There are few other automakers as well known for its station wagons as Volvo. While other stalwarts of the wagon age gave up the ghost in the 1990s, lured away by the promised of quick profits from minivans and sport-utility vehicles, Volvo never stopped refining its products or building excellent family transporters that combined luxury with power and comfort.
Volvo wagons have a long history in North America, with their earliest success coming in the form of the UFO-like P1800 wagon variant. This compact hatchback was the rarest of breeds, the two door wagon, a vehicle type which died out after the 60's never to return to the market again. While the company achieved some success with this sprightly automobile, for the next 20 years Volvo wagons would assume a much more purpose-driven shape, that of the familiar long rectangle. Battleship sides and strong steel panels would define the safety-first image of Volvo wagons well into the 1990s as the company produced as many 200, 700 and 900 series wagons as Americans could gobble up.
Wagons are unique in the world of automobiles in the sense that they tend to stay with their owners for quite a long time, and they also tend to take a lot of abuse from the children whose transport they are charged with. Combined with the constant loading and unloading of cargo, the life of a working wagon is riddled with stress and strain. Volvos developed a reputation for being able to carry on despite absorbing more than their fair share of punishment. This lead to the creation of a market for the company that automakers love the most - repeat buyers.
However, in the 1990s the Volvo faithful were being tempted by the promise of inexpensive minivans and powerful SUV's. In order to keep their customers happy, the Swedish car company committed itself to a complete revamping of its wagon line, introducing a vastly improved version of the V70 in 2001. This was followed by a new compact wagon dubbed the S50 a mere 4 years later, giving Volvo the 1-2 punch they were looking for in the European wagon wars. Each of these vehicles found an enthusiastic audience, with the V70 pleasing Volvo traditionalists and the V50 attracting a whole new group of buyers to the brand. This article takes a look at both of these vehicles, the best used wagons available from Volvo.
2001 - 2007 Volvo V70
If Volvo could be said to have a true flagship product, it is without a doubt the V70 wagon. More than any other model in their lineup, this full-size people mover has come to represent the vehicle that most people think of when the word 'Volvo' is spoken. This is largely because the V70 is such a competent automobile, one which does exactly what is asked of it and one which takes the classic square Volvo design and updates it for the 21st century - requisite curves included.
The 2001 - 2007 Volvo V70 was first offered with three 5-cylinder engine choices. The least powerful of these is a 2.4-liter unit providing 168 ponies, followed closely by a turbocharged, 197 horsepower edition of the same motor. The T5 trim level sees a much more robust, 2.3-liter turbocharged engine that develops 247 horsepower, and 243 lb-ft of torque. The T5 is available with a 5-speed manual transmission, as is the entry-level wagon, but the turbocharged 2.4 comes exclusively with a 5-speed automatic. This auto gearbox is also available as an option on either of the other V70's. Things started to get muddled after this point in time as a number of different engines found themselves flitting in and out of the lineup. In 2002 all-wheel drive was added to the list of options for certain trims, and in 2003 a third turbocharged engine was added to the lineup, a 2.5-liter, 208 horsepower 5-cylinder that was only available yoked to all-wheel drive. This led to the elimination of the 2.4-liter turbo the following year and the addition of a special all-wheel drive R model that provided a blistering 300 horsepower from a performance-tuned version of the 2.5-liter turbo engine along with a 6-speed manual transmission. In 2005 the T5 version of the wagon would shift to using a revived 257 horsepower edition of the 2.4-liter engine before that trim level would disappear entirely in 2006.
With exceptional power, great road-holding and an interior that offers luxury features such as leather seats and excellent safety equipment, the 2001 - 2007 Volvo V70 is one of the best used wagons available on the secondhand market.
2005 - 2007 V50
Compact sport wagons seem to be a European specialty, with Japanese wagon manufacturers largely restricting their small wagon offerings to the lower end of the price scale. Volvo's V50 is a huge improvement over their small 200 series wagon of old, and it shares its platform with the successful Mazda3. The exterior styling is an excellent synthesis of the larger V70's looks and the sporty S60's aggressive front end, creating a new automobile that is sure to enjoy the same level of success in the long term as its full-size wagon cousin.
The 2005 - 2007 Volvo V50 comes equipped with either a normally-aspirated or turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. The base model sees a 2.4-liter motor installed under the hood that produces 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Upgrading to the T5 introduces a turbocharged, 218 horsepower 2.5-liter pushing out 218 horsepower. All-wheel drive is also available on the T5, helping to harness that extra power on slippery roads. The base model is available with a 5-speed manual or automatic transmission, while the T5 comes with a 5-speed automatic and the option of a 6-speed manual gearbox. Stability control is an option across all trims.
The V50's center control cluster on the dash actually hides a storage bin behind it, an interesting innovation made possible by the use of very thing materials for the console. Controls are advanced but intuitive, and the entire interior shows evidence of Volvo's effort at creating an entry-level car that can compete with BMW and Audi. The wagon's 62 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down is enough to make many buyers renounce the idea of buying a compact SUV, and it adds astounding practicality to the vehicle.
The 2005 - 2007 Volvo V50 is an excellent value on the used wagon market, a compact car with big aspirations and flawless execution.