Almost any Volvo makes a good used-car buy. Volvo wagons in particular have gained a reputation for being great family cars. But they were never seen as anything more until something strange happened to them in the 1990s: they became fun in the form of the 850T. The idea culminated in the Volvo V70 R, which began production in 1997 and went into two generations (the V70 is now in its third generation, but there is no current R model).
Volvo V70 R
Almost every automotive attribute in one car-that's the V70 R (the V stands for versatility, by the way). Huge, practical space for cargo and passengers, some of the comfiest seats this side of a Rolls-Royce, all-wheel drive (the same Haldex system as the Audi TT), turbocharged power... it's a lot of car for reasonable money. We'll concentrate on the second-gen V70 R (2001 to 2007) with its 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder, 20-valve engine. Output is 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.
What Makes It Great
Volvo installed bigger Brembo brakes to rein in the extra power and fitted coilovers from Öhlins-one of the most respected names in suspensions, whose products don't come cheap. Even if the wife and kids didn't realize what was going on underneath them, Dad would get it. Whereas previous Volvos looked as if they had been designed by using only right angles, this model had a few curves and a more upscale look. Naturally, there are times when a car's performance can't be utilized, like sitting in traffic, which makes the superb stereo system another blessing.
What To Look For
Don't worry too much about high-mileage models. As long as the service intervals have been 10,000 miles or less, it should be OK. But do check the oil. T5 engines are known to sometimes have condensation, showing up as a creamy deposit on the dipstick. To ensure that it's not head gasket failure, look on the inside of the oil filler cap. The tail has a self-levelling suspension, so make sure it isn't sloping closer to the ground than the nose. A tired example will denote that the car has been used regularly for carrying heavy loads.
Check that all the warning lights come on when you first the ignition key. Some less honest people might have removed a bulb from things like the Lamda light to hide an expensive fault. The user's manual will show what should be illuminated. Keep an eye out for the ABS/TRACS (traction control) light coming on while driving; it could mean a dry joint in the ABS ECU.
Don't forget the air conditioning. If the cycles are short, the gas is low. The compressor ought to cut in and stay in. The condenser is prone to perforation. If an evaporator needs replacing, that means taking the whole dash out.
To see if the positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) valve is blocked, take out the dipstick while the engine is running. If puffs of smoke are emitted, it's blocked. The rear main oil seal is then at risk, so check also for oil residue between the engine and gearbox.
Cambelt changes should be done every 70,000 to 80,000 miles (or six years). Listen for unusual noises on the cambelt side of the engine. Take a good look at the serpentine belt too.
What We Found
This is a rare bird. The nicest example we came across was on Los Angeles Craigslist: a black 2007, completely stock with the Comet alloy wheels and six-speed auto, only 18,850 miles on clock, asking a rather pricey $30,000. The buyer was anxious to sell and a sensible offer would probably have been accepted. There were also two on eBay: a slightly suspect 2006, 55,182 miles for $19,995 (but not cosmetically great), plus a 2004 with 38,700 miles and six-speed manual for $20,995.
Looking at Volvo tuners brings a whole different set of names than the ones we usually see in relation to the German car aftermarket. There's BSR, IPD and Evolve. The latter does an ECU upgrade that claims a boost of 35 hp and 35 lb-ft of torque for $1,230.
For The Money
Let's say a nice, clean example can be had for $25,000. That's the price of a new GTI-not as roomy or comfortable, and no all-wheel drive. How about a used 2006 Lexus IS 250 AWD? No thanks. A 2007 Cadillac Escalade provides big space but big fuel bills and not much fun. Which brings us to a 2007 Subaru WRX STI or a Mitsubishi Evolution IX MR for all-wheel-drive turbo thrills. Interesting, but no doubt each has been thrashed by some 23-year-old. Nope, there's nothing else quite like a V70R.