For many years, Volvo built its reputation as a maker of safe, comfortable, capable, and very visually square vehicles. Although each of these former three qualities has always remained constant throughout the decades, more recent years have seen Volvo transform into a much different brand than it once was; still representing most of its core values, but projecting somewhat of a different image than it once did.
The fact that Volvo Cars has had two foreign owners since being sold off by Volvo Group in 1999 has a large part to do with it. Owned by Ford Motor Company from 1999-2010 and the Chinese company, Geely Holding Group ever since, global management has certainly helped reshape Volvo into the brand that exists today.
Global competitiveness in recent years, is arguably the larger factor. Quite simply, the premium segment Volvo once comfortably occupied, has been squeezed out to the point of virtual nonexistence. Entry-level brands have continually pushed further upmarket to retain buyers and outshine their competition, and luxury brands have reached downmarket to increase sales and market share.
As a result, Volvo, particularly under Geely, has stepped up its game, metamorphosing into a true luxury brand and allowing it to level the playing field with brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus. Although it may be rightfully off-putting to some of Volvo’s traditional buyers who prefer the brand’s once humble image, today’s Volvos place a greater emphasis on luxury, technology, award-winning styling and quite frankly, snob appeal.
While I personally am a fan of the new Volvos, I’m also nostalgic for the good ol’ days of simpler Swedish brick. Many other drivers are too, keeping their brick Volvos running strong for many years and miles. One of those such drivers is Paolo Rosales, a fellow Curbivore, diehard Volvo enthusiast, and member of our Curbside Classic community (you may see him commenting as “PJ”) who has joyfully chimed in and shared his wealth of Volvo knowledge on many of our past Volvo posts.
Several weeks ago, Paolo reached out to me about photographing and writing about his 2000 Volvo V70, in rare 5-speed manual guise, which he acquired earlier this year from its original owner. Paolo, a Vermont native and now Virginia resident was actually headed to the Cape for a few days, so it was convenient for him to swing right by South Shore MINI on his way for a quick introduction and allowing me to take some pictures.
Now as far as the V70 is concerned, along with its S70 sedan counterpart and heavily-related 850 predecessors, I’m very familiar with these Volvos. Residents of the Boston suburb I grew up in had a strong affinity for Volvos, particularly the 850 sedan and wagon, S70, V70, and V70 XC. As a kid, numerous parents of friends drove them, and in turn, many were passed down to friends of mine or their older siblings as first cars. My older cousin, Maura, owned purchased-new silver S70, interestingly the only non-American and non-GM car she’s ever owned. With the birth of her second and third children, she gave it up for Escalade life.
Introduced as a 1997 model in Europe and a 1998 model in North America, the Volvo S70/V70 was essentially, a heavily facelifted and re-engineered version of the 850, which was sold for the 1992-1997 model years. Among the cited 1,800 improvements, changes to the S70/V70 range included added standard convenience and safety features, a redesigned interior, and most notably, almost entirely new sheetmetal for the sedan, giving the car an ever so rounded-off but still very square appearance.
Styling was smoother and more in-line with the larger S90/V90 (née 960), but still undeniably square and boxy. Rear styling on the V70 wagon was retained from the 850, with designer Peter Horbury stating, “There was no reason to change it. Its design, especially when it comes to the tail lights, is so powerful and well-established that we decided to leave it as it was… Why tinker with perfection?”.
The interior was fully redesigned, sharing its instrument panel with the new C70 coupe. Versus the 850, the S70/V70’s interior featured softer contours and more cohesive looking door panels for a smoother look in line with that of the exterior. Warm burl walnut accents were added for a premium touch, and redesigned front seats featured greater height adjustment and more efficacious heating when so equipped with heated seats.
Features such as automatic climate control, ABS, head restraints and three-point seat belts for all seating positions, remote keyless entry, power moonroof, tilt-telescoping steering column, rear fog lights, LED center high mounted stop light, dual front and side airbags were all standard. Safety features were also enhanced, with Volvo’s Side-Impact Protection System (SIPS) benefitting from reinforced B-pillars and additional interior padding, and a redesigned steering column and driver’s knee guard reducing risk of injury in the event of a collision.
