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Click for pictures“Volvos have always
  been synonymous
  with Safety. Now,
  Volvo’s V70 R AWD
  express estate is
  also synonymous
  with speed...”

ON AN OVERCROWDED planet space is the ultimate luxury. Not only do people want generous personal space in their homes, they want it
even more on the road. The traditional route has been via SAVs/4x4s, but — although there
's certainly no shortage
of these around, with new models constantly jumping on the bandwagon — not everyone wants their
'big' car to be as large as a 4x4. Or as obvious.

So, if 4x4s are too bloated for your taste, but you really do need a large load-carrying passenger-accommodating car — especially one that can compete in the performance and luxury stakes with the current glut of luxury SAVs — then try a little Swedish. Volvo's V70 R estate, to be precise.

Meeting the luxury, space and performance criteria is Volvo's flagship 'wagon', the 155mph V70 R AWD. Fitted with a 6-speed Geartronic automatic transmission it costs 40,833. Big bucks for an estate car, but then your money does buy you some big numbers: a 300bhp five-cylinder 2.5-litre engine that produces 295lb ft of torque and gets you to 62mph from standstill in 6.9 seconds.

At a casual glance you could easily mistake the R for a less powerful V70. Look again and the smart five-spoke 18-inch Pegasus alloy wheels wrapped tightly in low profile 235/40 P-Zero Pirellis tell you that this is definitely not any run-of-the-mill Volvo estate. Look further and you'll spot the prominent roof spoiler that juts out over the rear tailgate and the chrome 'R' badge on the blacked-out, matt silver-framed front grille. You may even notice that the front end has been subtly redesigned and features a fully-integrated spoiler, large lower air intake and a split front rubbing strip. However, the real giveaway is inside.

As you swing open the large door and slip behind the wheel, the first things you'll see are the special blue-faced chronograph-inspired instrument dials (all have silver graphics that are easy to read). The V70 R's multi-function three-spoke 'R'-embossed steering wheel is wrapped in leather and offers a chunky, good-to-hold rim. You'll also be sitting in a very comfortable sports seat upholstered in one of three exclusive soft leather finishes. As you have every right to expect of a flagship model, equipment is comprehensive and includes excellent dual-zone electronic climate control with an air quality system and a pollen filter and also a 6-disc CD/Radio with internal autochanger and Dolby Pro-logic II Surround Sound with 4 x 50watt amplifier and 9 speakers.

In addition, the V70 R has a good amount of high-spec equipment as standard. This includes an exterior temperature gauge, a driver's information centre, cruise control, front (one-shot auto) and rear power windows, electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors with power fold-back (they also feature water-repellent glass), power folding rear headrests (useful), auto-dimming rear-view mirror (even more useful), electrically-adjustable driver's seat with a 3-memory setting for personal seat and mirror positions (the front passenger seat, incidentally, is manually operated, but it does have a lever to pump-up both the seat height and the leading edge of the seat cushion), two-stage heated front seats and rain-sensing wipers.

Powering this high-speed, load-lugging express is a transversely-mounted turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine that pumps out 295lb ft of torque between 1,850 and 6,000rpm.
A guarantee of effortless mid-range overtaking, it also ensures the
V70 R can cover long distances
— whether motorway or secondary country roads — rapidly as well as comfortably.

Accommodation, as one would expect given the V70 range's family-orientated people/load moving core values, is spacious. The V70 R provides all the creature comforts that make long journeys a pleasure, particularly the large comfy seats that cosset and restrain in equal measure. Neat touches include the telephone speaker built into the driver's headrest and the clever twin cup holder and tray arrangement inside the central front armrest that serves one in the front and one in the back or both together.

Rear passengers sit several inches higher than those in the front, which affords them good forward and sideward visibility. There's loads of room in the back, with a centre armrest with integral storage and ventilation in the B-pillars. And there are no problems with six-footers sitting up front. Although the V70 R will accommodate three adults in the back row, it's a fact of life that — no matter how good the car — nobody every really wants 'to take the fifth'!

The cabin ambience is a balanced mix of sporting and luxury, helped by an attractive fascia — with just enough brushed aluminium trim — no-nonsense ergonomics, substantial switchgear and a wide centre stack, housing an array of self-explanatory controls covering everything from the superb stereo to the automatic climate control and the GSM telephone. The meaty steering wheel has remote buttons for audio, telephone, cruise control and SatNav as well as plenty of adjustment for height and reach. Driver's information (range, average mpg, etc) is quickly called up via a knurled switch on the left-hand lighting stalk. Simple, and you can switch off the display any time you please.

Both the cabin and the V70 R's massive load bay look as though they'll laugh in the face of a lifetime of hard use. The 60:40 split rear seats fold down completely flat — conveniently, with the headrests in-situ. And there's also a retractable safety cargo net built into the rear of the back seats. It's easy to use, it goes right up to the roof and can be used with the back seats up or down.

The versatile cargo bay includes handy storage areas beneath the rear deck, accessed via a couple of full-width hinged and carpeted lids that form the sturdy base of the load area floor when shut. Cargo space with a quartet of passengers is a useful 485 litres, but with just the driver and front passenger aboard it's a massive 1,641 litres. With only a driver, the front passenger seat can be folded flat in seconds to accommodate a very long load item.

