Review/driving impressions originally published in Road & Track’s Open Road, Spring 1997; republished by the author
There isn’t much Norway north or east of here. We are so close to the Russian border that we can see a Red Army observation post to the east. The Barents Sea lies to the north. If James Bond were here, I think he’d abandon the Bimmer and the Aston too and opt for the Volvo V70 Hunter. The road, chiseled into an unforgiving landscape of stone and ice, is covered in packed snow. North of the Arctic Circle, and with all of Sweden and Finland to our south, the sun brightens the horizon but stays below it, as if coming closer would cool even Sol’s fire. I don’t know about 007, but if there’s anything I’d rather be in than the Volvo it would have to have armor plating – and a very good heater.
Volvo took journalists to Kirkenes, Norway,, to show the new S70 sedan and V70 wagon, replacements for the highly successful 850 line. Included was a first-for-Volvo all-wheel-drive version, available only in the wagon arriving in the US in June, along with the hot Rod “R” performance model – wide tires, beefed-up suspension and so forth. However, in Norway Volvo showed the Hunter, a special variant for Europe. More of an “extended-mobility” vehicle a la Subaru’s Outback, the Hunter combines an added inch of ride height with other features intended to please, well, hunters. The extra height adds clearance for confidence and maneuverability on trails with high centers and breakovers, as well as allowing the Hunter to run through just a little deeper snow. Other special features include the rooftop gun carrier (good also, I suppose, for Mr. Bond) that nestles snugly to the wagon’s top and has room for eight guns, plus whatever else fits in. A spoiler over the tailgate helps keep the liftgate window clean. A wire-mesh dog pen fills the cargo area – and the backseat folds 60/40 for other hunter stuff. “Hunter Green” is the only color available and there is a neat moose logo in gold on the gun carrier.
For Arctic use, the Hunter was shod in studded Gislaved winter tires, and it was unfazed by a detour through the ankle-deep snow on a pinewood trail in the western reach of the Taiga. On packed snow and ice, and even the rare stretch of bare pavement, the Hunter had tenacious grip in corners, understeering only on closed throttle and tidily oversteering under acceleration, making just about anyone look like a rally champ. The full-time all-wheel-drive system is comprised of a viscous center clutch and a locking rear differential. Volvo’s TRAC traction control works on the front wheels up to 24 mph. In normal driving, 95 percent of the engine’s power goes to the front wheels. Should the front wheels start to slip, up to 95% goes to the rear wheels before the fronts spin.
The Hunter is powered by Volvo’s unique transverse mounted light-pressure turbocharged in-line five-cylinder engine. The 2.5-liter 20-valve dohc engine is rated at 193 bhp, good enough, says Volvo, for 0-60 mph in under 8.5 sec and a top speed of about 135 mph, at least in all-wheel-drive models without rooftop armory. The Hunter also develops its maximum forest-plodding torque “plateau” from a low 1800 rpm all the way to 5000 rpm. Volvo is studying bringing the Hunter to the states, the $1,200 cost of the gun carrier being the major obstacle. However, beginning in the fall, a “leisure” version of the V70 will come stateside. This yet unnamed wagon, perhaps to be called Tundra or, using an old Volvo name, Amazon, will have the raised ride height and special cladding that includes fog lights in the front fascia. Hey, it worked for Subaru.
For Volvo, a woodsy V70 would be an upscale, circa $35,000 alternative for Outback shoppers or an even more car like choice for SUV contenders. Of course, for Q, it might be a way to get James Bond out of a Nordic scrape. Just watch for the wire-guided missiles, James, they are a bit more than even Volvo’s famous side-impact protection system can handle.
Addendum: That Red Army observation post was the real deal, a huge multistory block of concrete with almost no windows. We couldn’t see them but they could see us. All that was dividing us from Russia was a broken-down barbed wire fence. Several of our entourage stepped across, just so they could say they had been to Russia. Wiser heads demurred, but Maryland Public TV’s MotorWeek crew pointed their videocam at the blockhouse, and within minutes a Norwegian army special forces unit was there, demanding the tape be erased. Testy neighbors and all that. The MotorWeek guys were allowed to spot delete the tape but none of the rest of us, still using film in our 35mm cameras, dare point them towards Russia.