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Motornet: Out Of The Box

Out Of The Box
Story: Karl Ferguson
Photos: Neil Mackenzie


The haunting melody of Albinoni's Adagio builds to a crescendo, each note perfectly reproduced through nine glorious speakers. It fills the cars interior with brilliant sound, the music bold and strong. I can’t help but think, as the late afternoon sun reflects brightly on the still waters of lake Taupo, its shores kept company by the many weary travellers roaring ever closer to the day's destination, that Albinoni would have felt at home in this car. His music certainly does.

Driving this car you could be forgiven for thinking it comes from one of Germany’s big three - Mercedes, Audi or BMW. But you'd be wrong. Instead, this mobile orchestral sound shell comes courtesy of Sweden. And it’s a Volvo.

One small step for the car industry, one giant leap for Volvo. The V70 T5 picks up where the S80 left off moving away from the stodgy and predictably boxy Volvos of old, to something with more style and a few more rounded edges. The car is still recognisably a Volvo, but the tapered front end and fluted sides add a welcome modern design element that make the car, if not good looking, very handsome. And while the build quality feels German, the V70 manages to avoid the exterior - and interior - austerity that is often such a hallmark of the German stables.

Driving into the Taupo township with early evening descending, its neon nightlife comes to alive. The Volvo misses the kind of attention a new Ferrari or even a BMW might attract, but it does attract the 4WD set, with more than a few blokes many with the wife and kids in tow taking a long and considered look at the big Swede. And so they might. After all, a large wagon can offer more practical levels of room and comfort than a 4WD and almost certainly better handling. And for those who must have power through all four wheels there’s always Volvo’s all-wheel-drive V70 XC (Cross Country) to consider.

At a smidgen under $92,000 the V70 weighs in at the top end of the scale. There’s no doubt that you can buy a lot of Sports Utility Vehicle for that kind of investment. Many may well consider instead the V70 2.4T, foregoing a few luxury items and kilowatts to pacify the bank manager. But if you measure value for money by kilowatts alone, you might want to take more than a second look at the T5.

With 184kw (250 bhp) on tap, this Volvo is no ordinary station wagon. It doesn’t feel especially fast until you get out on the open road at which point overtaking becomes a breeze (and a lot of fun!). All you need is a gap and a judicious stab of the right pedal to pass slower moving traffic. No drama. No fuss. Just easy and safe passing.

The sound of the V70’s distinctive 2.3 20 valve five cylinder turbo motor is, well, distinctive. At idle it can barely be heard above the hushed interior of the cabin, but becomes seriously throaty - accentuating that slightly quirky five-cylinder beat - when you put your foot down, providing a timely reminder to the driver that some serious horsepower resides below the bonnet.

Forget turbo lag - it is practically non-existent. Volvo claims a 0-100 km/ph time of 7.5 seconds for the auto, though that seems optimistic. With so much power going through the front wheels however, a little torque steer is inevitable. Only serious acceleration will produce it and even the most unsophisticated of drivers won't find the slight jerking of the steering wheel especially alarming. Comprehensive traction control is also standard - lighting up quickly, and obviously, when too much power is applied on damp roads.

For a big, heavy front wheel drive car, the Volvo’s handling is admirable. Characterised by gentle under steer, the car remains stable at high speed even when rapidly changing direction. Thankfully, the wild under steer of its predecessors is nowhere to be seen. It tends to feel a little unsettled in the twisty bits though, with the car’s weight shifting awkwardly if you ask too much of it. Still, the handling is more than adequate for most real world situations and, lets face it, wannabe racing car drivers don’t buy Volvos do they?

Its size pays extra dividends where it matters most - interior accommodation and luggage consumption. The front seats are sublime. Electrically adjustable every which way with excellent lumbar support they more resemble a good piece of Swedish furniture than your typical car seat. Stepping out of them after a few hours at the wheel leaves the driver virtually fatigue free.

Back seat passengers fare almost as well. Head and legroom is excellent and each of the seats has three-point safety belts with tensioners. Volvo's excellent built-in child booster seats are standard.

With an almost vertical rear end, the Volvo designers have not compromised the car's load capacity for design, and the boot - seats raised or flat - can swallow voluminous amounts of luggage. A nifty cargo net is standard and can be raised with the seats in any position while the retractable load cover can also be removed.

The T5 comes with everything you would expect in this price bracket, and more. Four stack in-dash CD, climate controlled air (adjustable for each side of the car), cruise control, front and side airbags as well as an inflatable curtain to provide extra head protection in side collisions, leather upholstery, electric everything, not to mention plenty of cup holders. The test car also carried the optional built in phone (well worth considering) and rode on low-profile 17-inch wheels rather than the standard 16 inchers.

Like so many other car manufacturers obsessed with clutch less manuals, Volvo has equipped the T5 with a ‘Geartronic’ box, supposedly offering the ease of an automatic transmission while not discarding the driveability of a manual. While it’s easy to use - just push the gear lever to the left of the transmission and back or forward to change gear - in practice it’s a little too slow to be of much use. Fine for locking the car into gear while climbing or descending a hill, it is easy to get yourself into trouble if relying on a change down before a really tight corner.

A word of caution. Unlike most boxes of this nature, the Geartronic doesn't change up at redline and when you come to a stop say, at lights, the system automatically reverts to first gear. It’s real easy to forget you're in manual mode which can be quite embarrassing when you start out again - the car revving itself silly in first while you grab for the gear stick desperately trying to remember whether or not to go forwards or backwards! Like I say, leave it in auto.

With rising fuel prices, feeling squeamish about the running costs of the V70 could well be justified. Filling its 80-litre tank was never a very pleasant experience even though the stops were not especially frequent. Volvo claim 9.3 to 10.4 litres/100km - figures born out by real world driving experience, though easily blown by heavy use of the right pedal. The easy-to-use trip computer confirms that fuel consumption can drop to 7.5 litres/100km with consistent highway cruising and proves that turbo motors, unlike many of their naturally aspirated competitors, can offer big performance without forsaking good fuel economy, or the environment for that matter.

There's a lot to like about this Volvo. The overriding impression is of an extremely comfortable and supremely safe car. There are some really nice touches too, like the permanently illuminated dash instruments, the comprehensive safety features, not to mention (again) the brilliant stereo.

Despite the subtle T5 performance badging on the tailgate, most people won't buy this Volvo looking for sports car driveability. If they do, they could be disappointed. But they will buy it for its good overall handling, its impressive looks, excellent power and overwhelming comfort factor. Like me, when they pull out to pass the numerous lumbering 4WD's flat out at a hundred clicks on the desert road this summer, they'll know they made the right choice.

Some could argue that the 2.4 litre low-pressure turbo V70 is the car to buy. I'm not so sure. My guess is that most buyers will like the T5 for it's extra power and added creature comforts. After all, who could ever say no to a few extra horsepower? Either way, one thing's for certain - Volvo are onto a sure fire winner with their big, but decidedly less boxy, estate.


Specifications - Volvo V70 T5

Engine - Five cylinder, 2319cc, 20 valve, fuel injected high-pressure turbo charged motor producing 184kw (250bhp) at 5200rpm

Performance - 0-100 km/h: 7.5 seconds (manufacturers information)

Transmission - Five speed adaptive transmission with Geartronic and wintermode, front wheel drive

Suspension - Front-wheel suspension with spring struts. Multi-link independent rear-wheel suspension.

Tyres - 215/55R16 Michelin Pilots on 'Metis' alloy wheels

Kerb weight - 1528kg

Price - $91,990


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