials’ quality, subdued interior design and ergonomic excellence. That said, there are a few notable exceptions: the V70’s plastic disaster door handles, its Rubbermaid instrument cluster top, the “pleather” infecting the doors and a ho-hum shifter and steering wheel. And now the good news: the R model banishes ALL of these beancounted banes of pistonhead pride and joy.

While full leather interiors in $50k cars are as rare as raven-haired, sauna-aversive Swedes, the V70R goes hog wild for cow hide. Everything that looks like leather is, including the dash, airbag cover, door trim and parking brake boot. The R’s sports steering wheel blends a thick rim with excellent two position grips and well placed controls. Equally reassuring, the V70R’s seats envelop you in supple yet supportive leather, caressing your frame with side bolstering worthy of the mighty M3.

The V70R is powered a 2.5-liter five cylinder transverse-mounted mill stumping-up the aforementioned 300hp. The KKK turbo blows good fortune upon the V70R driver; maximum torque arrives early (295 ft. lbs. @ 1950 rpm) and stays for a late night slice of Västerbotten (5250 rpm). In less technical terms, the V70R offers more mid-range overtaking power than you’ll ever need, exactly when you need it. And you can pin the Labradors to the rear window, blasting from zero to sixty in 5.6 seconds.

This little feat arrives courtesy of the V70R’s combination of Haldex all wheel-drive, a DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) handling Nanny and Volvo’s all new semi-active suspension. The V70R's trick Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) computes the wagon's longitudinal and lateral acceleration, body yaw, chassis and wheels’ vertical motion, engine torque and throttle position, degree of braking, steering wheel position and turn rate, and insurance coverage.

Damping forces are adjusted 500 times a second according to your choice of settings: Comfort, Sport or, intimidating enough, Advanced. Unlike the vast majority of these doo-hickeys, the V70R’s Four-C system offers discernible differences in ride and handling. Comfort mode is suitably squidgy, Sport stifles body roll and Advanced removes both your fillings and the high speed pucker factor.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to connect the Four-C system to the V70R’s steering rack. The wagon’s power assisted rack and pinion steering remains resolutely untweaked; the tiller is as numb [albeit accurate] as the regular family hauler’s helm. Thankfully, the same cannot be said of the V70R’s slick shifting and perfectly matched six speed gearbox — although the third pedal’s decidedly binary action prevents it from being a clutch player.

Extensive autobahn testing indicates that the V70R’s claimed zero to 60mph time is accurate (providing it’s cold enough for the turbo). The stated 155mph top speed is both attainable and effortless. And there’s no question: the V70R in Advanced mode will give the significantly shorter Audi S4 Avant a decent run for the money through all but the bandiest bends.

Here’s news: in a seeming rejection of Volvo’s safety shtick, the driver can switch off the V70R’s stability control system. Once disabled, truly determined full throttle application (after initial turn in) yields a smidgen of understeer. Due to the AWD, any desire to initiate a lurid rear wheel-drive tail slide is destined to remain unfulfilled. The V70R’s enormous Brembo brakes will gladly put a stop to such thoughts, repeatedly, without fade or drama.

While the V70R power and poise are an amazing not to say ridiculous achievement, the company’s claim that the wagon is an M3 rival is proof positive that the marketing guys had too much lutefisk that day. Anyway, who cares? The M3 is at least $10K more expensive and can’t haul half as much butt as the Swedish Ford.


By Terry Parkhurst

Sweden is home to an automotive cult known as “Raggare” (roughly translated: “pick-up artist”). Its adherents revere American hot rods and the cruising lifestyle depicted by the film "American Graffiti." It’s helpful to think of the Volvo C70 hardtop convertible in this context, as a latter day Swedish pony-car. I know; it's a bizarre concept. A hardtop convertible produced by a car company known for impeccable safety and wildly inoffensive design aspiring to super-cool sex appeal? Like Swedish meatballs, it tastes a lot better than it sounds.

The C70 certainly doesn’t serve-up any funky ingredients or visual spice. It employs the same ultra-conservative squat-nosed jelly bean shape that make the S40 and S50 look like a pair of nurses’ shoes, only longer and wider. Peter Horbury originally penned the C70 as a coupe. The rear seats were added after the fact. Whether by accident or design or accidental design, the resulting shape is far more cohesive and delicate than most four-seat drop tops.

