The Verdict: Volvo V70R

Three cars for the price of one - at the touch of a button

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: £37,665
Engine: 2.5 litre, 5-cylinder turbocharged, 300bhp
Performance: 155mph, 0-60 in 7.4 secs, 25.9mpg
Co2: 261g/km
Worth considering: Mercedes Benz C32 AMG estate, Audi S4 Avant, Alfa Romeo Sportwagon GTA, BMW 540i Touring

I am still not quite sure who is buying these dragster load-luggers (can there be that many antique dealing speed freaks out there?), but this month it is the turn of one of the pioneers of the genre, Volvo, to present their new fast estate, the four-wheel-drive V70R.

The 'R' doesn't differ all that much visually from the standard V70, as driven by those of a nervous disposition who like to encase their families in thick steel and an eiderdown of airbags as they navigate their way along the treacherous highways of Britain. In fact, snazzy wheels aside, you don't get much flash for your money with the V70R, despite it costing nearly £8k more than the next most expensive V70.

What you do get, however, are three buttons labelled "Comfort", "Sport" and "Advanced", mounted prominently on the dashboard. Press them and you change the stiffness of the ride as you drive, which is actually more fun than it sounds. Usually, these kind of systems make little perceptible difference to how a car feels, but press "Sport" and the Volvo's ride becomes instantly firmer. Press "Advanced"and everything goes blurry and your glasses fall off as somewhere below springs and tyres are replaced by railway sleepers and millstones, allowing you to throw the V70R around as if it were a Porsche Boxster. Then, when transporting live goldfish or cardiac patients, you simply press the button marked "Comfort" and the Volvo will waft over sleeping policemen, kerbs and small villages without you even knowing they were there.

Our testers had many valid reservations about this variable ride system. David (right) thought it was a bit of a gimmick, while Helen felt the car's sporting pretentions were at odds with the cosy, family image of a Volvo estate. It is also true that you do pay a hefty price for this party trick, but on balance I think it is worth it. All the time I had the car, I never tired of pressing its buttons to tailor the personality of the car to suit my mood.

More troubling for Volvo, of course, are the V70R's rivals, most of which are quicker, and you could argue sexier and more prestigious. In the past Volvo has always been the safety conscious choice; their peculiar USP being that when you crashed yours you would come off better than the other fellow. But that doesn't really work with a 155mph fire breathing monster like this does it? Should Volvo really be encouraging its customers to unleash their inner Schumachers? Maybe not, but I doubt that will stop them doing so anyway.

Dr Ian Portsmouth, 37, geophysicist, his wife, Helen, 40, teacher, and their son Tom, 2, from Addlestone, Surrey

Usual cars: Audi 80 estate and VW Scirocco

Ian: "It is blindingly quick, although you needed to keep the engine spinning because of the turbo lag. It has a tendency to run away with you. It will be bought by people our age who have owned sports cars but now have kids."

Helen: "When you press the Advanced button you can feel every bump, but if you want a sports car, buy a sports car. The clutch was hard and had a fierce spring. The seats were comfortable, but the babyseat slid all over the place."

David Wilson, 57, retired bank manager from Guildford, Surrey

Usual car: Vauxhall Omega estate

"It was interesting. Yes, it is a nice car and it drives well, but I wouldn't spend that much on it. Stability and road holding feel good but I found the lighting on the Comfort, Sport and Advanced suspension buttons was poor, so that you couldn't see which one you had pressed. Part of the problem was that Comfort and Sport had green lights and Advanced has a red light. Personally, I think all that is a gimmick; it's not what Joe Bloggs wants from a car. I have always liked Volvos though; they are safe and reliable. Where I live this will be bought by the Esher brigade, upper middle-class mums, for the school run."

Karen Jiggens, 42, seminar administrator, and her daughter Saskia, 7, from Caterham, Surrey

Usual car: VW Beetle V5

Karen: "It doesn't have all the bits and bobs a family car should have, but it is big and comfortable. It is responsive and quick, [but] a family are not going to be very comfortable. The handbrake is in a terrible position for a little person like me, and the clutch is very stiff and aggressive. You can really feel the difference between the suspension settings, but Saskia got carsick. It is quite stylish though, and I have changed my views about Volvos."

Saskia: "I would like televisions in the headrests. But I got a bit car sick."

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