Volvo estates are back – here are six of the best

Volvo Amazon
Volvo has been making estate cars since 1953

Responding to popular demand, or so it says, Volvo is bringing back its estate cars having announced in August 2023 that it would no longer produce its V60 and larger V90. We delve into its estates from years gone by to pick our top six cars that inextricably linked the Swedish marque with cavernous load carriers.

The granddaddy of ’em all: The Duett

Advert for the PV 445
The PV 445 was manufactured by Volvo between 1953 and 1969

Volvo was early to the estate car market, although not a pioneer. The very first Volvo estates were actually built by independent coachwork firms using the PV444 for a base. Spotting the potential for a regular car that combined the dual roles of lugging loads with comfortable family transport, Volvo came up with the PV445-based Duett in 1953.

The Duett was a two-door but rather than the sloping Volkswagen Beetle-like rear end of the regular PV445, it featured a squared-off roof with access to the massive boot via two side-hinged doors. Large families could specify up to seven seats and for even more practicality, the rear floor was varnished wood to ease sliding boxes in and out.

While the styling was old-fashioned even for the time, the Volvo earned a reputation for being well-built, durable and comfortable. It continued in production until 1969 by which time it was positively prehistoric.

Top trivia

The Duett was immortalised in 1997 when it was given its own postage stamp in Sweden.

Safety first: The Amazon

Volvo Amazon
The Amazon was the first Volvo model to feature front seat belts

Capitalising on the success of the Duett which was one of the first Volvos to be sold in the US, the Amazon was launched at the 1959 New York Motor Show. It was followed three years later by the estate version.

This was much more modern than the concurrent Duett. For a start it had rear doors while the two-piece tailgate hinged at the top and bottom rather than sides. The Amazon was also the first production model to feature front seat belts as standard.

The only hiccough was the car couldn’t officially be called Amazon. That name was already registered by a German motorbike firm for worldwide use so Volvo couldn’t deploy it outside Sweden, prompting it to introduce its three-digit naming strategy. The Amazon became the 220 series in estate form.

Top trivia

The Volvo 220 became the first foreign car to be used by UK police. In 1965, Hampshire Constabulary ran a white 1800 model after the Swedish motor won a shoot-out with the Citroen DS19 Safari and Humber Super Snipe Estate.

The trendsetter: The 140 series

Volvo 145
The 145 featured several advances that helped cement Volvo as a maker of super-safe cars

Launched in late 1968 the Volvo 140 range’s 145 estate featured the near vertical top-hinged tailgate that would become an iconic automotive shape over the following four decades.

Although viewed as quite modern and austere on its launch, the 145 featured several advances that helped cement Volvo as a maker of super-safe cars. The disc brakes front and rear had a three-way split on the braking circuit so if one failed, there would still be braking to the other three wheels. And there was an early form of ABS anti-lock braking.

Later, the 140 series would be fitted with head restraints, retractable ‘inertia reel’ seat belts and seat-belt reminders as standard.

Production came to an end in 1974 with the 140 series becoming Volvo’s first million-plus seller. But it wasn’t over yet. Its successor, the 240 series (the estates were the 245 and 265) shared many of the 140 series’ features, including its body shell and therefore boxy looks. This continued in production until 1993.

Top Trivia

The 140 series introduced the Volvo naming strategy where the first number was the series, the second the number of engine cylinders and the third the number of doors.

Last of the classics: The  940 and 960 models

Volvo 960
Comfortable and spacious, the 940 and 960 models (latter pictured) were a hit with families

The Volvo 940 and 960 models were the last of what many consider to be the classic Volvo estates. Launched in 1990, they were strongly based around the philosophy of the outgoing 740 series. But greater comfort and more interior space ensured the Volvo estate would continue to be a hit with antiques dealers, dog owners and families with lots of stuff the world over.

The last of the rear-wheel drive Volvo estates, the 940 achieved almost legendary status for its practicality and versatility.

Top Trivia: The 940 series was relaunched as the S90 and V90 (S for saloon, V for versatility, if you wondered). The only change to the car was an improved air-conditioning system.

The first Volvo estate you really wanted: The 850 Estate

Volvo 850 model
With the 850, Volvo became the first car maker to race an estate

Confusingly, around the same time as the 940 series in the early 1990s, Volvo brought out its 850 model. To all intents and purposes this looked like its sibling but it was front-wheel drive, had a five-cylinder engine and SIPS integrated side protection. Then Volvo turned up the desirability dial to 11 with the 850 T5-R.

A sweet-sounding exhaust note, nicely understated looks with five-spoke alloy wheels and side skirts made the T5-R an instant hit in saloon and estate guise. Then Volvo moved the dial again: it became the first mainstream car maker to race an estate.

Entered into the British Touring Car Championship in 1994, the 850 Estate might not have won any races (its best finish was fifth) but it definitely triumphed in the PR battle. Suddenly people wanted a Volvo estate rather than simply needing one. Once the limited edition run of T5-Rs was finished, Volvo launched the equally racy 850R for 1996.

Top Trivia

Porsche helped with tuning the T5-R engine, transmission and other components such as the inserts for the sports seats.

The latest version of a classic: The V90

Volvo V90
What the V90 lacks in size, it makes up for in comfort

For 2016, Volvo launched its new V90, waving goodbye to the boxiness of nearly five decades of estates. Rather than an upright tailgate and slab sides, the new model had curves. And that meant a significantly smaller boot than its predecessors.

Nonetheless what it lacked in size compared to German premium rivals, the V90 made up for in comfort: Volvo’s ‘Relaxed Confidence’ approach eschewing the firm ride and sporty drive of rival models.

Top Trivia

The latest V90’s boot has only around three quarters of the capacity of the 940 model it replaced.

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