The Volvo XC70 is another installment in Volvo’s history of offering alternative cars. In the 60s, the PV 444 was the alternative to the straight lined cars from Detroit; the 700 series of the 80s and 90s was the alternative to the yuppie BMWs; and now the XC70 is the alternative to a SUV.
Although 2008 is only the second model year for the XC70, the concept has been around for almost a decade more as the Volvo Cross Country. The original Cross Country took Volvo’s reputation for safety and built an off-road image (thanks to Swedish winters) that is now enjoyed by our XC70 as well as its big brother, the XC90 SUV.
The design of the car is definitely Volvo – distinctly European but more serious than a German. The XC70 uses the V70 wagon as a base, and then adds all-wheel drive, eight inches of extra ground clearance, and tougher plastic coating for the bottom of the lower body panels. The overall effect takes your parents wagon and transforms it into something that commands respect at the ski lodge.
Part of Volvo’s traditional design means the doors and lower panels bow out from the bodywork, which makes the upper half of the car look distinct. This somewhat segments the design of the car and contributes to the boxy image that Volvo has earned. This “yin and yang” idea of hard edges with curves makes the design likeable. Following this same idea is the minimal use of chrome on the paintwork. Most of the car is in a singular deep color, which lets the grille and wheels stand out.
As far as function goes, if you don’t need a full SUV, the XC70 just makes more sense. Because the XC70 is basically a wagon, the tailgate is much easier to access and the load floor is much lower than an SUV.
The interior is what sells this car. Everything that was not in wood or silver was covered in a light tan color (known as Sandstone). This color was part of the leather wheel and seats as well in the places where leather is not necessary (like the dash panel or door handles.) The feel is absolutely premium and it made us feel a little more comfortable about the over $44,000 price of our tester ($37, 250 base price). Our only concern is that all the dirty/sticky little hands of soccer kids may pollute this great look.
The controls were very intuitive. The climate control system is one of the best around. For over a decade, Volvo has you choose where want the air to go by simply pressing the part on their person-like diagram. Our premium sound system included a center channel speaker and was both clear and deafeningly loud — a nice surprise from a Volvo. The only piece missing that we would expect on a premium car is a navigation system. It is available as an option, and its absence left the dash and center console area free to have a much cleaner look.
Safety is Volvo’s hallmark, and the inside screams it. The doors close with a heavy “thunk” that makes you feel like you’ve entered a cage. There are airbags for the front passengers, front seat side airbags and side curtains for everybody. Volvo has a whiplash protection system where the front head rests move during impact speeds to cradle people as they return to the seat. The rear seats even have adjustable height settings for younger/shorter passengers.
This car handles like an agile tank. The all-wheel drive and extra safety features makes this a heavy car. Our XC70 tipped the scales at over 4,000 lbs, which is hard to mask in how it feels on the road. Think of a BMW carrying a load of bricks.
The extra weight is felt in road manners. The steering doesn’t require much effort, but you can feel there is a power assist necessary to turn the car. The best way to describe the steering is light and deliberate. The same can be said for the braking. It doesn’t take much effort to stop the car, but when you hit the brakes hard, you can feel that there is a lot of heft coming to a halt. All of this extra mass doesn’t detract from the car; it actually adds to the feeling of security.
One place where the wagon doesn’t seem as big is the turning radius. For all the feel of added mass, it can surprisingly go around tight corners.
The only real problem where the weight may be felt is in the acceleration. The 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine makes 235 horsepower and 236 ft. lbs. of torque, which is matted to a six-speed automatic transmission. This setup may leave a few feeling a little lean on power. This is a Volvo and the focus is on safety before acceleration. But if you decide you need to go faster, the simple fix is to delete a few options and upgrade to the T6 model that adds an extra 46 horses.
We liked our family wagon. It looks different than a SUV, it rides taller than a wagon, and it makes us feel distinguished. The XC70 is the anti-SUV. Most SUVs have go anywhere styling but usually just go to the supermarket. The XC70 has everyday styling of its V70 sibling, but because it has the all-wheel drive, it’s more likely to climb a snowy hill or run the dirt roads.