With all these Mars probes breaking down with the regularity of Jason Gillespie, it seems incredible that these so-called rocket scientists haven’t come up with the obvious answer – get Volvo to build them.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s March 2004 issue
After all, if you need to go four squillion kilometres without so much as using an indicator and then smash into something at high speed with no damage to your cargo, no one does it better.
Traditionally, Volvo has based its reputation on surviving an impact rather than making one, but clearly the Swedes are now thinking outside the box with sporty numbers like the new S60 R and V70 R and the patently absurd “You Wish You Were a Bloody Volvo Driver” campaign.
The problem with this much-maligned marketing move is not that it might offend some Volvo owners by stating what they’ve known all along, that everyone hates them, it’s the absurd suggestion that driving a Volvo could ever be admirable.
Adding an R for racy doesn’t help either, because a Volvo owner will ruin it by pronouncing it V70 Ahh. Still, Volvo seems very proud of its R badge – it appears no less than 14 times in and around the V70 R. Perhaps the designers felt owners might need reminding that it’s sporty.
Certainly the good old square boy looks don’t suggest a racy image. The only concession to sporting style is the rear wing bolted on to the roof and frankly that just looks like an old bloke wearing his cap backwards.
The design highlight is the bizarre Speedball gear lever. At first glance it looks like you’re driving an auto, or at least a clutchless six-speed manual, but what it most closely resembles is the shifter from an arcade game. While the clutch doesn’t look like a toy, it resembles one in its operation – a slip and slide.
Out on the road the V70 R is a strange kettle of herring because it doesn’t feel as fast or exciting as the numbers suggest it must be. With 220kW and 400Nm, the 2.5-litre turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine is Volvo’s most powerful effort ever and launches the manual wagon to 100km/h in just 5.9 seconds (the auto, which everyone will actually buy, pulls a relatively sedate 7.7 seconds).
Reassuringly sluggish below about 3000rpm, it feels like you’ve stamped on a cheetah’s tail after that, surging all the way to a 6500rpm redline. The excitement seems a little removed, though, drowned out as it is by the hushed cabin and the excellent stereo.
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The handling varies widely depending on which button you press. The V70 R is fitted with an Active Performance Chassis, with three settings – Comfort, Sport and Advanced – each of which adjusts the handling balance within milliseconds.
In comfort mode, the wagon strolls along like mum’s taxi; in sport mode the bodyroll improves but doesn’t quite disappear; in Advanced mode (when the electric throttle’s response is also quickened) it doesn’t feel much different from Sport mode.
It’s all great impress-the-neighbours stuff, and it might go some way to explaining the whopping $102,950 pricetag, but overall, it’s still too lacking in any real feeling of connectivity or aggression.
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2004 Volvo V70 R
Engine: 2.5-litre DOHC 20-valve turbo inline five