The C70’s retractable metal roof connects the convertible with the Golden Age of American cars; the Swede’s party piece hearkens back to ye olde ’59 Ford Skyliner (a Fairlane derivative). As we’ve come to expect from hardtop drop tops, the C70’s mechanical ballet is precision engineering as street theater. The four piece lid origamis into the car’s trunk in about 30 seconds, disappearing beneath the C70’s carapace to create a genuine– and genuinely handsome– four-seat roadster. The large rear glass is a welcome addition to the show, affording C70 drivers some much-appreciated additional visibility.

Mazda MX5 aside, we’ve also become accustomed to the compromises that no-compromise retractable hardtops inflict on luggage space. Once stowed, all those fancy folding metal bits cut the available trunk space in half (the upper half). So while the C70 convertible is fully capable of mussing the hair of four full-sized adults, it’s completely incapable of stowing the traveling quartet's luggage. In fact, the truncated trunk means that even a couple of fresh air adventurers must pack light. In soft cases.

Ask a Nordic furniture designer; there’s a fine line between austerity and minimalism. The C70’s cabin struggles to cross this aesthetic boundary. While its “floating console,” easy-to-read analogue dials and sensible, tactile switchgear are the very model of a modern major general, there’s a fundamental lack of drama to the space. The blahs weren't helped by our tester’s British Pensioner Grey colour scheme. And as long as we’re being sensible, the C70’s seats provide excellent lumbar support, and nothing helpful in terms of lateral support.

As with many Volvos (I’m looking at you XC90), the C70’s engine bay is too small for the kind of large displacement powerplant that you’d expect in such a glamorously impractical automobile. Yes, transverse-mounted engines conform to the Volvo brand's safety first demands. Yes, the C70 gets an entirely respectable 21 mpg in urban pose mode, and 29 mpg during open road cruise control. But the C70’s 2.5-liter engine is hardly the stuff of muscle car dreams. We’re talking 218hp @ 5000 rpm.

Mind you, Volvo’s been at this turbo-five business for quite some time. They’ve tweaked the mini mill to deliver 236 ft. lbs. of torque @ 1500 - 4800rpm. With so much twist arriving early and staying for lunch, the C70’s acceleration feels a lot more than merely adequate. (Zero to sixty takes roughly seven seconds.) It’s a remarkable achievement, given the C70’s heavy roof, chassis stiffening, Boron steel windshield pillars and ballistic roll-over bars.

Unfortunately, when the revs start to swell, the C70’s throttle response becomes a bit… vague. And then there’s the fact that the C70 puts its power through the front wheels. In Oakley wearing mode, the little Swede is nimble enough. Should wind-in-the-hair motoring tempt you into a little accelerative abandon, it's best to start paying attention. For one thing, torque steer is an issue. For another, despite a top-flight suspension (MacPherson struts with coil-over shocks and stabilizer bars at the front and an independent multi-link at the rear), the sporting C70 driver must make constant mid-corner corrections.

In that sense, the C70 has traditional pony car dynamics: quick off the line, comfortable over the long haul and "challenging" in the bends. Of course, any Raggare worth his “Yank tanks rule!” T-shirt would reject a front-driver sight unseen– especially one from a marque whose products are chrome anti-matter. Never mind. There are enough wealthy Volvo-lovers out there who don’t see any disconnect between sexy handsome, safe and practical, who'd no more thrash the C70 through the twisties than a ducktail wearing Raggare. In short, just like köttbullar, the C70 may not be cool, but it is satisfying.


By Justin Berkowitz

Back in the ‘80s, when Volvo was famous for making safe cars, the brand’s vanguard was an ugly, slow, heavy machine called the 240. Admirers affectionately dubbed it “the Brick.” The 240 was indefatigable. When Volvo tried to replace the car with a more “modern” boxy model in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, 240 loyalists– vegan university professors hauling cans of paint and their dog in a 240 wagon on the way to the farmer’s market– revolted. Finally, in 1992, Volvo execs terminated the 240. Some say that Volvo gained style and lost its soul. But hey, brand loyalists always say that kind of thing. Truth to tell, the old Swede’s spirit lives on in the S40.