If that's not enough there's a range of exterior accessories for trans-porting bikes, canoes, skis and snowboards and also roofboxes upto 450 litres. A number of child-friendly seating enhancements are available as options, including two extra rear-facing seats in the cargo area.

Okay, so the V70 R provides the comfort and the space. But how does it rate when it comes to pace? Opting for the automatic means it takes 6.9 instead of 5.9 seconds to hit 62mph from standstill. Not that you would call a sub-seven second 0-62mph time slow. Considering the V70 R's dual role, the Geartronic is a good choice. The smooth shifts come at all the right points, so all you need do is to put it in Drive and concentrate on your driving.

Should you wish — or need to — you can tap the selector lever across to the left to lock it in sequential manual mode, where pushing the lever forward moves you up a gear and pulling back takes you down through the gearbox. Stronger pressure is required to change down, but there's not any noticeable interference with your 'manual' choices — which is good. As you'd expect, first gear is automatically selected for you once you come to a stop. A Sport gearbox mode, operated by a button alongside the selector lever, delays upshifts for more zip. A clear display inset into the rev-counter shows which gear you're in.

Out on the road, V70 R drivers can rely on Volvo's all-wheel drive system, stability and traction control and big 4-piston Brembo brakes with 330mm discs (ventilated at the front) to keep them in full control. In spite of its size (15' 6" long x 6' 9" wide), the R can be hustled along at a fair old whack while keeping its passengers secure, comfortable and, most importantly, at ease.

If you do need to crack the whip, we found the best combination was to leave the Geartronic in Drive with Sport mode switched in and the active suspension also set to Sport. This provides a determined, 'hunkered-down' feel with well-contained body roll. The Brembo brakes are powerful and easily modulated. Road manners are positive and grip is reassuringly high. The steering uses a speed-dependent ZF rack-and-pinion set-up and it provides good feedback through the multi-function steering wheel.

Journeys — especially longer ones — undertaken in the V70 R are relaxing. Engine noise is well suppressed and no road or wind noise intrudes. Naturally, the big armchair-like seats contribute much to the unperturbed progress. Sharp bumps, particularly speed humps, can send a short sharp shock through the cabin — not helped by the unavoidable trade-off between ride comfort and grip that's inevitable on any car when you run 18-inch wheels with very low profile rubber.

Having said that, anyone buying a V70 R will no doubt find little to complain about with the R's performance-orientated ride/handling mix. It's a big compliment to the R that it's quite easy to forget it's not just a run-of-the-mill V70 estate. Until you check the blue-faced speed-ometer. Three-figure cruising speeds are achieved with frightening ease. So watch out — there's always the odd speed camera about! Our test car came with less than a thousand miles on the clock, which goes some way to explaining our 21.3mpg overall fuel consumption. Officially, the V70 R should return 25.4 in mixed driving and 33.6mpg touring.

The V70 R comes as standard with Volvo's Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) high-performance sports chassis that's specifically tuned for the variety of UK roads. Three push-buttons on the top of the centre stack allow the driver to select any one of three different chassis modes — which it does by modifying the R's active suspension and engine management settings. Whichever setting you choose, the effect is instantly noticeable. 'Comfort' provides a flat, comfortable ride while 'Sport' serves up a firmer, more sporting drive with quicker steering responses. Or select 'Advanced Sport' for what Volvo describes as an 'almost race-car feel for ultimate speed'.

Basically, you get exactly what it says on the label: 'Comfort' gives you a comfortable ride; 'Sport' is good for pressing on, particularly along back roads; 'Advanced' calls up a more direct throttle response, sportier gearbox shift schedule and minimal roll that lets you almost 'feel' the contours of the road surface beneath the wheels. It's best reserved for fast even roads and very high speeds (watch the speed limits) when maximum traction and road holding are required.

The electronically controlled all-wheel drive system is simplicity itself, with no switches or levers. Under normal conditions power goes to the front wheels, but if they start to lose grip drive is also directed — via an electronic Haldex coupling — to the rear wheels. Which means it's always easy to lay the power down, but it also provides extra safety in treacherous conditions such as ice, snow and heavy rain. It also makes light work of towing across muddy fields — a not uncommon habitat for Volvo estates, even those with hell-for-leather performance.

Safety is typically Volvo. Thorough. That means dual-stage driver and passenger airbags, a side impact protection system with side and inflatable curtain airbags, anti-whiplash front seats, five three-point belts, belt pre-tensioners on all seats, a headlamp levelling system, Bi-Xenon headlights with headlamp wash/wipe and Home Safe (tweak the lighting stalk before you get out to switch on the headlamps for thirty seconds) and Approach lighting (press the remote to illuminate the car and the surrounding area as you approach).

Our test car was fitted with the optional, and very accurate, rear parking sensors. At a reasonable 340, Park Assist really does come in handy, particularly as the 13.2-metre turning circle takes a little getting used to when manoeuvring in tight spaces. Active safety is also well covered by ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control with Electronic Brake Assistance — not forgetting the Four-C active suspension and the all-wheel drive system. Safe. And very sound.

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Volvo V70 R AWD | 40,833
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.9 seconds
Test MPG: 21.3mpg | Power: 300bhp | Torque: 295lb ft

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---------------------------------------------------------------- Volvo V70 R AWD