More meaningful mechanical changes and advancements in safety technology came in 1999. Engines were upgraded with the Bosch ME7 engine management system, featuring continuous variable valve timing and drive-by-wire electronic throttle body. Manufactured by Magneti Marelli, it replaced the traditional mechanical cable throttle body, allowing the communication between the engine control module with other modules via a computer network.
Anti-lock brakes were also upgraded from a three channel to a four channel system with control monitors on each wheel for greater effectiveness and maximum brake force. Transmissions were also upgraded, with the 4-speed automatic receiving adaptive shift logic, and the 5-speed manual receiving a starter interlock safety switch. 2000 V70s also year saw non-turbo front-wheel drive models gain a new 5-speed automatic.
European markets expectedly had a much wider range of inline-5 engines, in naturally-aspirated or turbo gasoline, turbo diesel, and even two Bi-Fuel engines capable of running on CNG. North American consumers choices were limited to three engines. For this car’s 2000 model year, they were the naturally aspirated 2.4L I5 (168 hp; 170 lb-ft torque) for base models, a light-pressure turbo 2.4L I5 (190 hp; 199 lb-ft torque) in GLT models, and a high-pressure turbo 2.4L I5 (236 hp; 244 lb-ft torque) in the V70 R.
Volvo, always a purveyor and industry leader of the latest automotive safety technologies, brought several developments for the 1999 S70/V70. Next generation side airbags were now larger, offering greater coverage. Most notably, Volvo debuted WHIPS, its whiplash protection system consisting of active headrest and active seatback restraints, and a pivot at the base of the seat which absorbed most of the energy.
The V70, of course, cannot be covered without mentioning the V70 XC, Volvo’s first foray into the “SUV-like” segment which we now refer to as crossovers. Versus the regular V70 wagon, the V70 XC featured standard all-wheel drive, one-inch greater ground clearance and two-inch greater body height, more aggressive front and rear bumpers, matte black bumper tops and side moldings for a cladded look, and exclusive front and rear fascias with unique grille and tailgate treatment.
U.S. V70 XCs were only available with the “middle” 2.4L light pressure turbo and automatic transmission, also coming standard with a greater level of features including standard heated front seats. The V70 XC proved instantly popular in the U.S. as a “no compromise” vehicle, offering the capability of an SUV with car-like driving experience and exterior size. By the 2000 model year, the V70 XC accounted for 1 in every 4 Volvos sold in the U.S.
As mentioned, Paolo is only the second owner of this 17-year old car, the original owner maintaining it for the first 17 years, only having to give it up as her physical condition with advancing age made it uncomfortable to drive manual. Apart from normal wear-and-tear on a nearly two decade old vehicle, the V70 is in beautiful condition and runs smooth. The fact that is is a 5-speed manual makes it all the more rare and special.
Offering spirited performance, generous comfort, maximum versatility, and the more fun-to-drive stick-shift, it’s safe to say that this final year Volvo V70 is an all-around great daily driver, and one that’s in very good hands. I should also note that this is not the only Volvo which Paolo owns, but part of a fleet of three.
The V70 replaced this 1996 Volvo 850 sedan, his previous daily driver and now mainly a garage queen these days. Purchased from its original owner with 61K miles on it back in 2005 to replace Paolo’s totaled 1993 850, it now has 97K miles on it and is proudly still a part of his Volvo family.
The V70 and 850 are accompanied also by this similarly-mileaged burgundy 1989 740 GL with 4-speed automatic, a garaged for life car which he purchased from the original owner back in 2015 as supplement to his daily driver.
The retirement of the “brick” V70 and its S70 sedan counterpart truly marked the end of era for Volvo as many people knew the brand. The S70/V70 were the final holdouts among the traditional square-styled Volvos, the smaller S40 and larger S80 already wearing sleek and sculpted, yet still distinctive sheetmetal. Second generation V70’s would adopt this new design language of the S80.
While today’s Volvos might ooze more flash, glam, and sex appeal, they still project the image of a more sensible, less pretentious luxury car than most competitors. For those of us around before the year 2000, however, the iconic brick design language will always be synonymous with the word “Volvo”. I’m incredibly honored that Paolo reached out to me and actually physically brought his car to my place of work so I could conveniently photograph it for an article. Here’s to many more miles for this end of an era Volvo!
Paolo’s 2000 V70 photographed: South Shore BMW-MINI – Rockland, MA – August 2017