Put the S40 alongside its stablemates and you can see sausage-car-design at work. Mercedes pioneered this aesthetic at the turn of the last century, when all their models looked like the same car on a slightly different scale. Park the entry-level S40 next to big brother S60 and the top ‘o the line S80 and the lack of visual differentiation is shocking. Still, all three cars boast a clean, simple design that maintains the brand’s traditional styling cues without undue fustiness or futurism. In fact, the S40’s sharper hood creases and truncated trunk make it the most distinctive of the group.

The S40’s cabin features the much-ballyhooed “floating” center dash panel: a handsome bit of theater with [oxymoronic] minimalist flair. Beyond that, the S40’s interior is utterly sterile. Our tests car was black-on-black-on-black-on-black-on-black-on-black: dash, seats, floor, ceiling, steering wheel and plastic. A handful of brushed aluminum touches spruced up the place– in the sense that tossing a handful of coins on the floor of the DMV can be considered decorating the space with presidential portraits.

On the positive side, the S40’s interior is a paragon of ergonomic excellence, containing no more switchgear than absolutely necessary. The seats are supremely comfortable; the T-Tec cloth offers enough tactile satisfaction to tempt a Texan from cow skins. Audi won’t need any Ambien, but the S40 offers the kind of solid build quality and high quality fit and finish you expect in an entry-level luxury car. Equally importantly, the S40’s cabin gives you the feeling that when it’s on its fourth owner, plastered in bumper stickers and packed with cheap beer and vegetarian burritos (the car, not the owner), it will still be in good shape, plugging away, doing its job and putting up with abuse.

The S40 2.4i “features” Volvo’s naturally aspirated inline-five. I swear the Swedish engineers keep this powerplant around as a memento of an simpler, kookier time. As I’m not a speed freak, I don’t ask much from an automobile engine. Still, I’d prefer it didn’t sound like a lawnmower engine and, worse, spend the night out drinking until dawn.

Slam on the gas, and the S40’s five-speed automatic gearbox immediately hits the snooze button. When the motor finally rousts itself and struggles out of bed, the powertrain is groggy, incoherent, confused and weak. The non-turbocharged five growls and buzzes and finally works its way up into the modest powerband, where a lucky driver may [just] be able to coax 168 horses into action.

Unfortunately, by that point, you’ve already missed the highway merge. The guy in the Mercedes next to you, who you inadvertently cut off, is showing you an insulting appendage, sticking up through his sunroof. And your fair trade latte has fallen into your lap. True story.

Still, driving the S40 is not without its charms. The handling is brand-faithfully safe, secure and predictable; and the steering surprisingly sharp and rewarding. Best of all, the suspension dismisses Northeastern potholes like a Marine drill instructor contemplating his charges at Miller Time.

This is no insignificant accomplishment. Back before modern necessities like rear-view backup cameras and dynamic adaptive cruise control, a compliant and isolating ride was considered the definition of automotive luxury. As the computer age has invaded our “whips,” as gadget worship has replaced hushed and comfortable progress as the litmus of automotive lavishness, it’s nice to find a car that embodies the traditional (if bygone) upmarket virtues.

In fact, the S40’s stately driving dynamics are the primary reason I'd recommend this car. The S40’s not particularly quick, or cheap (even lightly equipped models walk along the $30-large barrier), or more than merely adequate in the fuel efficiency department (22/31) or even, dare I say it, vastly safer than comparable cars.

But it you’re a driver who likes to fly just above the radar feeling coddled– rather than entertained or invigorated– the S40 2.4i is ideal. Even without a slightly more powerful and willing engine (please Mr. Mahindra), it’s as much of a “real” Volvo as the 240. For some, praise simply doesn’t come any higher.


By Matthew Neundorf

The last time a Volvo was sexy, so was (Sir) Roger Moore. Just as The Saint titillated the fairer sex, Simon Templar’s Volvo P1800 had heel-and-toe types salivating. Shortly thereafter Moore was persuaded to abandon his Swedish whip for an Aston. By the time the English actor got into Bond-age, Volvo had turned deeply dull. Sexy was scrapped, safety celebrated. Stylistically, Gothenburg’s designs adhered to a Ty Webbian template: “Be the box. Be the box.” While Volvos slowly evolved away from the rectangular gestalt, they never quite shucked middle-aged mindfulness. The new C30 aims to change all that.

