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On The Road

1998 Volvo has new look, same safety features

Car review

A friend of mine is thinking of buying a Volvo, and he asked me what I knew about the Swedish car.

Having owned more than 30 cars in my lifetime, but never a Volvo, I decided to find out why people like the boxy look Volvo uses as its trademark.

For a long time, I thought driving a Volvo was about as much fun as driving a stodgy tank. However, spending some time in the Volvo S70 series could dispel that notion.

Visiting three dealerships in the valley, I drove the 236 horsepower S70 T5 and the 190 horsepower S70 GLT.

The new model designation is confusing, but if you remember the S70 replaced last year's 850 model you won't have to check your pacemaker.

The V70 classifications are wagons, while the S70s are sedans and the C70s hot coupes.

The T5 designation on the S70, which I drove, means the car is powered by Volvo's high-boost, turbocharged five cylinder engine.

The T5 could make a delightful plaything for people who love to give it the gas and hear it growl. I got a sub-eight second reading when I timed the speedometer to 60 from a standing start.

That can make a sports car driver's jaw drop.

As you can tell, the T5 makes you smile and giggle, but it's not cheap. While the base S70 starts at $26,985, the T5 has a $34,010 price tag. The car I drove had a sticker price on the window of $36,950.

When visiting the Carlsen dealership in Palo Alto, William Nash's first comments were about safety.

"Volvo always gives a lot of thought to safety and equips all of its cars with the usual dual front airbags and front-seat mounted side-impact airbags as well," Nash said. "Volvo's crash protection also includes crumble zones that absorb front and rear hits. Shoulder harnesses have automatic tensions to cinch them down in an impact. Those are the reasons Volvo owners come back when they look for a new car."

The hefty price tag on the T5 includes more than safety and performance, it includes a full roster for hedonism that usually comes with European cars.

You have headlight wipers, a steering wheel that telescopes, a leather trimmed steering wheel, power glass sunroof with slide and tilt positions and an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat with three position memory.

There's also a great sound system consisting of eight speakers with 100 watt sound and a dual diversity antenna.

The interior has a new, modern design. I liked the supportive seats and the driving position they afford.

The GLT I drove utilizes a 2.4 liter five cylinder which didn't have the power of the T-5. For a few grand more, I would suggest consumers to go all-out and get the S70 T5.

Popular Mechanics magazine recently conducted an owners survey that asked, "Why did you choose the Volvo?" Just over 70 percent cited the safety features and 16 percent said past experiences with the Volvo.

The specific dislikes included controls on the console, rear vision and the lack of power in the base engine.

Another question: "Would you buy a Volvo again?"

Just over 74 percent said yes, and 24 percent said maybe.

I'll bet my friend will be glad to hear that.

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