With sporty wagons currently enjoying a minor worldwide renaissance, Volvo has revealed its latest offering in the genre, a new V70. Due at dealers this spring and dimensionally similar to the current V70, it's substantially sleeker, stronger, safer, better equipped, and more refined. We recently ventured to Sweden's frigid clime to check out some preproduction models at Volvo's test facility near Gothenberg.

Despite maintaining numerous family styling cues-including several from the recently introduced S80-this new V70 cuts a far more contemporary figure than the vehicle it replaces. A pronounced wedge shape, owing primarily to its lower nose and more steeply raked A-pillars, not only brings greater visual sophistication, but pays off aero dividends, as well, in the form of a tidy 0.30 Cd.

Technically a midsize offering, the V70 benefits from more useable people room than before and can carry up to eight when fitted with the optional third-row rear bench. Its tasteful interior redo is highlighted by a redesigned dash that also draws heavily from the 80-Series. Standard passive safety features include new dual-stage front airbags and Volvo's WHIPS anti-whiplash seats and inflatable curtain side-impact protection system. The standard ABS disc brakes now incorporate an electronic force distribution feature and, paired with the optional traction control, afford even greater levels of security for all inside.

Underneath, the new V70 rides on a slightly shortened 80-Series platform, including its premium-grade multilink rear suspension. Matched with a new body structure that boasts a whopping 65 percent more torsional stiffness, the 2000 V70 delivers a noticeably smoother, quieter ride and has far better isolation from annoying road rumble.

Powering U.S. V70s will be a pair of DOHC five-cylinder force-fed gasoline engines, both of which met LEV smog standards. Standard issue is Volvo's 2.4-liter/197-horsepower low-pressure turbo, while the sportier T5 will carry a 2.3-liter/247-horse high-boost variant. The former comes with a five-speed automatic, the latter with a five-speed manual or with Volvo's Geartronic autoshifter as an option.

Pricing should remain close to current V70 levels, basing around $30,000. This fall, a new all-wheel-drive XC version will also debut. It, too, goes one step beyond the current Cross Country package with an even bolder front-end treatment and contrasting lower body cladding, plus additional ground clearance and a bespoke wheel/tire package. Volvo expects the revitalized V70 line to account for nearly one-third of its total U.S. sales during 2000.