Once in awhile, a manufacturer will produce a new vehicle which attempts to create a new segment in the automotive market. However ambitious the company is, most do not seem to make it through their expected lifespan. Remember the Pontiac Aztec, or the Chevrolet SSR? What about the Subaru Baja?
Not all of them are failures though. Take for instance the Volvo V70 XC, Volvo’s idea of taking their regular V70 wagon, mixing in a bit sport-utility DNA, and making a crossover-wagon “hybrid” for the mass market. The XC70, as it is called today, came with an increased ride height, all-wheel-drive, and two-tone plastic trim on the exterior.
Since its inception in 1998, the XC70 has been a popular choice with the suburban crowd, with the rugged exterior of a sport-ute but without many of the penalties associated with owning one.
However, I have never understood the appeal. I felt the added plastic bits ruined the clean look that is a Volvo trademark and the additional ride height decreased the handling while giving the car no real off-road benefits. Then there is the lack of overall space when going with a wagon over a comparable SUV, or to a greater extend, a minivan.
Would a week with the third generation of Volvo’s subdivision wagon change my mind? Or would I think this vehicle should have gone the way of the other vehicles listed above?
Let’s start with things that surprised me.
With the added 2.1 inches to the suspension, I figured the XC would flop in the turns and wallow down the highway every chance it would get. However, it was perfectly tuned for both high-speed interstate travel, arterial roads or your favorite illegal racetrack.
On any surface, the Volvo felt quiet, comfortable and composed. No bump big or small would make its way to any part of your body, nor will any crosswind have you fighting to keep the wagon straight. There is some float when the road dips, but it almost imperceptible to most people. On side streets and back roads, some smaller potholes can be felt through the seat at low speeds, but overall it is as smooth as you would want.
Handling is typical Volvo, and that is a good thing. Steering is nicely weighted without being too heavy and turn-in is very acceptable. It is very easy to point the car where you want it, and in parking lot maneuvers, the XC is a breeze to park.
To make up for the slight communication problem, the XC70 rewards you with a nice stiff chassis and plenty of grip coming from the seventeen-inch Continental tires. Even with the increased height and the knobby tires, the wagon corners with surprising flatness and balance. Pushing it too hard in the bends will produce predictable understeer, but it still feels balanced.
The handling is just the tip of the iceberg with this car.
New this year under the hood of the XC is the optional 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder (a less powerful 3.2-liter V6 is standard). First appearing in the new S80, the engine uses new technology, such as Continuous Variable Valve Timing, Variable Intake System and Cam Profile Switching. Add all the technology together with the metal snail, and the engine produces 281 horsepower and 295 lb. ft of torque. After more turbo lag than I would like down low, the turbo spools and the two-ton wagon quickly disappears into the distance. Scooting ahead of a semi while merging is no problem for this wagon. And while you are hauling ass, it makes a very pleasing growl with a touch of turbo whistle. It is a delightful sound, and returned a respectable 18.5 mpg in mixed driving.
Attached to this heady engine is Volvo’s Geartronic six-speed automatic as well as Volvo’s All-Wheel-Drive system. The all-wheel-drive is something special, as it can move power from just the front wheels to all four, to just the back if the front has no traction. In addition, power can be moved from side to side or to just one wheel if need be. It even comes with the Hill-Descent Control, which acts like a low-range when you encounter something more serious than wet leaves or a dusting of snow.
Finally, we get to the interior, which was my favorite part. I love the Swedish for being efficient and incredibly functional, while using high quality materials to produce it. The XC70 keeps with that tradition, but this time around, they add a bit of style.
The controls on the center console are simple to see and use. At the top is a bright LED screen surrounded by controls for the various audio selections. Below are the controls for the radio presets and standard Bluetooth controls. Right below are the controls for the ventilation and heated seats.
All of this was floating on a waterfall-like dash. It is like Ikea came in, handled the interior and made it special.
Even the gauges are that way. The Volvo has a very straight forward instrument panel with no extraneous gauges cluttering up the dash, like a Volvo should be. But again, they infused a little bit of style by making the tach and speedometer look very upscale, almost like two stainless steel Swatch watch faces are placed behind the glass.
What I loved most, though, was how well everything felt and looked. The gaps between panels were paper thin. The plastics have an excellent feel. The seats were supportive and wrapped in Natuzzi-grade leather, with brilliant optional dual booster seats build into the rear seats. Even the optional wood treatments in the dash and door panels are exquisite. It wasn’t that glossy stuff you find in other cars. It almost like they just cut it out from the tree and placed it in the dash. Just perfect.
So you suppose that I loved this car and I will end my review here, a glowing rave? Sorry to disappoint, but there are some issues which need to be addressed.
One would be the transmission. It is a good automatic, with smooth shifts both up and down. But downshifts at half-throttle were painfully slow, and the Geartronic was a letdown. When using the system, the shifts are sluggish, and when shifting up a gear, there is a slight jerking sensation from the drivetrain. I found myself not using it after a few attempts.
Continuing with drivability, lets talk about feel. In the case of the XC, there is none. The steering, while quite good, lacks any feel at all. Same goes for the brakes. The four ABS-assisted disk brakes stop strongly when you need them, but the pedal is similar to stepping in a deep bowl of mashed potatoes, in both consistency and depth.
Then there is the overall room inside. There is room up front, with 38 inches of head room and 42 inches of leg room. But rear passengers only have 31 inches, which leaves passengers begging for more room. Storage capacity is quite large with the second row folded, at 72 cubic feet, but that is ten less than the comparable Volvo XC90 with both its rear rows folded. There’s third row either, which is an important feature for today’s family.
But the worst thing about this car (and I really tried to be open about it) was that plastic monstrosity covering this otherwise stylish vehicle. The exterior is very shapely on the regular V70, with clean design lines and good-looking rear hips leading to the taillights. But with the XC, it looks cheesy and fake, like it always has.
This vehicle came as quite a shock. The XC70 drives nicely, has a gorgeous interior, and costs thousand less than anything from the Germans. This specific car, with the bigger engine, all-wheel-drive, sumptuous leather, metallic paint, sunroof, the excellent Dynaudio stereo, Xenon headlamps that swivel, and more airbags than you can count came just a tick under $47,000. If you do not need the extra power, anyone can squeeze into a XC with the 3.2-liter for $37, 250. Nothing can give you this same amount of luxury, quality and style for that much money. If you can get past the looks, you can’t go wrong.
XC fans, rejoice.
Base Price: $37,250
As Tested: $46,395
Architecture: Front-engine, all-wheel drive five-passenger wagon
Drivetrain: Turbocharged 3.0-liter DOHC V6 with six-speed automatic transaxle
Length: 190.5 inches
Wheelbase: 110 inches
Mileage: 15 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Weight: 4092 lbs.