Volvo V70 T5 car reviews

Review Notes: 2005 Volvo V70 Turbo 5-Cylinder Automatic
Personality Sports car in wagon form
Unusual features Safety measures — e.g. anti-whiplash seats
Above Average: Power on-the-ready, safety, convenience
Needs Work In: Headlight controls
EPA gas mileage 19 city, 27 highway (EPA)

The Volvo V70 takes the company's new direction one step further. While the revered 240 and 740 were staid sedans and wagons suited to those who wanted to transport their families more in safety than comfort, the V70 has many creature comforts as well as a powerful 2.5 liter turbocharged engine that would not be out of place on a sports car. Yet, as the traditional Volvo styling implies, safety is more than an afterthought.

Volvo RNA has gone through some changes over time, with the traditional models culminating in the rear wheel drive 240 and 740, and the 850 bridging the gap with a more typical look in the interior and feel in the powertrain (the 240 felt more like a truck than a car in many ways, and had an interior that would not look out of place in base-model economy cars.) The 850 provided more cushion in the suspension, better cornering and acceleration, a quieter engine that had less pronounced torque but better horsepower, and an interior that looked more appropriate for its price range; the late 850 R showed what a nicely tuned turbocharger could do, too.

Our V70 model was the wagon with front wheel drive; with a turbocharged engine that produces gobs of torque right off the line, keeping the front tires fully inflated proved to be especially important, as tire squeal was pronounced with only 32 psi up front. We bumped it up to 35 psi, which largely solved the problem, though launching from a full stop still brought more than a passing chirp. Torque steer was also largely cured with this old front-driver trick, though the real solution is getting the all wheel drive option. With that, you can say good-bye to any acceleration-related tire squeal.

The turbo engine provides over 235 foot-pounds of torque through practically its entire range, and also pumps out over 200 horsepower. That's a lot of power for a relatively light vehicle - never confuse safety with weight - and, taken with a well-matched automatic transmission, the result is instant acceleration under any condition we could think of. Highway speeds, parking-lot speeds, ordinary streets - you name it, simply pushing down the pedal a bit results in a quick launch forward. Sometimes, when the turbocharger kicked in while the automatic kicked down, the result could be less than smooth, and indeed it takes some practice to get the drivetrain to respond smoothly and not softly jerk forward. Power has its rewards, but it also has its problems.

Despite having substantial amounts of power available at all times, the five-cylinder engine is usually smooth at idle - though late in our drive, our test car developed a fairly bumpy idle condition that seemed to come and go, perhaps due to bad gas from the previous driver - and almost invariably quiet. Under full throttle, a deep exhaust note comes through, but no engine noise is ever particularly loud or pronounced. Gas mileage is, according to the EPA, fairly good, with ratings of 21 city, 30 highway; we never got above 21, but we have noticed with past turbocars that heavy throttle quickly brings gas mileage down. Those who drive gently will be rewarded with mileage that is quite good for the size of the vehicle. Meanwhile, when it's needed, the V70 can make it to sixty in well under seven seconds - with an automatic. That's incredible speed, and yet, the V70 isn't just a sprinter but an all-around power machine. (We should mention that the 2.5 is only one of several engine options, including a more potent version of the same engine and a 2.4 liter turbo that puts out less power.)

The transmission is a five-speed manumatic with a winter driving mode, which seems a bit superfluous considering that you can simply choose to start out in second - but most drivers never use the manual gear selection feature, so the winter mode button makes sense. (Winter mode starts the car in second to increase traction.) The gearshift is sensibly designed; from Drive, you can knock the shifter over to the left, and then push it forward to raise a gear and backward to lower a gear. Despite the five gears, there's a big gap between second and third gear, but the engine torque minimizes its impact.

Cornering is generally quite good, with the Volvo feeling confident in turns and with no tire squeal except in power turns - probably not an issue with the all wheel drive version - which is an achievement since true wagons seem harder to design for handling than sedans. Helping drivers to stay out of trouble is a stability control system, which uses the antilock brakes and traction control to help pull back from bad situations.  The ride, however, is very stiff. While deeper potholes and bumps are fairly well isolated, ordinary road jiggles come right through in a way that will seem quite familiar to classic Volvo 240 owners. Wind noise is fairly low.

The wagon form factor is eminently practical, providing more usable space - and more easily used space - than a typical SUV. The cargo area is quite large, and if it's not as tall as that of an Explorer, it's certainly easier to get to, and you can put things onto the roof without a ladder. If you need more space, you can fold down the rear seats (they have the usual 30/20 split). Some models have an optional third row of seats - ours did - while others have places for shopping bags and such. The optional third row faces backwards, and is rated for children up to 88 pounds; heavier children are unlikely to fit there anyway.It folds back into the floor when not in use, and nobody would know it was there when folded in place.

Our model also had an option which used to be more common, which is built-in booster seats for children; these are in the "ordinary" rear seats, but because they use the standard adult seat belts, they are not safe for children in the lower half or so of the weight recommendations. While three year olds and four year olds may fit, and may be within the minimum weight specification, they won't stay inside the constraints of a standard seat belt and in an accident are likely to be completely unprotected. For older children - probably seven to nine years - the booster seats can be very helpful and convenient. They also fold easily back into the main seats and when folded in are practically invisible.

