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The Volvo S70 AWD, Performance with Safety and that's just the beginning

by Larry Weitzman


Since the entry into the United States market back in the late 50's with the PV 444 and later 122 sedans, Volvos have always been thought of as safe, reliable transportation. Trustworthy and dependable. My how times have changed.

The new S70 (S for sedan and 70 for model size) AWD (all wheel drive) has changed my attitude about Volvo. This is not your mother's car anymore.

First is the styling. Although still a little boxy, the front end, with the traditional grille, has a much smoother appearance enhanced by great looking headlight assemblies and more windshield rake. The rest of the car has little in styling nuances except for the nicely shaped wheel wells, the clean look of the muscular rear end and its well integrated large tail lights with fogs. But overall I like the looks. It has a very strong appearance with practicality written all over it.

But once you mash the go pedal you will think you are in a different car. Is this a Volvo? What could be causing this rush of acceleration. Volvo doesn't make a low performance car and hasn't for some time. The 1958 PV 444 could run from 0-60 in 14.3 seconds, pretty quick for that era of imports. Currently even the base model S70 comes with a standard 2.4L, DOHC five cylinder engine with twenty valves and 162 hp at 6,100 rpm. I've driven the non turbo S70 and it is no slouch, with snappy performance throughout the powerband which starts at idle. It should run 0-60 in the nines.

But the S70 AWD comes with the T motor, meaning turbo charging. It is a low pressure turbo, only producing a maximum of about 5-7 pounds of boost, which translate into a horsepower increase to 190 at a low 5,100 rpm. Torque goes from 162 lb ft in the normally aspirated engine to at very healthy 199 lb ft of torque at a just off idle 1,800 rpm! That's some serious low speed twist. Check out the installation, it is a sanitary unit.

With the turbos now being water cooled, reliability is much less of a problem. In the older oil cooled units, you could figure on a life span of 60,000 miles, but water cooled units should last the life of the engine which nowadays could be several hundred thousand miles with good maintenance. In turbo charged cars, it is a good idea to let the engine idle for a few seconds (after hard driving) before turning off the ignition so turbine unspools before shutting off the oil supply.

With this kind of power on tap, the S70 will scamper from 0-60 in 8.6 seconds (with one run stopping the watch at 8.38 seconds). Passing performance was even more vigorous with 4.6 seconds elapsing when expediting from 50-70 mph. Going up hill does little to slow the Volvo acceleration, with only 6.5 seconds of time required to go from 50-70 mph. These are excellent times as this Volvo is satisfyingly, sneaky quick. Be careful when you pick on a Volvo at the traffic light grand prix. You could lose your pink slip.

There is actually a higher performance, high pressure turbo engine (9.6 pounds of boost) available in the V70 R AWD (V for versatility, i.e. a wagon) and the S70 T5 that puts out as much as 246 hp (236 in the T5) and 244 lb of torque. In this form your Volvo will scoot from 0-60 in the low to mid sixes. Who knew that Volvo made linear accelerators?

There is no apparent turbo lag because even in the turbo motor the compression is a relatively high 9.0 to l and the turbo only produces a modest boost to get the few extra ponies it provides. You still can feel the turbo supercharger kick in during part throttle applications without the transmission downshifting. Add a little throttle and a satisfying push in the seat becomes instantly apparent. This is a very nice unit.

Fuel consumption is rated at 18/25 EPA city/highway. During my test period, this stealthy speedster from Torslanda, Sweden achieved an average of 21 mpg with very little time on the freeway and a lot of time in the turbo mode. This car should average 21-23 in El Dorado County Driving and 25 plus on the highway. With a fuel capacity of 17.4 gallons, range should extend out to nearly 450 miles, well beyond mortal human endurance.

Being a five cylinder adds a character of its own. The engine is very smooth, never feels labored or rough. It just hums. The engine drives through a smooth four speed driver adaptive automatic with wet/winter mode. In the winter mode the tranny will start in third gear to avoid wheel spin. But this Volvo adds the safety and security of an as needed all wheel drive system to the mix.

The system has no levers or buttons, it is automatic. Normally, the Volvo drives 95% through the front wheels and 5% through the rear wheels. With a viscous coupling, at the slightest detection of wheel slippage, power is automatically redistributed to all wheels and if necessary, up to 95% to the rear wheels. Additionally, the front drive system has traction control operating through the ABS system and the rear axle incorporates a locking differential to equally distribute rear axle power 50/50 to the rear wheels, if necessary. If you get stuck in this car in mud, snow or ice (ground clearance is 5.4 inches), you best check the vehicle attitude to make sure that the car is still upright.

In snow up to six inches (that's the deepest I could find), the S70 went through it like it wasn't there. Full control could be maintained during turning and braking. At one point I buried the front wheels in snow on a steep downhill incline, leaving the rear wheels dry. With the car in reverse, the front end started to slip and almost instantly the rear wheels hooked up and pulled the S70 out without missing a heartbeat. Good stuff.

How does it handle? Surprise, with MacPhearson struts and a stabilizer bar up front and Volvo patented, multilink with coils and Nivomat self-leveling shocks in the rear, it does go around corners. But is does so with precision, speed and grace.

