Classic CARmentary: 1998 Volvo V70 AWD R

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

This was an interesting situation.  In my relatively young career, the V70R was the sportiest vehicle I’d driven.  The first draft of the review was testosterone-fueled drivel with such gems as, “This Volvo definitely deserves the title ‘Dragon Wagon!’  What the hell does that even mean?  That’s just from memory, by the way, since I didn’t keep a copy of that original review.  Shortly after submitting, I received this e-mail:

My concern with this review is that it doesn’t convey the things that buyers in this market look for. Remember, families are buying this. Are there integrated child safety seats? How many does it seat? What about cupholders? Can I fit my stroller, groceries and soccer gear in the rear? Those who buy this are less concerned with style than functionality and safety for their cargo, i.e. children. Can I get some of that. Send it back to me with those additions. Also, we need to keep the review around 350 words, much longer than that and people will lose interest.

Back to the drawing board, even though her request seems a lot like when your wife gives you a long shopping list and finishes with, “And I need you back home in 20 minutes.”  With my tail between my legs, I re-wrote the piece and sent it back to her with the following:

I hope this fits the bill. I did forget who the prospective buyer would be.

She must have liked it, because it ran with virtually no changes on June 1, 1998.

Volvos still look boxy. But I have to admit, Volvo has a knack for making boxy look pretty stylish. Take the new limited edition V70 AWD R (All-Wheel Drive), a new name for 1998, but essentially a freshened 850. In a nutshell, Volvo added a front spoiler with integrated fog lights, flared front fenders, 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels with low-profile tires, and eye-catching “saffron” paint. The result is a wagon that’s far more eye-catching than many of the more “rounded” wagons, such as the Subaru Legacy and Audi A6 Avant.

Under the hood is a turbocharged, DOHC 2.3 liter 5-cylinder engine that pumps out 236 horsepower, making it the most powerful station wagon available here. There’s little power at first, but within seconds all 236 horses kick in and push you against your seat.

Safety is Volvo’s specialty, however. Inside that boxy profile lies an “integral passenger safety cage,” dual front and side airbags, and BIG head restraints for the driver and all four passengers. The all-wheel drive system works full time, but it is there for superior traction, NOT off-roading. Volvo even threw its TRACS traction control system in for additional protection. Handling is top notch for a wagon, and the ride does not suffer much for all of the sporting hardware.

Inside, you’re greeted by leather and wood (or brushed alloy) trim, extremely supportive front power seats, driver/passenger climate control system, and a top-of-the-line (albeit confusing) stereo system. Rear seat passengers have plenty of legroom, but only those in the front seats get cupholders.

A retractable net stretches from the top of the rear seat to the roof to keep tall cargo in the cavernous 37.1 cubic-foot cargo area (67 cubic-feet with the 60/40 split seat folded) — almost as much as a Ford Explorer. There is no cargo cover, but hidden lockable storage compartments can hide small items. To help protect more precious cargo, there are rear-door child-proof locks. Although there is no integrated child safety seat, there are provisions for securing one in the rear seat.

The V70 AWD R has the power and handling of a sports car but plenty of space for the family. It’s the enthusiast’s alternative to an SUV.


Type: 5-Door Station Wagon
Engine: turbocharged 236 horsepower, 2.3 liter in-line 5
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 18 city/25 highway
As Tested Price: $42,165