Volvo UK reckons its new V70 wagon - and the offroad XC70 all-wheel-drive variant - were styled by a young designer with a family and a penchant for sports such as mountain bike riding. No kidding.

That might explain why a Volvo-branded bike, sans one wheel and with a few adjustments to seat and handlebars, can be secured inside the box-like load area.

It also explains items like the little aluminium hooks that can be attached to various crevices to hold shopping bags in place, the lift-up load area divider with elasticised securing strap (for more shopping, natch), fold-down dog/load restraining grille and various compartments to hide things from prying, acquisitive eyes.

And the optional seat booster cushions that now pop up to two heights, meeting the latest EU rules for transporting height-challenged youngsters.

True, Volvo has always done cracking good, if staid-looking wagons (estate cars in UK parlance) but later challenges have come from the likes of Audi and BMW whose load haulers are also beautifully styled, built and detailed. With a similar vast choice of engines.

Where Volvo - whose load carriers also now have some, albeit still boxy, style - claims superiority is in load area shape. Forget all those easily manipulated litres, they say, just watch us put more stuff in our 'cubed loadspace' than those rounded-off rivals can swallow.

So in went an extraordinary number of suitcases (5 large, 1 medium, 2 backpack vs 3 large and 2 medium in the Audi A6 and BMW 5-series). And out they came again, to be followed by a life-sized cardboard mock-up of your average Euro-washing machine complete with packaging which, it is claimed, won't go in a rival with rear seats up.

Sales of large wagons like this peaked for Volvo in 2000 at 11,577 when the old model was new. The new one is based on the S80 sedan so is larger and, as we told you last week, offered with three-litre six-cylinder and 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo petrol engines plus a 3.2-litre I6, two-five-cylinder diesels and, soon, I4 two-litre petrol, diesel and flex-fuel engines to snare company car drivers who are taxed on the 'benefit in kind'.

The redesign brings more load area and more rear legroom, a UK price tag from GBP26,500 (a lot of nice features on press launch models were optional), and standard 40/20/40 split rear seat, adaptive rear lights (brake lights shift from tailgate to rear wings if the gate is open), that folding grille, 3D load system with Cargofix rails, locking load floor (held in place by the tailgate), roof rails, the aforementioned grocery bag holder and a cargo area 12V outlet.

Diesel dominates in this sector and Volvo UK - which also distributes its cars in Ireland and Iceland - expects 80% of initial sales to be the D5 and 2.4D models with the T5 the most popular petrol car at 10%. (Base) SE is seen as the most popular trim level at 70% with the SE Lux taking 20% and the Sport 10%.

The butch XC70, billed as an 'off public roader', which proved remarkably capable in gloopy mud, on uneven cambers and shinning up or down grassy hills, adds hill descent control, increased track width and ride height, improved ramp angles (not so easy with new crash and pedestrian safety rules dictating front end design), all-wheel-drive (coming also for the odd V70 variant), a choice of 3.2 I6 petrol and D5 diesel engines, a lower front cross-member to protect precious mechanicals and leather trim.

Volvo expects 90% of XC70s to have the diesel engine and 50% to have SE trim, 40% SE Lux and 10% Sport.

In its first full year, 2008, the V70 is expected to win 7,000 sales and the XC70 an additional 2,500. The XC costs GBP1,865 extra but, given that the V70's GBP1,200 leather option comes standard, the premium is minimal.

During driving on a variety of Irish roads, the newcomers impressed for performance, handling and refinement, and the well-weighted clutches and gear shifts of manual versions. Build quality seems top-notch.

A variety of options were also tried including satnav and rear view camera (the former tricky to learn but good once familiar), blind spot monitor and a new USB key/iPod adaptor integrated well enough to use the car audio system's display and remote controls, once you work out how. The magic key is the 'enter' button...

Graeme Roberts

Volvo likes soft sell