Eating up twisties (not the kind you get at the Hangtown Bakery) is one of the favorite activities of the S70. Varieties like, South Shingle, Latrobe, Green Valley and those of Apple Hill are most delicious for this most nimble Volvo. While it's doing that, the balanced suspension devourers bumps. The suspension has an appropriate blend of compliance and control. It is supple.

Enhancing the overall handling balance is power assisted rack and pinion. It is accurate and natural with superb on center feel. Turning circle is a tight 37 feet.

The limits of the car may be more in the tires as the 15 inch five spoke alloys are shod with 195/65X15 inch all season radials. Perhaps a 205 or 215 series (cross section width in millimeters) tire would add even more confidence.

On Ponderosa Road, it thoroughly isolated its occupants from the washboard and bumps in the corners did not upset the rear end.

There wasn't a sound or protest from the stout body.

On the highway, the S70 was smooth and comfortable. The well controlled ride smoothed over any road irregularities. A great ride. The engine turns a relaxed 2,400 at 70 mph and is inaudible.

Although the Volvo appears substantial in size, it's only 185.9 inches long and 69.3 inches wide which is smaller than a Camry or an Accord, but at 3,642 pounds, it's carries more weight. The trunk is a large 15.2 cubic feet and swallowed four golf bags without beginning to look crowded. The rear seats are 60/40 fold down for more space if necessary. There are benefits to a boxy design.

Since most of us drive on the inside of a car, it's what we spend the most time in contact with as well as hopefully looking at the road. The inside of the S70 is all functional luxury. My test vehicle came a special value package (includes a $500 retail discount) which includes leather seating and steering wheel. The seats are sublime. They are big, very comfortable and heated. My wife had one complaint with the headrest being too far forward not leaving room for her pony tail. I found it to be well placed. The driver's seat is a great place to spend some time.

The dash pod has the usual large center speedo with a slightly smaller tach flanking right and the fuel and temp gauges to the left. There are a plethora of warning lights systematically placed so as to be an annunciator panel. The trip computer (part of the special value package) is centered below the speedo and is controlled by a rotary switch to the right of the steering column.

The vertical portion of the integrated center console has easy to use rotary HVAC controls with dual temp controls. Below is the terrific sounding stereo with tape and CD. The center armrest doubles for storage and has integral cupholders.

Another unique safety device is rear fog lights controlled by a switch to the left of the steering column. These are additional lights within the tail lights assembly that are extra bright for penetrating fog for the drivers to the rear of the car. A great idea, which should be used only when required as they may resemble brake lights, otherwise. Safety was always a Volvo theme and the S70 is at the forefront. It has, along with its integral passenger safety cage and energy absorbing impact structure, frontal and side impact airbags, five three point safety belts, automatic safety belt pretensioners, five head restraints and more.

Braking is by powerful four wheel disc (front are ventilated) with 4 channel ABS. Pedal feel is progressive and natural.

The rear seats offer roomy comfort for two (three if kids) and reasonable comfort for three for short periods. They are well shaped with plenty of leg and headroom. More benefits of a boxy rear end.

The door panelling of the Volvo is also worth special mention for its great looks (they are of a very substantial design) and comfort. With the special value package comes plenty of beautiful burled walnut, on the dash, center console and gearshifter. It adds a nice luxury touch.

Pricing is very competitive. At a list price of $33,520, it offers a unique value in a near luxury sedan. The only option on my test vehicle was the special package which contains a power moonroof, leather, CD player, trip computer and wood. It retails for 3,355 and a worthwhile package. The total price including a destination charge of $575 was $37,450. The only other item I would recommend would be the optional garage door opener ($125).

Standard S70's (non turbo, FWD) start $27,385 and go up from there. But nicely equipped with leather, moon roof and other niceties it will list right at $30,000.

Turner Volvo in Sacramento has a large selection of these very nice people movers for your close inspection. A test drive will dispel any previous notion that Volvos are not great fun (I know about the P 1800).


Price                                     $33,520 to about $38,000

2.4L, DOHC, 20 Valve                      190 hp @ 5,100 rpm
inline 5                                  199 lb ft of torque @ 1,800 rpm

4 speed driver adaptive
automatic with winter/wet mode

Transverse front engine,
all wheel drive


Wheelbase                                 104.5 inches
Length                                    185.9 inches
Width                                     69.3 inches
Height                                    57.0 inches
Curb Weight                               3,642 pounds
Trunk Capacity                            15.2 cubic feet
Fuel Capacity                             17.4   gallons
Tow Capacity                              3,300  pounds
Coefficient of drag (C/D)                 0.32
Turning Circle                            37 feet

0-60                                      8.6    seconds
50-70                                     4.6  seconds
50-70  uphill (6%)                        6.5  seconds
Top speed                                 Electonically limited to 118, but who cares 
                                          unless you are the CHP
Fuel Economy                              18/25 mpg city/highway, expect about 21-23 mpg 
                                          in El Dorado County and 25 plus mpg on the highway