Available in Canada since the second quarter, hitting U.S. soil in October, Volvo’s “hot hatch” (yes really) is looking to cash in on the aging, fast and slightly miffed yet financially comfortable ex-tuner crowd. Alternatively, the C30’s yet another starting point for badge snobs looking for that first rung on the European luxury ladder. To entice both groups, the Swedish sampling’s got style.

Faced head on, the short overhangs and snubbed prow could easily belong to any Volvo. Correct! From the grill to the windshield, the C30’s built on the same architecture as the S40 and V50. Follow the reverse-doorstop roofline to mid ships, and there’s funk in that trunk. The taillights hug the C’s C-pillars in all three dimensions, accenting the hatch’s rear haunches in the best-yet interpretation of the corporate countenance.

The C30’s “P” inspired trapezoidal hatch-glass is pistonhead catnip. Leave home without the optional cargo cover though, and Bloomies’ Big Brown Bag will have a similar effect on the smash-and-grab crowd.

Just don’t order a C30 in “passion red.” With fenders found wanting of paint, my base T5 tester was more “Swedish berry” than Halle Berry. Anyone who doesn’t spend the extra Krona and check the Metallic Paint box on the order sheet might as well get a bumper sticker saying “Cheap Djävel on Board.” While you’re at it, sign-up for the dual tone body kit and 17” Zaurak rims. When you see a C30 thus kitted in Titanium Grey metallic with Java metallic trim, it’s time to call a Vet; this puppy looks sick.

Inside, it seems the Swedish vegetarians have turned their gaze to the automobile industry. Not to worry; Volvo’s T-Tec seating surfaces is an ideal alternative, guaranteed to keep Norse grasslands groomed. The infamous waterfall dash is cheap chic personified, while the switchgear’s tactility will keep even non-OCD sufferers busy for hours. A handy 12-volt adapter decorates the centre-stack, but a lack of defined cup holders hinders Scandinavian satiation.

Volvo’s trick dangling DIN radio unit is wannabe Bang & Olufsen done right. The standard audio package’s sonic performance is adequate, but in a world of LCD I.C.E., the O.G. (original Gameboy) graphics are ghastly. Thankfully, the C30’s supportive seats and thick-rimmed helm restore a large measure of street cred.

The packaging is a bit compromised. Upright, the rear seats are spacious enough for two high-heeled Swedish bikini team members, but leave just enough luggage space for their official uniforms and a couple of thirsty towels. Fold the 55/45 rears and that “Ramvik” coffee table and “Roskilde” rug your living room has been lacking are yours for the taking.

Volvo’s force-fed five-banger is in da' house. A mini mill cranking-out 218hp may be nothing special in this category, but 236ft.-lbs. of torque from basement to penthouse is. Put the pedal to the metal (how Volvo is that?) and 20 continuously variable valves chatter away, flinging the C30 to sixty in less than seven seconds. In-gear satisfaction is only a foot flex away.

Unfortunately, the cog swapping part of the program lacks a suitable dénouement. In traffic, the C30’s clutch play is smooth and predictable. Light a fire under the hot hatch, give it the beans, and stick travel… stops… time. Even worse, ultimate engagement is decidedly spongy.

The suspension isn't. MacPhersons up front and a multilink in back keeps city schlepping as placid as Aquavit on ice, while anti-roll bars and rigid body construction ensure all that torque isn’t squandered. Hang on to the helm and anything over 7/10’s is as safe as houses. Corners are controlled and understeer doled out in sensible quantities. The Sport Package tightens things up considerably. But make no mistake: even in standard trim, the Euro Focus’ C1 platform is put to good use. The Stig may not be cocking a rear wheel through Gambon, but Volvo security hasn’t watered down the Ford family fun.

Volvo is hoping to flog 20k C30’s stateside, 65k globally. The Swedish two-door is pitted against BMW’s U.S.-bound 1-Series, Audi’s A3/S3, a new WRX, Vee Dub’s GTi and the benchmark MINI. That’s tough company; it would be a daunting prospect if the C30 didn’t look so damn cool. But it does. And it is. Mission accomplished.


Top Gear - Volvo V50

By Alex Dykes

Sharing a platform with a Ford Focus is something you’d probably want to keep under wraps; kind of like that cousin with webbed toes and twelve fingers. Fortunately, the latest Volvo V50 is actually the ritzy cousin of that much-lauded obscure object of desire (at least for Americans): the Euro Focus. As the V50/S40 accounts for a third of Volvo’s global sales, this is a good thing. But do good genetics make the V50 a good car, or does this smorgasbord of multinational automaking represent a sad swansong for Ford’s about to be divorced Swedish brand?