The interior is certainly miles away from the old 240, and in fact is much more strongly resembles a Chrysler 300M (indeed, the resemblance to a 300M with the luxury package is fairly strong). Our experience is with the wood-and-leather package. The dashboard is oriented towards the driver, with the passenger having a space curved away, and real wood trim is on the doors and, sparingly, on the dashboard; it is also on the steering wheel, and on an accordian-style cupholder cover. The instrument panel has the now-common four gauges, the big speedo and tachometer and smaller temp and fuel gauges on either side, all surrounded by chrome trim rings. A driver information center is on the left, providing, with a twirl of a stalk ring, average gas mileage, distance to empty, and average speed; it also displays helpful status messages, such as "LEFT REAR DOOR OPEN." Overall, the interior is very attractive and surprisingly lavish at a time when Chryslers and Cadillacs are going to the spartan black-and-aluminum look.

Controls are largely sensible if often unconventional. The cruise control activation button has to be pressed just right to work, but when it does, it lights up "CRUISE" on the dash, and "CRUISE SET" when a speed is locked in - a helpful distinction abandoned by other automakers in their cost-cutting binges. Getting the hang of the various wipers and washers - for the windshield, rear glass, and headlights - took a while, and on our test car, activating the rear washer sprayed a little fluid on the front, too. The front washers automatically activate the headlight washers, which spray a surprising amount of cleaner onto the hood.

Our test car also had both front and rear fog lamps, which really shouldn't be allowed in the United States, since so many drivers will simply leave the blinding things on all the time; in Europe, this isn't nearly as much of an issue. (It's worth noting that the Volvo also has the European fender lights, which are a good safety feature.) These are controlled by separate buttons underneath the main headlight control which, like many modern headlight controls, is somewhat infuriating to those who like manual controls. There is no headlight off position; your choices are the default headlights on except when the engine is off, driving lights on, and, again, headlights on. (To clarify, the position marked as "Off" is actually headlights and taillights on but not all running lights on; confusingly you still do have to switch to "On" at night to get all the necessary lights on.) For most people, the headlights will be on whenever they drive, an absurd default especially considering that they still need to use the switch at night.

The V70 includes on-wheel radio controls as well as wheel-based cruise. The climate control includes an automatic fan and vent feature, and doesn't mind if you override it in one or the other. The vent control is terribly intuitive and convenient, allowing easy selection of each of the three vent areas - depicted pictorially rather than via enigmatic arrows - and any or all can be used at once. On either side of the vent area are sensibly marked thermostat knobs with temparature markings that don't move, again allowing for intuitive selection. The fan has an unusually large number of positions, ranging from dead quiet to reasonably loud but forceful to very loud and forceful. The air conditioning is extremely powerful, surprising for a car made in Sweden; indeed, it ranked as one of the best air conditioners we can remember, instantly bringing cold air even with the engine at idle. On the whole, we wish more automakers would study this car's climate controls.

The stereo is easy enough to use, though some advanced features are a bit confusing without the manual. Sound is quite good, and we appreciated the quick-action, separate knobs for bass, treble, balance, and fade, as well as separate buttons for FM, AM, and CD.The layout is sensible and not distracting.

One quirk of the Volvo is the backup sensor, which detects objects behind the car. This is not uncommon, and it is a terrific option, since many children are killed each year in driveway accidents; but Volvo's is unusual because it provides only an audible, not a visual, indicator. One clever aspect of their system is that it shuts the radio when the system is pinging, which attracts more attention. (The radio also shuts when the horn is use.)

The power seats include not one but three memory positions. Lighting inside the vehicle is good, with plenty of light in front and back. There are also a number of storage compartments, including a place for highway passes in the dashboard, map pockets up front, and a  dual level center console which is not especially large. The rear seat also gets  a covered center console and cupholders.

The Volvo V70 2.5 turbo wagon with automatic transmission and wagon form lists for $32,795. Ours weighed in at $39,935, the differences being metallic paint (a whopping $450), the climate package (heated front seats with two heat levels, headlamp washers, and rain sensor, all for $625), premium package (leather, power moonroof, power passenger seat, and real wood inlays, for a rather hefty $3,000), roof rails ($300), third row seat ($1,000), auto dimming mirror ($200), wood steering wheel ($325), and a 6-CD in-dash changer with surround sound ($1,200). A variety of safety features, some common and others fairly unique, are standard or optional.

The station wagon form is not as popular as it was before minivans and SUVs, but it makes as much sense as it ever did; and in a relatively large car, it provides an immense, flexible storage space that's easy to use. Despite the low overall height, ground clearance is actually quite good, a consideration for winter months. We can't help but think that most SUV buyers would be happier with this type of vehicle, especially given the high safety of the V70 - which is probably, in real life, safer than most large SUVs. The two closest competing vehicles are the Subaru Legacy and Dodge Magnum, both are a bit smaller and a little less expensive, and both are available with all wheel drive (the Magnum is also sold with rear wheel drive). Of these, the most luxurious looking is the V70, while the Magnum has the most powerful engine (but not better acceleration!) and the Subaru the most sophisticated all wheel drive system (optional). All three are worthy of a look, and they are different enough that most buyers won't find it too hard to make up their minds.

The Volvo V70 is a surprisingly enjoyable wagon with a surprisingly sprightly engine and usable interior, but the ride is perhaps a bit too far on the firm side. The all wheel drive package is desirable due to the engine's admirably high levels of torque at low speeds, and may pay for itself in avoided tickets, if you live in an area where patrolmen are sensitive to tire noise. Compared with truck-based SUVs, the Volvo is, if not a bargain, certainly good value for the money; and we know of precious few trucks that have these safety features or this acceleration.