At first glance the latest incarnation of the V70 appears a tad small compared to, say, the Mercedes E-Class or the 2007 revamp of the Ford Mondeo. Yet the "cargo area" of the Volvo is deceptively and wonderfully cavernous. It can be supplemented by all sorts of moveable hooks, nets, dividers and restrainers that one can set up to safely handle just about any kind of load. The floor can be raised - with support from the thoughtfully included gas strut - to reveal a highly useful compartmentalised stowage area for small everyday automotive aids such as tools, tyre pump, cloths, fluids, etc. Being able to hide these away keeps the cargo area uncluttered, and therefore always immediately ready to receive the sort of large objects that estate car drivers envisage having to carry.
For further space, naturally the rear seats can be easily collapsed down flat. For extra-long loads, the front passenger seat can be folded forwards. If all of that still doesn't provide you with enough room, then roof rails are fitted as standard, while the meaty "cross-roof" bars can be fitted in a couple of minutes.
(Tip for prospective purchaser when checking out the boot: in common with many manufacturers, Volvo supplied a woeful puncture repair spray can as standard, but a spare wheel was actually a no-cost option, and indeed, often substituted by the dealer anyway).
OK, so that's how the V70 fulfills its main purpose. But what's it like to sit in and drive?...
Comfort, functionality and ergonomics.
Unfortunately the impression of the car being relatively small isn't simply an optical illusion. The rear is significantly short on legroom by modern standards - particularly if the front occupants are tall and therefore need to push their own seats back (I gather this was even poorer on earlier versions of the V70). Overall, I think a better compromise would have been for Volvo to have shorn a couple of inches off the length of the cargo area and given them to the passengers. However the car has stacks of space in terms of elbow and head-room (even those fitted with a sunroof).
The steering wheel position can be adjusted for reach and rake, but the range of movement on the former is rather limited. Long-armed drivers may find they can't push the wheel quite forward enough. Front seat adjustment, however, is more than adequate, even for drivers well over six feet tall.
The interior trim is ostensibly on par with BMW and Mercedes. Most of the myriad controls are of high quality, and have the solid but refined tactility you would expect from an executive car. Oddly, however, the switches for the windows and sunroof feel incongruously plasticky.
The seats are marvelously supportive for long journeys, and the soft, supple leather is sublime. Oddly for Volvo, heating for the front seats was relegated to the optional extras list for 2009, but most cars seem to have had them fitted anyway (usually as part of the so-called "Winter Pack"). Well worth having, they comprise three temperature levels, and get you nicely braising within a couple of minutes!
The dual-zone climate control is a doddle to use, and works very effectively.
Tyre and wind noise are well suppressed inside the car. At 100mph+ (in those countries which permit such speeds!), the occupants can have a conversation without raising their voices.
There are a couple of very useful storage wells in the front centre console, and the seat bases have handy storage "bags" along their leading edges. The glovebox is of a decent size, but the door pockets are disappointingly small.
The car has automatic windscreen wipers, which work reasonably well most of the time, but occasionally get caught out with a combination of heavy rain and slow driving speed. At least switching to manual mode gives you full control, including variable intermittent wipe.
The driver's instrument binnacle provides stacks of useful information and warning messages, but oddly, there are no gauges for engine temperature and oil pressure. Although there are warning lights for them, by the time they have illuminated it might be too late - I'd much rather have plenty of advance notice that the engine is about to cook! A clock display is included, but it would have been more sensible to have had this on the main display (more on which below) in the centre of the fascia, so all occupants could read it.
There is a trip computer, which includes an ostensibly handy "Miles to empty tank" display. Unfortunately it provides instantaneous calculations rather than an intelligently averaged figure, so the reading can vary hugely in the space of a few minutes/miles. As such it's virtually useless - moreso by the fact that the fuel gauge itself is pretty accurate anyway.
Driving the car, one quickly appreciates just how usefully big it is, but all-round visibility is fairly good. The set of rear parking sensors - standard fit from 2009 - combine the usual beeps with a graphical representation of the proximity of objects. (Front sensors are available as an option.)
