2001-2005 Volvo V70

Eddie Alterman
Glenn Paulina

The chassis's supple and unaggressive state of tune reveals something about the car's priorities. Even in this T5, or high-performance, V70, the focus remains on traditional Volvo virtues such as comfort, predictability, and safety. The seats, for example, would be at home in a long-haul semi (which may explain why Volvo rigs are growing so popular on our Interstates). Associate editor Joe DeMatio said: "For two ten-hour days, I never felt fidgety in these seats. Whether I was driving or riding shotgun, my thighs never got numb, and my back was never sore. There are a lot of manufacturers out there who need to dissect a Volvo front seat and copy the design and technology."

Much of this is caused by the car's steering, which is set to "Dull" rather than to "Fun." Editor emeritus David E. Davis, Jr., offered this laser-guided critique 13,000 miles into the test: "Three kinds of steering problems: (1) Notchy, ratchety recovery coming off corners. (2) Lack of directional stability in wind or on bad surfaces--needs constant minding. (3) Torque steer."

We were so busy rubbing the headliner and committing lewd acts with the radio's rotary knobs that it was nearly three months before we fully recognized this car's principal drawback: torque steer. The high-pressure-turbocharged 2.3-liter five-cylinder engine (247 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque) tugs nastily at the front half-shafts, and this happens regularly, as the turbo lag of the engine demands large throttle openings.

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The 60/40-split rear seats also took their share of bows, both literally and figuratively. We folded them frequently, and no groin-ripping gymnastics were required. Just pull the grip on the seat backs, and--voil--a flat load floor. You needn't even remove the rear headrests. With the seats down, the V70 provides an impressive 71.5 cubic feet of cargo volume. That doesn't make it the best in its class--the Mercedes-Benz E-class wagon is the volume champ at 82.6 cubic feet--but the V70's slight tumblehome and its upright tailgate create the most boxlike and useful cargo shape of any mid-size wagon. Adding some more Swedish utility, the rear seats have two seatback-angle settings: a fully upright position for in-creased cargo space and an obtuse angle to be deployed whilst chillin'.

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With torque steer this pronounced and right feet this heavy, it was only a matter of time before we chewed through a set of front tires. In fact, after just 17,000 miles, our stock tires--V-rated, M+S Pirelli P6s--looked balder than Sir Elton John. While high-performance mud-and-snow tires may sound oxymoronic, we saw them as sort of the crossover vehicles of the tire world, able to mete out grip on both high- and low-traction surfaces. We liked this concept so much that when it came time to replace the Pirellis, we procured another set of high-speed all-season tires. Instead of installing our beloved Blizzaks from Bridgestone, whose stock is rebounding after our early fall tire order, we tried Michelin's new Pilot Sports. They handled the conflicting demands of high speeds and low traction masterfully. Technically, the Pilots were the same size as the Pirellis, but they turned out to be a few millimeters too wide for the V70's front wheel wells and rubbed at full steering lock.

The tire ordeal was one of just three unscheduled maintenance diversions. The others were to replace brake pads and to reattach a piece of trim on our dealer-installed roof rack. Three times for the latter. Almost as annoying as the torque steer.

For further peace of mind, the V70 has the full complement of safety devices, none of which we had the misfortune to test. These include dual-stage air bags, whip-lash-protection seats, and ISOFIX attachment points for rear child safety seats. The ISOFIX hooks ensure that the kiddie buckets don't migrate up the side window whenever the car's cornering angles turn lurid.

Which, admittedly, didn't happen too often. For all our enthusiasm for sport wagons--a winning proposition of SUV utility and sedan dynamics--this T5 version of the V70 seemed more beefy than athletic. It may be interesting to note that, unlike other European (okay, German) sport wagons, whose scopes and tenors are set by their sport-sedan counterparts, Volvo's wagon-led entry into the mid-size segment establishes a decidedly tame attitude for both the V70 and the subsequent S60 sedan. The whole aura of this car is one of upright civility, of responsibility and parental role-modeling, so much so that we never really felt like misbehaving in it. There is something awkward and slow about the car's dynamics that encourages wheelside moderation, too. Unlike the Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz sport wagons, this car actually feels faster than it's traveling, not deceptively slower. An insidiously clever safety feature, true, but kind of an annoying one.

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Strangely, the other, medium-performance V70s in the 2001 lineup--the normally aspirated 2.4; the lightly turbocharged, 197-horsepower 2.4T; and the all-wheel-drive, 2.4T-engined XC--don't suffer from steering tug. This makes them more enjoyable and, ironically, makes their drivers more inclined to engage in actual Sporty Driving.

So what we have here is a sport wagon that's not all that sporty, with an engine that entertains mainly by keeping you guessing which way the wheels will point. This is a shame, because the five-cylinder engine is smooth and, as the front wheels will attest, nice and torquey.

The ultimate V70 wagon might combine the XC's all-wheel-drive system (although with more rear-wheel bias than the XC's 95/5-percent front/rear default setting) with the T5's lower ride height and engine. Volvo's newly introduced V70 AWD has the XC's all-wheel drive and the T5's ride height but not its 247 horsepower. This absence of a true performance wagon leaves a narrow but deep crevasse in the Volvo landscape. As it now stands, the V70 T5 is two driven wheels away from greatness. It's a car with abundant strengths, too few of them dynamic.

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