For a very traditional manufacturer, Volvo has changed its image and model nomenclature a sufficient amount of times in recent years to confuse even an acolyte of Confucius. Trying to stray away from "just another family friendly company" to more premium plains a la Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz or even Jaguar, Volvo has tried and tried to invigorate its product line on numerous occasions. First, they got rid of their beige boxes on wheels - which were also called Volvo Station Wagons - by injecting a few design curves here and there. Second, they started changing the way they name their models (for example, the first V70 was actually an 850 wagon in disguise). Then, they started adding more fun to drive (and fun to look at) niche models in the line-up.
The current Volvo XC70 is not Volvo's first attempt at eating a few extra slices of the crossover/CUV/station-wagon-on-stilts market. The first generation appeared by the name of V70 Cross Country (XC) in 1999 and it was just a more rugged all-wheel-drive version of the V70, which itself was actually a renamed 850 Wagon. After the Peter Horbury-designed second generation of the V70 appeared in 2000, the V70 XC followed with a new iteration of the same idea two years later. The year 2007 came and so did a totally new generation of the V70 XC. If this isn't confusing enough by now, the newest generation of this car is named differently than the others. Trying to rid of as much family resemblance as possible with the V70, the new model is called XC70.
Just like its non-cross-country-like little brother, the new XC is based on the same technical platform as the S80 sedan, which is itself based on Ford's EUCD platform. The funny thing about this platform is that it can be found both in family carriers like the Ford Galaxy or S-Max and small crossover SUVs like the Land Rover Freelander/LR2 or the Volvo XC60. The even funnier thing is that the car we tested accomplishes pretty much the best from both worlds.
It's about as spacious and ergonomic as a small minivan and it can go on just about the same terrain as a compact SUV
/crossover. That, and it has the interior of a premium car. Of course, the price tag is also as premium as it can be. We tested the D5 oil burner from the two-engine line-up. The car was equipped with a Summum trim level and a few extra features ticked on the options list. Can the legacy of two mildly successful past generations be a ticket to a much better third one?
Unlike its predecessors, the new XC70 doesn't look as wagon-based anymore. Especially from a medium-to-far distance, one might actually say it looks just like any other off-road-ready hardcore SUV. That impression still remains when you approach it, except then you can also take a good look at the details. The all-round black plastic bumpers and side skirts are there to tell you that it means business and is not afraid of scratches, just like the old V70 XC used to. The bad part is that the designers got carried away and added some unnecessary aluminium touches in order to further differentiate the model from the regular V70. Come on guys, the I'm-not-afraid-of-roadkill look, really high ground clearance and big wheels didn't make it different enough?
Overall, the car looks much more menacing and it has a certain "attitude" about it. For example, if the original "Marlboro Man" had been driving an XC70 instead of playing around on that horse it would have probably made a better suited commercial. In order for the clients to better appreciate the name change but to also acknowledge the fact it's still a Cross Country vehicle, Volvo really exaggerated with the addition of as many "XC" badges on the car as possible. You can find them on every rim, on the roof hinges, on the trunk hatch and in the interior.
Speaking of the roof hinges, between them sits a very BMW-like "shark" antenna for the navigation system. The pretty high ground clearance gives it a go-anywhere look while the "broad shoulders" styling makes you think it's as safe as a... well, a Volvo. Also, although it still carries some of that "Swedish brick" flat rear, the curves found on the car could impress even Rubens. On the whole, the new XC70 is a pretty good looking macho vehicle, although the aluminium styling bits can be just a teeny weeny bit kitschy. Thank God it's still made in Europe, despite Volvo's 'merican owners, because all that aluminium could have easily been switched with non-mud-friendly chrome.
Just like in any other modern Volvo, the XC70's interior is in a class of its own. The "floating" center console is both stylish and ergonomic, also providing a reasonably-sized space for various junk you might care to put behind it. Speaking of storage spaces, at first glance you wouldn't see it as a very family-friendly vehicle from this point of view, but on second you can clearly see it's intended for long trips in the country side/mountain resort/beach. The rear seats can be folded following a 40/20/40 percent idea, thus creating a completely flat surface that starts in the already gigantic luggage compartment (575 liters or 20.3 cubic feet).