On first glance, the V50 looks like a size-12 V70 station wagon in a size-four dress. At second glance the V50 appears to be a micro-S80 wagon, or an XC90 that’s been stepped on. No matter how you slice it, dice it or squash it, the V50’s brand DNA is unmistakable. In a sea of four-wheeled blandness and disjointed styling, the Volvo’s sheetmetal’s is as cohesive as it is attractive; save, perhaps the rear sloping roofline. OK: that forward leaning rear window line is a bit goofy-looking. But the V50’s restrained detailing— from its tower of power rear brake lights to the retrained family face— make up for any unpleasant awkwardness.

Volvo has replaced the old “that’s-like-so-80s” interior with the requisite Scandinavian chic. A stylish not to say stylized console– finished in faux metal, aluminum, iPod white or optional Nordic oak (shown)– dominates the V50’s cabin. Clearly (or not so clearly), Volvo arranged this “floating” design for maximum symmetry rather than ergonomic safety. Four identically shaped dials join a phalanx of closely-grouped black buttons to translate high touch into high anxiety. What’s more, the designers rectified the paucity of interior storage is by placing a cubby behind the centre console stack. Interesting…

When you finally stop playing with the [optional] fold-up/pop-up nav system and depress or raise the door lock buttons, you suddenly realize Ford’s desire to take Volvo upmarket didn’t make it this far down the food chain. While 2008 brings forth new cup holder and armrest designs, the V50’s bean counters blew off Bluetooth and skimped where they could. Penalty box aversive drivers are advised to opt for the Dolby Pro Logic sound system. The V50 may not have the tactile satisfaction or gadgetry goodness of its German rivals, but ABBA never sounded so good.

Our V50 tester was powered by Volvo’s ubiquitous 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbo (which also adds 17” wheels to the package). The odd-numbered mill spools-up nine more horses than before (227hp) and 236 ft-lbs of torque. Oomph's delivered with typical Volvo aplomb: power starts early, crescendos late and makes some wonderful noise in between.

Although the V50’s quick rather than pin-your- Labradors-to-the-rear-window fast– zero to 60mph takes seven seconds– the Swedish wagonette’s in-gear acceleration is plenty punchy. Whatever grunt’s underfoot is instantly yours for the taking. Besides, you gotta think the average V50 intender gladly sacrifices a bit of forward thrust for the resulting 19/27mpg mileage (front wheel-drive trim).

That said, Volvo claims that 45 percent of V50 buyers are less than 35 years old. To cater to these young (and young at heart) drivers, Volvo’s blessed the V50 with some seriously entertaining road manners.

Windy roads reveal crisp, linear and predictable manners; impressive grip and drama-free braking. The V50 snags the Getrag six-speed manual from the R-series instead of the tired corporate five-speed; this six cog row-box will have you snick-snick-snicking through the gears with a smile all the way to IKEA. Unfortunately, the snatchy Volvo clutch is along for the ride– without the 300hp R engine to make up for it.

No Volvo would be complete without a plethora of safety equipment and more alphabet soup than Campbell's test kitchen. The Swedish au pairs include: DSTC, ABS, EBA, EBFD, SIPS, WHIPS, IC and the acronym-less collapsible steering column. New acronyms for 2008 include EBL (Emergency Brake Lights, they flash if you stop fast) and BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) so you don’t have to look over your shoulder like everyone else.

If that’s not enough, Volvo’s IDIS system “inspired by aircraft” will sense when you are in a “challenging driving situation” and will delay warning lamps and ignore phone calls (Europe only) until your driving style has returned to a civilized plod. Oh, and Volvo’s Intelligent Vehicle Architecture (VIVA) uses four different grades of steel and results in markedly improved Euro NCAP crash results vs. its corporate cousins.

In terms of performance, utility and quality, Volvo’s sprightly V50 wagon is as close to a Euro-Focus wagon as you can get stateside— only better. In fact, the V50 is only a hair away from lifestyle load-lugging perfection and about 80hp shy of pistonhead perfection (all wheel drive). If the V50 turns out to be part of Volvo’s swansong, well, at least it can carry a tune.


