Okay, we admit it: We're suckers for style. The plushbottoms who people this office are willing to excuse almost anything in its name, which explains our fondness for the 1983 Aston Martin Lagonda. You can rely on us to call a spade a spade, but when it's got an ocelot-femur handle and a blade wrought from the finest German boron-Kevlar, well, then a spade is an instrument of rare subtlety and something we desperately need to own, right now, lest the Earth spin off its axis. So it is appropriate that we were floored by our year with the Volvo V70 T5--blinded, for too long, to its dynamic shortcomings and smitten by its tactile splendor.
Our reactions may have been more pronounced because the object of our affection was a Volvo. Volvos, whose bodies have long been artless riffs on the right angle, have benefited immeasurably from the pen of Peter Horbury, Volvo's British head of design. Horbury has somehow managed to show, arguably better than any previous Swede in his position, what a Scandinavian car should look and feel like. From the C70 to the most recent S60, Horbury's Volvos blend the sometimes warring but always Scandinavian virtues of utility and beauty.
From our logbook: "Just as it took an American (Freeman Thomas) to encapsulate the German car's essence (Audi TT), so has it taken a Brit to bring Scandinavian design back to Volvo. This car's styling, inside and out, is restrained and elegant, crisp and uplifting, a tonic for all that depressing, twenty-four-hour Arctic Circle darkness."
It was an anticipated sense of this well-being that overwhelmed us when outfitting the car. We chose nearly every available option, boosting the V70 T5's price from a sensible $34,775 to an almost embarrassing $41,675. But at least we got the sport leather package ($1300) with its fine-grained hides on the steering wheel and gear-selector boot; the security package ($500) with its all-important mass movement and level sensors, security laminated windows, and air-quality system; the cold weather package ($450) with traction and stability control, heated seats, and headlamp washer/wipers; the $350 complex of nets known as the versatility package; and a $1000, nine-speaker Dolby Pro Logic in-dash four-CD audio system with astounding clarity and stereo imaging.
The audio system was a fine companion on long drives, but so was the car itself. Senior editor Joe Lorio was the first to note its highway brilliance: "We put a good 2000 miles on the V70 in the past twelve days, and what a pleasant 2000 miles it was. The V70 truly feels like a luxury unit. Anyone coming out of the previous-generation car will be impressed. The ride, particularly, has seen a wholesale improvement, as the V70 just thumps over potholes utterly unfazed." Credit the V70's well-tuned MacPherson front struts and thickets of rear suspension links, as well as an extraordinarily stiff body--it's 50 percent more torsionally rigid than the previous V70 wagon--which helps the suspension do the job for which it was intended.