Under the trunk there's a small storage space with a lid that comfortably remains up after you open it thanks to a cleverly designed prop. The "push to close" button on the trunk hatch is also a nice touch, while the two rails for tying down moving baggage can be very handy when you're carrying a plasma TV or other fragile stuff. The passenger space is more than decent, especially in the shoulder/headroom area, with a small minus for the rear seat leg room, which doesn't quite live up to the expectations left by the rather large exterior.
The dashboard is full of buttons but, contrary to a first impression, it's probably one of the most user-friendly button cluttered center consoles we've ever experienced. After just a few minutes in the car you know almost everything about the controls. The bad thing on the other hand resides in the way you control the navigation system, whose only good feature is the pop-up LCD screen.
To give you an example, it all starts the moment you insert the transponder card/substitute for a key in its location and want to drive away. A small description of Volvo's navigation system appears on the LCD screen and then you are asked to push either the "enter" or the "exit" button to confirm if you want to use the system or not. Well, the problem is that the XC70 has three "enter" and „exit” buttons spread among the driver controls, and only two of them are visible. Coincidentally, those exact two buttons have squat in common with the navigation system. To actually control anything to do with the system you have to be either gifted with a sixth sense or have the eyes of a snail, because all the controls are on the back of the steering wheel, in a not-too-easy-to-reach location.
At first glance you would think that the XC70 has absolutely no place on the streets of a busy city. You wouldn't be that much wrong, actually, but the truth is that if you opt for the D5 diesel you won't feel that much out of place when trying to stop at a light. The 2.4 liter oil burner isn't quite an example of modern diesel technology, despite the common rail injection, but its fuel economy is more than exemplary for the amount of tonnage it has to carry.
During our test drive we managed an average of around 9-9.5 liters per 100 kilometers (25-26 mpg), which isn't half bad for an 1800 kg (3900 pounds) vehicle with four wheel drive. Of course, that consumption wasn't strictly from urban driving, it cumulated with some highway time as well. Still, we found it to be decent given the circumstances.
The all round visibility is great. Almost gives you an impression similar to that of being in a castle's highest tower. The huge mirrors, very large windows and the high ground clearance make up for the fact that you can't really comprehend the actual size of the car from the driver's seat. Parking is made easier by the very necessary rear parking sensors, although we would have liked it even more if they were also in the front.
Actually, the “open road” isn't quite where an XC70 D5 would feel most at home. For example, in case you're in a hurry on the highway you kind of struggle to pass other cars. The D5 engine is fine and dandy but not when it's put on a car as heavy and non-aerodynamic as this. The almost 11 seconds required from naught to 100 km/h (62 mph) might seem even longer in practice then on paper. I mean, we're talking about a 185 hp car that had to carry almost two tonnes (4000 pounds) that were shaped like a boxy station wagon with a few curves. The soundproofing is more than adequate at casual cruising speeds, although the wind noise becomes a little more evident at higher and mostly illegal speeds. Also, our test car was equipped with winter tires, which didn't actually help the acoustic comfort.
Off the road, on the other hand, is the XC70's playground. Even Volvo people themselves are calling it a “family adventure vehicle”. The continuously controlled Monroe-Ohlins shock absorbers are part of the Four-C system, which is in other words a semi-active suspension. It has three settings (Comfort, Sport and Advanced), ranging their effects from waltzing whale to almost sporty. With the suspension system set on Comfort and some proper tires, the Volvo Xc70 can follow a lot of SUV on an off-road trail, if not even pass them when they get stuck.
Being based on the same platform as the latest Land Rover Freelander means, among others, that it also has a Hill Descent Control system, which works both forward AND in reverse. In case ANYBODY would want to climb down a steep hill in reverse, of course. The traction is maximized in low grip situations by what Volvo calls the “Instant Traction
” system. Essentially a front-wheel-drive car like almost any other Swedish wagon, the XC70 can reroute some of the engine power from just driving the front wheels to the rear ones via a Haldex third generation coupling system.
It works by only transmitting power to the rear wheels when needed, which is a pretty good fuel saving idea if you're not a hardcore off-road trail enthusiast, since the system can get you out of a lot of low-grip driving situations. In other words, the Haldex system is a pretty good compromise between a full-time all-wheel-drive system and a “power when needed” one. The high ground clearance (over 8 inches) is proof you can pass over a lot of unpaved roads that lead to your mountain cabin.