By Alex Dykes

In 1998, Volvo was SUV deficient. As they didn't have a truck chassis upon which to build, those crazy Swedes grabbed a station wagon, raised it a couple of inches and added all wheel-drive. Since then, the XC70's ground clearance has risen, transforming a slightly jacked-up joy rider (6.5") to a Jeep-wannabe (8.2"). The move leaves Volvo with a fully-fledged… something. Whatever it is, it is what it is. And now that Volvo has a "proper" SUV, the question must be asked: is the XC70 an anachronism whose time has come and gone?

On the outside, Volvo's anti-stylists went for Eddie Bauer off-road chic: front and rear skid plates, flared wheel arches and enough protective side cladding to fend off a flotilla of angry supermarket shoppers. The designers also swiped the side mirrors off an XC90, creating an elephantine addendum that's more Dumbo than dirt devil. In sum, the result is as intended: a cross between a V70 wagon and a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo.

The XC70's interior architecture is bog standard Volvo, save the area between the armrest and the shifter. That hallowed (hollowed?) space offers front seat passengers a grab handle for forays into the rough stuff, whether it's speed bumps in Neiman Marcus' parking lot or genuine off-road action. The leather seat's "rugged" stitching provides a welcome alternative to French seams, while the Berber floor mats' thicker, tighter loop is more durable and less likely to show footprints than standard surfaces– which is, you know, important for a station wagon cum mud plugger.

Despite being seven years old, the XC70's interior's fit and finish is superb, with panel gaps and materials that wouldn't seem out of place in an Audi. The XC70's wood inlays (real or simulated, your choice) are applied with perfect restraint, and the doors close with more of a thud than you'd imagine for a vehicle once famous for schlepping college professors to liberal arts universities. The only blot on the copy book: the made-like-Rubbermaid instrument cluster cover.

On the road, the XC70 pitches and wallows like pre-oil embargo American land yachts. While you would expect whale-like manners from a Jeep product, the XC70's car-like interior atmos clashes with the SUV ride. Fortunately, Volvo's [optional] Four-C active chassis system banishes the high seas body roll, as well as nose tip and dive– without detracting from the XC70's off-road prowess.

With 208 turbocharged ponies and 236 ft.-lbs. of twist on tap, the XC70 isn't slow. Nor fast. Volvo's corporate 5-cylinder mill's rabid tip-in will no doubt make XC70 owners feel quick. But after half throttle is engaged, even Scottie can't get any more power (Captain). The five-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly enough, but when it comes to downshifting, it's inclined to decline on an incline. It's a pity Volvo's parts sharing party didn't include the 257hp or 300hp versions of this engine. [Next year's U.S. model gets the 3.2-liter 236hp engine shared with the S80 and XC90.]

And yes, I did say off-road prowess. The XC70's approach, break over and departure angles (16°, 18° and 20° respectively) are none too shabby for a glorified grocery getter. The wagon's ground clearance makes short work of streams and dismisses small boulders in a single bound.

On rough dirt roads, the XC70 feels wonderfully well poised and reassuringly secure. The wagon's all-wheel-drive system's front wheel bias also keeps handling predictable when the roads get slick. The system engages so quickly that it's almost impossible to elicit anything more than a slight slip before the electronics shuffle power around (Volvo claims less than one seventh of a tire rotation before power transfer).

In the redwood forests inhabiting the Santa Cruz Mountains, the XC70's stiff chassis, low curb weight and low center of gravity made hooning around the dirt tracks as simple as choosing the correct CD accompaniment. The XC70s rudimentary skid plates provided welcome protection from the rocks and sticks of outrageous scenery. And despite YouTube videos to the contrary, the XC70's Haldex AWD system proved a faithful companion when one or more wheels went airborne.

You could say the XC70 is a slightly underpowered, slightly over-priced, slightly more luxurious Subaru Outback. But then that wouldn't give credit where credit's due. For people who need an extremely capacious go-anywhere wagon, there really isn't any suitable alternative. Now that Audi's Allroad has been deleted from Ingolstadt's lineup (in favor of the grotesque Q7 SUV), there's no vehicle that compares directly with Volvo's $45K wagon-on-stilts.

