- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

MODEL: Volvo V70 T5 Wagon

VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door wagon

PRICE-AS-TESTED: $39,150

MILEAGE: 17 city, 26 highway

Who would have guessed that a sporty alternative to family-hauling minivans would wind up being a Volvo station wagon? A 2001 Volvo V70 T5 wagon, to be exact.

The up-level model of Volvo's new V70 wagon line that went on sale last month has more horsepower than a Honda Odyssey and a sport-tuned suspension that almost makes a Ford Windstar seem unwieldy. The V70's low-slung build also is more akin to that of a sports car than your average family hauler.

The test V70 T5 with automatic transmission certainly didn't feel like a staid family car. Racing down the highway, I was shocked to find myself way above the limit.

Later, for a quick getaway from a stop sign, I slammed down the accelerator, and the tires of the front-wheel drive squealed.

"This is a station wagon?" I wondered.

Adding to the surprise was the fact that power comes from a 2.3-liter, high-pressure, turbocharged gasoline engine that doesn't bother riders with any telltale, noisy air rushes. This five-cylinder engine just gets down to work, efficiently providing 242 horses at 5,200 rpm and 243 foot-pounds of torque as early as 2,400 rpm.

This compares with a maximum 210 horses in the V-6-powered Odyssey and 190 in the most powerful Volkswagen Passat station wagon the 2.8-liter V-6 GLX. Saab's 9-5 Aero Wagon offers 230 horses and up to 258 foot-pounds of torque from its 2.3-liter, high-output, turbocharged, gasoline four-cylinder.

Even with the performance quotient, though, the V70 T5 offers commendable fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway. The Passat wagon with V-6 is rated at 18 mpg in the city.

And the V70's 21.1-gallon gas tank is bigger than the Passat's and 9-5's.

The test car handled easily, with a light feel to the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and a predictability in tight motions, even when I really pushed the car in corners.

In evasive maneuvers, it stayed in control and poised for the next surprise move.

All V70s have a strut suspension up front and a multilink design in back, and Volvo said it worked to improve body rigidity. The V70 T5 comes standard with a sport-tuned suspension.

Inside, the car feels airy, with large windows all around. With an overall height of just 58.6 inches, however, the V70 does hold drivers lower to the road than in a minivan.

The seats are all Volvo comfortable, supportive and accommodating and terrific during long trips. The test car had optional leather.

Because of the open back-cargo area, station wagons can be noisier than sedans, so Volvo installed a labyrinthine silencer in back that conducts air through several noise absorbers.

Since the V70 is sold worldwide, its overall length had to be kept down to be adaptable to Europe. So bumper protrusion is minimized. But to keep repair costs low, the radiator is made to spring backward undamaged in a minor fender bender.

There's a handy coat hook by the front-passenger seat, a grocery bag holder for the cargo area, and a trash bag holder that keeps the bag open for easy use.

"We know features like these aren't going to bring some kind of automotive revolution," said Lars Erik Lundin, who headed development of the 2001 V70. "But … they're useful, thoughtful they're uniquely Volvo. It's our way of connecting with the everyday life of our customers."

He insisted the V70 wasn't just a sedan turned into a wagon but a car designed from scratch as "an entirely new vehicle."

As in all Volvos, safety features abound. The V70 includes standard anti-whiplash front seats, front head restraints permanently positioned correctly for riders, dual-stage front air bags and side air bags that pop out of the doors and ceiling.

Every rider has full, three-point shoulder belts. Anti-lock brakes are standard and include electronic brake distribution for sudden stops.

The new V70 is a bit roomier than its predecessor, offering a maximum 71.4 cubic feet of cargo area if the back seats are folded down. Saab's 9-5 wagon, nearly 4 inches longer overall, has a maximum 73 cubic feet of cargo room, and minivans like the Windstar offer more than 130 cubic feet.

Front- and rear-seat headroom is close to that in a minivan, and front-seat legroom of 42.6 inches surpasses that of many vans. Rear-seat riders get less legroom but still, my knees weren't jammed into the front backrests.

While I think this year's model still looks conservative, Volvo stylists note how much they've rounded off its shape.

The sleek styling of the front end is reminiscent of the S80. The back retains Volvo's typical sharp cutoff but looks clean and is nicely done with large taillights. Walking up to the V70, riders are sure to notice the prominent side shoulders in the sheet metal.

Spokesman Dan Johnston said 54 percent of buyers are expected to be women and 86 percent will be married. Median age will be 47, with college background.

The company looks for sales of 40,000 to 50,000 V70s a year.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge is $33,400 for a base 2001 V70 with an entry-level, 197-horsepower, 2.4-liter, turbocharged, five-cylinder engine.

The 2000 VW Passat Wagon starts at $22,525 for a model with a 190-horsepower, 1.8-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, and the 2000 Saab 9-5 Wagon starts at $33,695 for a model with 170-horsepower, 2.3-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine.

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