The central display has four other uses: the audio system, regulating the climate control, options to configure the car's security system and using the car phone. (The latter is an option not fitted to my car, so I can't comment on it). The display is wonderfully clear - even for rear occupants - which operates in black text on a white background during daylight hours, but usefully inverts this scheme after dark.
With these later V70s, the traditional handbrake lever has been replaced by an electronic auto-release system that activates when the driver selects a gear and presses the accelerator. Sounds nice, but there is no means of applying the brake automatically, and this where the system comes unstuck. A button is located very low down on the dashboard - virtually within the footwell! - so long-legged drivers will need to bodily lean forward to reach it. Additionally, the car's safety features prevent auto-release if the driver's seatbelt is undone, despite this being a perfectly legal state in the UK when reversing or driving on private land. It would have made far more sense to have located the button on the centre console between the front seats. Overall, the implementation and execution of the "parking" brake are inexcusably clumsy.
Ride and handling.
At its launch in 2007, press reports criticised the V70's road composure, but I'm guessing Volvo must have tweaked the suspension set-up shortly afterwards. My car is tight and supple with just a slight degree of understeer. The ride quality is wonderfully smooth, and brushes off even quite significant pot-holes, and the other problems which blight the UK's chronically-neglected roads. You'll never be able to throw it around corners like a Golf GTi, but then the Volkswagen can't swallow a wardrobe.
Performance and drivetrain refinement.
My car has a bi-turbo 205bhp diesel motor, and it absolutely stonks along. One turbo is used for a kick of thrust at low speeds around town, whereas the other turns the machine into a rocket on the open road. Despite the 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine I had in my previous car, a Ford Mondeo, it still took me a few days to get the hang of reining in the Volvo! It's far, far too easy to get to 100mph without realising it. On the downside, the traditional clatter of diesel puts the engine behind BMW's modern oil-burners in terms of quiet refinement.
Extra pleasure is derived from the reactions of middle and third-lane hoggers when this tarmac-terrorising breezeblock appears, as if by magic, in their rear-view mirrors. Never have I witnessed such a swift shift to the left. I suspect a combination of its shark-like nose and ferocious pace is what instills such fear (though the black body colour of my car may well exude extra menace factor). If you want to help rid motorways of the pandemic of lane indiscipline, buy a V70!
The six-speed "Geartronic" automatic gearbox is the predominant choice on the V70, and no wonder, for it shifts very smoothly and at well-judged moments. It is "dual-mode" in that you can switch to manual ("sequential") shifting, though I have to say this facility seems rather redundant! I had a similar set-up on my Mondeo, and tended to use manual operation quite frequently, particularly when negotiating tight, hilly country roads, as auto mode tended to get caught out. Not so with the V70: the combination of innate performance and better engineering/programming means I can happily leave it in auto mode, no matter what the terrain or its variability. Other than for early experimentation, I can't recall ever feeling the need to switch to manual.
The brakes are fabulously responsive, although the pads shed dust at an alarming rate, as it's proving impossible to keep the otherwise smart alloy wheels clean for more than a couple of days.
My car has a single-disc CD player, which seems extremely miserly, but this is supplemented by connectors for iPod/MP3 players and USB memory sticks. Providing you have a PC or Apple Mac with which to create audio files, in all you've got something much better than an old-fashioned (!) CD-changer setup. The WMA and WAV file formats are also supported. If encoded within your files, the system will display artist and track name information. The unit supports the ability to "explore" directories of files on your memory stick or iPod/MP3 players.
An iPod/MP3 player can be connected via the car's 3.5mm audio socket, but it's actually better to do it via the USB socket, as this means you cannot only control track selection via the car, but it will also keep your player's battery charged up.
One nice feature is that if you mute the volume right down, the playback is automatically paused, and then continues once you increase the volume again.
