The greatest cars from Volvo
In 2017 Volvo quietly notched up 90 years of car making.
The company was set up by and , both of whom worked for bearings manufacturer .
The company bankrolled the early days of Volvo, which is why it took its name from the Latin for ‘’. Now owned by Chinese company , Volvo has gone from being a little bit left-field to a serious contender in the premium car arena. And just this week it’s unveiled surely its most important model in years – the -the company’s first purely electric powered model. It will have a single-charge range of 248 miles, and will go on sale in most markets in 2020. Time, then, to see how the model fits into the pantheon of Volvo’s greatest cars.
Let’s see how the Volvo story began, and how its recent success occurred:
Volvo’s first car rolled out of the company’s Lundby factory on . Things didn’t get off to a great start though; an incorrectly assembled rear axle meant the car set off in . The engine produced and was mated to a three-speed manual gearbox.
Volvos were never lightweight, even in the early days. Their four-cylinder engines struggled to haul them along which is why in 1929 the first model was launched. Snappily called the PV651, power (all of it) came from a six-cylinder side-valve engine.
Volvo got radical in 1935 with the introduction of the PV36, nicknamed the after a popular dance of the period. The streamlined design arrived only a year after the similarly styled and just like that car, the Carioca was a sales disaster.
Before the war Volvo had focused on large, luxurious cars but in the post-war era there was a shift towards smaller, more models.
Leading the charge was the PV444, the first Volvo to be exported to the , with the first cars landing there in spring 1956. An updated PV444 arrived in 1958 – imaginatively called the PV544 and featuring a windscreen in place of the PV444’s .
PV445 drophead (1949)
A chassis-only PV444 was offered from 1949 (sold as the ), for to use for whatever specials they might want to offer. As a result, companies such as and built drophead PV444s, but only a handful were made.
Estate cars were pretty much unheard of in the early 1950s. Some coachbuilt were available but manufacturers were still focusing on saloons. So the introduction of a was big news. Based on the PV445 platform, the Duett remained in production right through to .
When Volvo boss visited the US in 1953 he saw how popular European had become. After a visit to the new factory where the glassfibre cars were built, his mind was made up – Volvo would produce its own plastic-bodied sportscar.
But production was halted after just P1900s had been built as the car was poorly made and highly .
It was meant to replace the PV544 but instead the Amazon sold alongside it for a full decade. Launched as the Amason (later changed to Amazon), moped manufacturer claimed Volvo had infringed its trademark so the name was used only in the domestic market; everywhere else the car was marketed as the and .
Best known for its starring role in TV show , only the earliest versions of this stylish coupé were known as the P1800. Later came the and , the latter getting fuel injection. The model’s swansong was a called the .
140 series (1966)
Until now, Volvos had been curvy. But not any more; the and ushered in a new era for Volvo that would see straight lines the order of the day.
Pioneering crumple zones, dual-circuit braking, a collapsible steering column and anti-whiplash headrests there were also rear seat belt mountings and a laminated windscreen. Rivals took to catch up.
Nobody could accuse Volvo of creating beautiful cars; even its concepts were boxy and uninviting. This one was called the VESC () and it was prescient, with its anti-lock brakes, airbags front and rear, pop-up head restraints and energy-absorbing bumpers.
Volvo started to eye up in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the former had a majority share in the latter. The result was the 66, an evolution of the , offered in saloon or estate forms. Power came from a engine driving the rear wheels via Daf’s famous continuously variable transmission dubbed .
Intended to fill the gap between the 66 and the 240 series (which had replaced the 140 in 1974), the 343 had started out as a Daf design.
Initially offered only with a and a CVT, the 343 evolved over the years with bigger engines and better gearboxes. And thanks to the latter being mounted in the rear plus the adoption of rear-wheel drive, the 340 and 360 was actually rather fun to drive.
LCP concept (1976)
As the name suggests, the was run in a bid to test lightweight materials such as , and . Two were built, one powered by a direct-injection three-cylinder turbodiesel engine and the other by a regular turbodiesel.
Not one of Volvo’s finest moments, the 262C was the result of a collaboration with ; it was designed in Sweden but assembled in . Powered by a V6, 6,622 examples of the 262C were built between 1977 and 1981.
740 & 760 (1982)
Volvo designer started with designs which were whittled down to , from which eight clay models were produced. Of these, designs went to the full-size mock-up stage.
Despite all of this, the finished result was a design that drew almost universal criticism for its sharp edges and straight lines. But it was safe…
The saloon and estate may have been very boxy but the 780 coupé redressed the balance somewhat. So it’s a shame that it was reserved for US and Italian markets only; the two-door was designed by . Between 1985 and 1990 just examples of the 780 were built, with six-cylinder petrol or diesel engines.
Picking up where the 1800ES had left off, the 480ES was a neatly styled shooting brake with pop-up headlights and a choice of Renault or engines, the former also coming in form.
A was developed and shown, but failed to go into production – what did reach showrooms were hatchback and saloon 440/460 variants, which were utterly forgettable.