If you need/want this sort of thing, it's most definitely NOT an irrelevance. Better yet, Volvo is evolving the model for '08, adding the aforementioned more powerful engine, more ground height, better approach/departure angles and hill speed control. The XC70 may fill a relatively small not to say obscure niche, but it fills it very well indeed.


By Alex Dykes

Volvo is finally coming to grips with the fact that the brand doesn’t stretch much beyond wagons. Reflecting this new/old reality, rumors abound that Volvo’s about to axe their range-topping S80 sedan in favor of an upmarket V100 wagon. Add in a recent Consumer Reports’ study showing that American consumers still rate Volvo number one for safety, and you begin to understand the importance of the new V70 wagon. As wagons are what keeps Volvo’s ost on their smorgasbord, “getting it right” was essential. So, did they?

In the last 10 years, Volvo has gone from Ugly Betty to Swedish beauty. Since 1998, every Volvo model has been bred from the same DNA: restrained styling, sexy hips and hood creases culminating in a grill with the classic Volvo sash. Thankfully, the new V70 has all the requisite shapes, excepting the sloping rear windscreen.

Despite the looks, the V70 is all-new. The hauler is now based on the flagship S80 sedan instead of the mid-sized S60. The larger overall car is also equipped with considerably better interior bits. While the cheaper Volvos’ interiors look like IKEA specials, there’s nothing cheap about the new V70’s interior.

Our Euro-spec tester was swathed in matte finish wood trim and light grey “Sovereign hide” leather, which rivals the luxury feel of [former] PAG mates Jaguar and Aston Martin’s bovine wrappers. Sadly, North American buyers can’t get premium cow, and someone in Sweden figured ventilated seats were more important in the Arctic Circle than the tropical American south. Anyway, all the V70’s seats are supportive and comfortable for long trips.

The wagon’s glove-friendly knobs and switches are placed in the usual logical locations. The now ubiquitous floating centre stack is along for the ride. While the cute cubby behind it will accommodate a few very small oddly sized nick-knacks, out of sight also means out of mind. Speaking of mindless, the V70 gets the new for 2008 keyless start system. As the alternative is the oddly located fob-slot in the dash– which makes your keys bang against the dashboard at gauge level– it’s $500 well spent.

Regardless of continent, all buyers get Volvo’s new two-stage child booster seats with redesigned curtain airbags. After thorough testing with two kids in the proper weight bracket (33-80 lbs), I can certify that the new feature protects adult sanity when struggling to get multiple progeny onboard.

At the back end, Volvo continues to put hauling stuff at the top of their design priority list. Inside the power operated tailgate lie enough organizing options to keep Detective Monk busy for hours (if not an eternity). There are grocery bag holders, cargo dividers, rails with load hooks, nets, straps and locking compartments. The 40/20/40 split rear seats fold flat easily. As with all Volvos, the front passenger seat also bows down to the gods of goods; loading a 10ft ladder or a full-size grandfather’s clock is a breeze.

Volvo’s silky smooth 3.0-liter six-cylinder T6 turbo engine purred under the hood of our Euro-tester. The mill cranks out 285hp and 295 ft.-lbs. of torque. It’s mated to a six- speed slushbox and Haldex AWD (all wheel-drive) system. The V70’s 6.7 second zero to sixty sprint time feels quicker in person, due to the plateau-like torque curve, despite its decidedly porky 4100 pound curb weight.

The V70 AWD system’s “instant traction” feature assures zero torque steer for European buyers. Yes, yet again American shoppers get shafted: both the T6 engine and AWD system are Euro only options. On this side of the pond you must satisfy yourself with the 235hp 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine, endure torque steer and grow old as you attempt to reach 60 from a standstill (7.8 seconds).

Out on twisty roads, the V70 feels almost nimble. The car’s front heavy nature is abundantly evident through the corners, but the cornering limit is surprisingly high. Equally important, steering feel is excellent. And when things do break loose the electronic nannies rein you back to a safer angle of attack. The Euro-only active suspension proves a faithful companion, eliminating any signs of wallow, tip or dive. It affords GTI-stiff dampeners at the corners for that race from the daycare to work.

While the V70 isn’t as dynamically satisfying as a BMW 5-series wagon or as luxurious as a Mercedes E-Class estate, the V70 is nevertheless an excellent competitor in this niche market… If you live in Europe. In fact, this is the perfect example of sending the wrong models to the wrong places. The 20.3 T6 model is too thirsty for Europe. But as a base engine in North America? Perfect. And while we’re at it, where’s OUR luxe leather, AWD and active suspension?

