Volvo XC70 – a luxury wagon that looks good in mud

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Don’t call it a premium station wagon even though it has all the ingredients: sleek wagon styling with rear-tailgate access; compliant car-like ride and handling; excellent storage room and comfort for four or five people and all their things.

The third generation Volvo XC70 is more than a wagon, but at the same time doesn’t march to the same beat as the new generation of so-called crossover vehicles. That’s because, well, it’s more like a wagon sans the tall SUV-like look of most crossovers.

It looks as if it sits lower and it feels like it rides lower than the typical crossover sport utility even though its ground clearance is two inches greater than the Acura RDX and an inch more than the Lexus RX 350.

Unlike most in the wagon or crossover genres, it can traverse muddy, water-logged back roads without fear of bogging down or breaking. Most wagons, or five-door hatches or whatever they’re called these days, aren’t particularly adept at off road running.

However, the Volvo can handle some serious outback conditions quite well with full-time all-wheel drive that is normally 95 percent in front-drive mode, but stands ready to shift as much as 65 percent of the torque rearward if necessary. It can slough through the mud and still looks good.

The XC70 features an 8.3-inch ground clearance and has serious approach and departure angles measured at 19 and 24 degrees respectively.

Further adding to its off-road pedigree is standard Hill Descent Control.

This doesn’t mean that mom is going to go rocketing off the steep incline at the nearest state park ski slope with three kids cheering her on from the back seat. And who is going to take their $40,000 vehicle into the wilderness to encounter scratches and dings? But mom and dad know there is some decent off-road ability housed in the XC70 if it’s ever needed.

Probably more to the point is the sure-footedness the all-wheel drive system affords a family in snowy, bad-weather road conditions.
In that same vein, there are plenty of safety features designed into the new Volvo, as you might expect from one of the world’s automotive safety leaders. Highlights are: front and rear side-curtain airbags; front side-mounted airbags; driver and passenger head restraining whiplash protection; four-wheel ABS with emergency brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution; stability control; and tire pressure monitoring.

The side curtain airbags now extend 2.4 inches lower to help protect small children. Also available is a height-adjustable integrated child booster cushion.

Only Volvo would think of these small but useful design changes.
The 2008 XC70 is mostly new from the ground up, now built on the all-new S80 platform, moving from the old S60 layout. This translates into a vehicle that is four inches longer than its predecessor with a two-inch longer wheelbase.

While interior dimensions have not grown — there’s 33 cubic feet of luggage capacity behind the rear seats and 71 cubic feet of cargo space with seats folded — we figure the longer wheelbase yields a more complainant ride despite the XC70’s off-road prowess.

To the point, we thought the vehicle’s on-pavement demeanor very civilized.

The previous XC70’s rather smallish turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, which made just 208 horsepower, has been replaced with the S80’s normally aspirated 3.2-liter inline 6 generating 235 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. For 2009 a turbo-6 making over 280 horsepower will be available.

With a curb weight of more than two tons, the engine does a good job of keeping the Volvo moving adequately in all varieties of traffic. We didn’t have a major quibble with performance, but it falls on the leisurely side of the equation. Volvo says the XC70 can move from 0-to-60 in just over 8 seconds.

It’s also a very maneuverable vehicle, handy in parking lot situations, as pointed out by a tidy 37.7-foot turning circle.

For those pulling boats and trailers, the towing capacity is a rather modest 3,307 pounds. Gas mileage is also rather modest at 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Mileage is probably the most concerning thing about this otherwise desirable vehicle.

We found the interior surroundings very pleasant, the seating position was excellent and we had no gripes about handling or on-center feel.

The Volvo is pretty much a joy to direct in normal daily driving conditions. In other words, most don't take their family crossover to the race track on weekends or test the cornering limits on rural winding roads. Slalom tests at a Sports Car Club of America event isn’t what this car is about.

The dashboard layout is highlighted by Volvo’s slim waterfall-style center stack, which we consider the top new design element of the decade. It is now featured in many of Volvo’s products.

The optional leather seating and real-wood trim in our test vehicle had a luxury look and feel.

One of our favorite options, but not included in our tester, is the DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system with two seven-inch flat-screen monitors mounted in the back of the front-seat headrests.

We first encountered this unique feature in a high-end S80 several years ago. A terrific option if you’re schlepping kids or grandkids on long journeys. 

For a base price of $37,520 including destination charge you should expect a wide range of standard equipment. And Volvo doesn’t disappoint. In addition to the myriad of safety paraphernalia including all-wheel drive, comes such standards as full power controls, dual-zone climate control, a 160-watt sound system with CD and MP3 player, eight-way power driver’s seat, memory settings for three drivers and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

There are tempting options. Our test vehicle came outfitted with a Dynaudio package that included an upgraded 650-watt surround sound system and Sirius satellite radio for $1,650; a convenience package that included leather seating and moonroof for $2,995; and a package that included front and rear parking assist and power tailgate for $1,195. That brought the bottom line to $43,360.

The rear entertainment system runs $1,800 and a navigation option will add $2,120.

We like the styling, the interior comfort, the safety equipment and the overall feel of the new XC70. It’s even a vehicle our beloved spouse has given high accolades.

We do wish the gas mileage was better, however.


Base price, $37,520; as driven, $43,360
Engine: 3.2-liter inline 6
Horsepower: 235 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 236 foot-pounds @ 3,200 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110 inches
Length: 190.5 inches
Turning circle: 37.7 feet
Towing capacity: 3,307 pounds
Luggage capacity: 33.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 71 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 22 highway, 15 city
0-60: 8.2 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Acura MDX, Lexus RX 350, BMW X3

The Good
• Excellent safety package
• First-quality fit and finish
• Well outfitted for 37 grand

The Bad
• Engine just adequate for a premium vehicle

The Ugly
• Fuel economy lacking in time of rising gas prices