The radio supports FM, Long Wave and Medium Wave, the former including the usual RDS, News and Traffic functions. Reception works well, even in "difficult" areas such as valleys. The radio antenna is built into one of the boot's side windows, so it can't be stolen!
Sound quality is fine, but nothing special. The unit provides on-screen control of bass and treble, but also a five-band graphic equalizer. An upgrade to more speakers and Dolby Prologic gubbins is available as either a hugely expensive option, or as standard on the rare "Lux" versions of the car.
The audio system does have one huge annoyance, though. There is a limitation on the number of characters it will display in information. This is most noticeable with RDS information. For example broadcasters often transmit a line of text providing the artist and track being played. On some modern car audio systems, these messages are scrolled across the display but the V70's unit simply truncates any messages longer than 22 characters - not very helpful. When playing your own media, artist and track name information is chopped after 16 and 22 characters respectively. (So my Eddie And The Hotrods tracks appear as "Eddie And The Ho". Hmph.) Apparently earlier versions of the system did scroll messages, but Volvo subsequently disabled this capability as it was thought to be distracting to drivers.
Exterior build quality and functionality.
On the outside, the doors and bonnet don't close with the satisfyingly meaty "clunk" you got from Volvos of old. Indeed the bonnet feels a tad flimsy, although this might be partly due to modern regulations over pedestrian safety. The tailgate feels much more substantial, however. Cost-cutting is still evident here, though. Rather than fitting closing handles for both left and right-handed people, only the latter group is catered for. Surely it wouldn't have cost Volvo more than a couple of quid to fit a southpaw one?
The door mirrors have electric folding as standard on the 2009 model - very handy for outdated car parks (which is just about every one in the UK!) whose bays can't safely accommodate the widths of modern vehicles. Furthermore, the mirrors can be set to fold and unfold automatically when the engine is switched off and on respectively - the former affording them some protection when parking in narrow streets.
Overall, though, while there's nothing "missing" as such, the V70 doesn't offer anything notable in terms of exterior functionality.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the high-capacity engine, dual turbos and automatic gearbox render fuel consumption relatively high. Gentle long motorway runs average around 40 mpg for me. Enjoying the delights of the mighty high-end turbo, even in short bursts, will soon drag that down to less than 35 mpg. A manual gearbox version would return at least 8 mpg better, but then, like Mercedes, such cars are difficult to sell on later. I gather that further tweaks for the 2011 models have wrought improvements, however.
I suspect a combination of fuel consumption and the perception of the car being an old design is why the V70 suffers massive first-year depreciation - typically they drop from £35k to £22k - though from year three onwards, values seem to firm up nicely.
Load-carrying practicality: 5 / 5
Occupant space and comfort: 4 / 5
Convenience storage: 4 / 5
Interior build quality: 4 / 5
Ride and handling: 5 / 5
Functional ergonomics: 3 / 5
Engine performance and refinement: 4 / 5
Gearbox performance and refinement: 5 / 5
Braking performance and refinement: 4 / 5
Audio system: 3 / 5
Exterior build quality: 3 / 5
Exterior functionality: 3 / 5
Running costs: 3 / 5
Overall score: 3.8 / 5
+ Well thought-out estate car practicality.
+ Astonishing performance from the "D5" bi-turbo engine.
+ Excellent ride comfort and handling.
+ Luxurious air.
+ Generous overall occupant space.
+ Well equipped as standard.
+ Audio system's wide range of features.
+ Relatively cheap to buy as a nearly-new car.
- Poor rear legroom.
- Idiotic parking brake arrangement.
- Fuel consumption needs improving - engine remap?
- Nannying "safety" features.
- Truncation of audio information.
- Cheap tactile quality of some switchgear.
Overall Volvo has done a good job in keeping the V70 fresh for the 21st century, yet hasn't lost sight of what a traditional estate car should be. Other than its inability to comfortably accommodate a full complement of long-legged passengers, if you're looking for a hugely practical, luxurious, well-equipped, performant estate that's relatively cheap to buy nearly-new, then it's got to be at or near the top of your list!