Until Volvo gets their product placement strategy is corrected, they’ll remain a niche player, good wagon or not.


By Megan Benoit

The S60 is Volvo's neglected middle child. Baby brother S40 is hipper, faster, and gets all the chicks. Older brother S80 is bigger and more luxurious. Where does that leave the S60? Not languishing on dealership lots, given that it's Volvo's best-selling sedan (if barely). But I'm hard-pressed to figure out why. Apparently, Volvo can't figure out why either– the S60 has purportedly been on the chopping block for a couple of years now, though no one seems willing to make that final cut yet. So let me take a stab at it.

From the outside, the S60's unmistakably a Volvo. It comes with the standard Volvo-esque design cues, with little to differentiate itself from the other sedans save subtle trim differences (the T5 gets a spoiler, this one gets bupkis). These cars are so anonymous they're part of the standard package you get when you enter a witness protection program. Maybe it's a safety feature: people are less likely to accidentally swerve into your car if it doesn't suddenly catch their attention (I'm sure people who drive Lambos and STIs get that all the time).

The interior is imbued with adequate, standard, not-an-inch-more-than-necessary luxury. The leather on our tester was unsightly and about as baby's-bottom buttery as a pleather diner booth. Don't look up; that rat-fur headliner will prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the beancounters had their dirty, dirty way with this car.

The S60's premium package includes wood trim, which is a surprisingly nice fit for the taupe interior. A ginormous center stack dominates the dash, its glove-friendly, intuitive buttons lost in oceans of plastic. It also sports a vertical storage slot that defies understanding– anything you put in there slides out at the first press of the gas.

Also incomprehensible: a flip-out rear seat cupholder in the armrest that renders the rest useless whilst deployed. Maybe I'm a big baby that wants to put my elbow somewhere comfy.

And Junior doesn't need a big gulp anyway, if you can even fit him in the ridiculously undersized rear seats. This is bigger than the S40? No way. The larger proportions seem to mostly go towards trunk space instead of rear seating room; disappointing for anyone shopping for a "family" sedan.

Starting up the S60's engine reminded me a lot of my mother, if only because she grew up driving tractors. I apologize and retract my earlier dismembering of the Ecotec in the G5. Only John Deere himself would enjoy the unholy racket the five-cylinder turbo makes. While the engine makes entirely satisfactory loud rumbling noises during brisk acceleration, it also makes them all the rest of the time, even at idle.

So on one hand, there's nearly no turbo lag, it being mitigated well by high torque at low RPMs. On the other, it's the noisiest turbo I've ever encountered (or I'm just a spoiled enthusiast who likes the turbo magic of a Subaru or Volkswagen). Sure, the S60's mill provides an appreciable amount of propulsion, but Nine Inch Nails concerts are easier on the eardrums. Anything this loud should sport a sub-five-second 0-60 or STFU.

Handling-wise, the S60 is safe, in the "nothing special" sense of the word. The sedan does a great job handling average bumps on average roads in average conditions. The steering is numb, but not in an overly disconcerting way. Even without any road feel, you still feel in control of the car. There's nothing to be excited about, or anything to truly hate. I would wager that the power and handling are perfect for 90 percent of the general driving population. More demanding drivers would pick it to pieces.

And speaking of safe, the S60's technologically advanced safety features rule the roost. Unfortunately, those same features push it to a punishing 3500 lbs. A few hundred pounds less in steel and safety features might just make this ugly duckling into a swan, but something has to set Volvo apart. Too bad the Subaru Legacy GT scores higher on crash tests and is a thousand times more fun (and only marginally cheaper quality-wise). Even Ford touts safety as a selling point. And let's not talk depreciation. The S60 tanks faster than Ikea furniture.

The S60 falls short on the luxury features, too. A new IS250 costs the same as a leathered-up S60 and comes with some truly indulgent options. (Forget grocery bag holders, why doesn't the Volvo have pre-collision avoidance and parking assist?) I don't even know how it competes with the S40 turbo unless you're too wide for the S40's seats.

Maybe the Volvo S60 is a great car and I don't get it, but I can't think of anything that this car does that someone anyone else doesn't do better, including Volvo.