T time from Volvo

FOR so long the default choice for those seeking a genuine big estate, Volvo’s V70 has had to raise its game in the face of ever-stiffer competition. With smarter looks and even bigger hauling capacity, the turbocharged 2.5-litre petrol T5 has a compelling mix of talents.

FOR so long the default choice for those seeking a genuine big estate, Volvo’s V70 has had to raise its game in the face of ever-stiffer competition. With smarter looks and even bigger hauling capacity, the turbocharged 2.5-litre petrol T5 has a compelling mix of talents.

What do the Volvo V70 and the Porsche 911 have in common? On the face of it, not too much but you might be surprised. Both cars are the product line around which the respective companies hinge, the very embodiment of their corporate philosophies. Without a successful V70 range, Volvo is unable to finance more adventurous models like the C30, XC60 and the C70 so this model has got to perform. Volvo without a big estate car would be completely unthinkable and the latest generation V70 benefits from this heritage but also treads carefully when dealing with its huge responsibility.

Getting too radical in terms of design would alienate existing Volvo buyers without attracting the sort of aesthetes who would normally shop for an Audi or a BMW, so Volvo has wisely played it rather safe with the latest V70, grafting its family front end and a slick-looking posterior onto a very practical basic silhouette. The latest cars also have a redesigned grille with a larger Volvo badge.

Those with longer memories may well remember the time when Volvo first started slipping rather potent engines into their big estates. The old 850 T5 became something of a cult car that spawned the fire-breathing V70R. The current wearer of the T5 badge is a little tamer but still a properly quick car powered by a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine developing 240bhp at 5500rpm and 236lb ft of torque 1800 and 5000rpm. All of which means, this V70 model will accelerate to 60mph in 7.3 seconds and keep going until the needle nudges 152mph.

It’s not really what the V70 is all about though and sales levels of the T5 and the even faster 304bhp 3.0-litre V6 T6 will be a trickle compared to the diesels. The latest D5 diesel with 202bhp and twin turbocharging technology is a very strong unit but so is the lesser D3, a 163bhp 2.0-litre five-cylinder engine. The rather less exciting 1.6 DRIVe model completes the set, it’s another oil-burner included to give headline-grabbing economy.

The rear end looks a little more svelte than before but Volvo hasn’t been diverted from this car’s raison d’etre - lugging gear. Lots of it. The clever trick is that Volvo has disguised the car’s inherent boxiness with neat detailing like the split high-level tail lights. There’s a class-competitive 540-litres of virgin space back there and a massive space can be liberated if you fold the rear seats down and stack your cargo to the roofline. The 40-20-40 three part split/fold rear seat offers 16 different combinations and the loadbay floor itself features aluminium rails and movable anchoring points. A sliding load floor is also offered as an option as is a powered tailgate.

The V70’s front is pleasantly curvy in-keeping with other current models that have reinvigorated Volvo’s reputation for stylish design. The car’s designer cleverly decreased the amount the side glass curves from front to rear, for maximum style at the driving end and maximum carrying ability at the business end. It’s unmistakably a Volvo and the look is a long way removed from the lithe, purposeful lines of some Germanic rivals. The blacked out side pillars, C30-inspired tail lights and a slightly more raked tailgate angle nevertheless mean that it has enough about it to hold its own from a design perspective.

The V70’s prospects will be helped by a very competitive list of standard equipment. DSTC dynamic stability and traction control is standard on all the models. And as well as speed-sensitive power steering with three settings, the V70 also features an intelligent power parking brake that automatically disengages when the accelerator is pressed. There’s also an innovative dual-stage integrated rear child booster seat that works in tandem with the V70’s extended curtain airbags to provide unparalleled child safety.

If economy is a top priority, there’s a good chance the T5 writes itself out of the script at this point, this being a very big and heavy vehicle. The diesels are the best bet if you want to reduce your fuel bills a little, the 163bhp D3 returns 51mpg and the muscular D5 is slightly better at 52mpg but the most economical oil-burner is the 1.6 which gets Volvo’s DRIVe branding to indicate its various fuel saving modifications. In this T5 2.5-litre turbo petrol model, you can count yourself very fortunate to see 30mpg averaged over the course of a week and the T6 is worse than that.

The omens still look good for the V70. Ask owners of older V70 models what they would like changed about the car and most will want next to nothing altered but in order to attract new customers to the fold, the V70 needed to adapt. Fortunately, the changes have been mellow on the outside but with a keener chassis, a cleaner range of engines and better safety provision, the V70 is unquestionably a more capable car than before.

It’s hard to see how it can fail and Volvo’s bullish sales projections reflect the fact that little can touch it when it comes to doing what big estates need to do. The nearest rivals are probably Audi’s A6 Avant or the Mercedes E-Class Estate but the Volvo offers more for your money and a less brash look and feel than the big Germans.