Jumat, 06 Juni 2008

Volvo V70R AWD Review

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.