The may have seemed like little more than a facelifted 740 but it was far more than that; it brought front-wheel drive to Volvo’s big-car range and it also adopted rear suspension.
The result was a car that was as enjoyable to drive as it was safe and luxurious, and in form it was a serious road-burner, and became an unlikely hero of the race car circuit.
Looking very much like the first-generation that went on sale in 1998, the brief for the was to create a car which offered quality, safety, comfort and performance while also being as environmentally friendly as possible.
A gas turbine/electric hybrid powertrain provided ample performance with excellent economy.
C70 coupé (1997)
Whereas the second-generation that arrived in 2006 was a coupé-cabriolet, with the original edition you had to choose whether you wanted a coupé or a cabriolet. Stylish and genuinely fast in form, the drop-top looked smart but had the structural integrity of an aged lettuce.
The 940 and 960 took over from the in 1990 and was rebranded S70 and V70 in 1996. The S80 took over from these in 1998 but in saloon form only, as the V70 estate would come along in 2000.
Power came from a range of five or six-cylinder engines. In 1999 bought Volvo’s car division; the truck-focused continues as in independent entity to this day. Ford platforms would increasingly make their way into Volvo’s cars, notably 2006’s platform that would underpin the XC/V70, S80, S/V60, and first XC60.
There have been of V70 so far and all of them have been much the same in terms of basic characteristics: safe, huge and ridiculously comfy. You can add fast to the mix for some versions too, which is why police forces across the UK have lapped up the V70 in huge numbers.
Once a stalwart of American campus trips, station wagons like the V70 have been eclipsed by and Volvo stopped selling the V70 in America in 2010, offering only the jacked-up variant.
When Volvo first dipped a toe in the SUV waters, little did it know just what a good move it would be. As soon as the was announced in 2002 big waiting lists built up and while demand settled after a while, the original seven-seater SUV remained in production right the way through to – although the first-generation car remains in production in .
For a company that puts safety and practicality before anything else, the was an interesting diversion. Based on the contemporary , the C30 looked neat and was fun to drive but was compromised on the usability front thanks to its tiny boot and just two cramped rear seats.
The sporty estate for those who value style ahead of space, the V60 injected a healthy dose of appeal into the Volvo range when it made its debut in . A costly edition arrived in 2012, and instantly sold out, prompting Volvo to increase production significantly.
The original V40 was utterly forgettable. An estate version of the S40 that Volvo built in conjunction with (the Carisma was closely related), it was stupendously dull.
Not so the second take on the model though, a -sized and (Focus-based) hatch which offers all of Volvo’s traditional virtues but in a smaller, more affordable package.
The Chinese firm purchased Volvo from Ford in . It launched a large-scale investment programme that resulted in a new flexible architecture for its models called (SPA).
The second-generation XC90 saw its first outing and gave the car a comfortable, confident large SUV. The car also featured interior quality and technology that firmly established the car as a premium player.
The V70 was long-in-tooth but much admired and liked for its interior space. For the V70’s successor, the V90, Volvo opted to go for a more svelte approach, which might have upset Volvo purists but should help the model steal sales for the more design conscious buyer.
It’s available in the US on special order only; the jacked-up is however sold the normal way in that market.
The first-generation XC60 built on the success of the XC90 by offering much the same virtues but with just five seats in a smaller, more affordable package. The all-new XC60 took this a stage further with a suite of cutting-edge powertrains including a range-topping edition with a turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine backed up by an .
The market seems to like it – nearly XC60s were sold in 2018.
The XC40 compact SUV was warmly welcomed in 2018; indeed, it was given the prestigious award by our sister publication Surfing the global wave for small SUVs, it’s proving a hot seller; Volvo estimates it will sell XC40s in 2019.
In 2018, opened its first factory in America. Located in , South Carolina, it will build the new S60 saloon and from 2021, the XC90 large SUV too. The S60 has a tough assignment, battling deeply entrenched rivals like the and , but it certainly offers something different.
The V40 will end production in 2019, bringing to an end the last major vestige of the era. In less than , Geely can realistically argue that it has at last joined the elite band of premium European car companies. In 2018, it sold cars, breaking the mark for the first time ever. It aspires to eventually sell over cars per year.
Since the V40 won’t be immediately replaced, that target may not be attained in the short term. For the moment, we expect tweaks to the existing range and various facelifts. The remake of Volvo is an ongoing project, and the next major leap forward will be all-electric models.
Volvo XC 40 Recharge
The XC40 Recharge was unveiled in October 2019 as Volvo’s first full battery electric model, with the SUV featuring a 402bhp twin motor set-up and a claimed range of more than .
The new EV will join the petrol engined and plug-in hybrid variants of the small SUV when it goes on sale in the UK late in 2020, with pricing expected to be close to £50,000.
The XC40 Recharge will be the first of five fully electric models the firm will launch in the next five years, with Volvo aiming for EVs to account for half of its global sales by 2025, the rest featuring a hybrid powertrain. Those five electric cars, along with the Swedish firm’s plug-in hybrid models, will carry the new Recharge branding.
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