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.
2000 Volvo V70 T5
BASE PRICE: $32,400 for V70 with 2.4-liter engine; $33,400 for V70 with 2.3-liter engine.
AS TESTED: $39,150.
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, mid-size station wagon.
ENGINE: 2.3-liter, high-pressure, turbocharged, gasoline, inline five cylinder.
MILEAGE: 21 mpg (city), 27 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: 130 mph.
LENGTH: 185.4 inches.
WHEELBASE: 108.5 inches.
CURB WT.: 3,366 pounds.
BUILT AT: Sweden.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $575.
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 mpg in the city and 27 mpg 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.
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 airbags, side airbags that pop out of the doors and ceiling.
Every rider has full, three-point shoulder belts. Antilock 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.
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