Volvo’s 2004 XC70 still fine for the cross country set

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Sit down in the Volvo XC70 and you realize immediately that nothing has changed (in the very best sense of the word); the Volvo is still a Volvo. And if you are looking at the Volvo for the first time you recognize just as quickly that the Swedish car company that is renowned for its advanced safety features remains true to that heritage.

A quick glance back and you can’t help but notice the large fabric cargo net behind the second-row seat that effectively encloses the rear of the wagon. The net has a purpose, to keep second-row passengers safe from loose objects in the rear compartment, objects that could become flying missiles in the event of a panic stop.

You have to stand and give the Volvo engineers a round of applause for a little thing that might be a big thing for a family at some point during their XC70 ownership.

The XC70, Volvo’s go-anywhere wagon, has a lot more going for it than a safety net.

Paramount to Volvo’s success is safety and it is one of the big considerations of many families when buying a vehicle. Standard safety equipment on the XC70 includes for 2004 are: Volvo’s Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) which includes side airbags and inflatable side curtains; the Whiplash Protection Seating System that uses advanced head rest restraints and seatbacks to lessen the impact from rear end collisions; three-point seatbelts with pyrotechnic pretensioners in all seating positions; dual-stage front airbags that lesson the impact of airbags on smaller people; safety cage construction; and the ISO-FIX attachment for rearward-facing child safety seats. The XC70 also comes with four-wheel traction control in addition to electronically controlled all-wheel drive. Dynamic Stability Traction Control – an anti-skid electronic program is also available.

The XC70, known as the Cross Country before its designation was changed to coincide with Volvo’s XC90 sport utility vehicle nomenclature is a variant of the V70 wagon. The XC has its own stylish and distinctive look that makes for a vision of ruggedness.

The XC70 starts at $35,045. The Cross Country was developed from a standard V70 wagon several years ago to give Volvo a sport utility of sorts before it developed the XC90. The suspension was raised creating eight inches of ground clearance, body cladding was added and an all-wheel drive system was installed.

The standard V70 wagon, itself a stand up vehicle, can be purchased for around $28,000 in 2-wheel drive form with a 168-horsepower 5-cylinder engine. It also comes in two 5-cylinder turbocharged varieties, one with 197 horsepower and the T5 with 247 horsepower. New for 2004, is a screamer called the V70R that gets 300-horsepower.

Although the XC70 fits into the mid-sized category, it is spacious inside and can be outfitted with a rear-facing third seat suitable for children, reminiscent of the big wagons of a couple of decades ago.

A horsepower upgrade in 2003 for its 2.5-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder engine gives the Volvo more competitive equal footing in the performance department. It now produces 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque through a 5-speed automatic transmission. That translates into adequate acceleration for all occasions.

Two areas where a sedan-based wagon has the edge over most sport utilities are in ride and handling. And the Volvo, indeed, offers a smooth ride, and can breeze through twists and turns at speeds that will have the SUV driver biting his nails once he can get his white knuckle fists off the steering wheel.

Despite the addition of rack-and-pinion steering for 2004, we would still prefer more steering feel. The power steering seems over-boosted at highway speeds. And keeping the Volvo pointed straight ahead takes more work than we would like.

Wagons also get better gas mileage than most sport utilities. So it is with the Volvo. The XC70 returns 19 miles to the gallon in city driving and 24 in highway driving, according to the EPA.

The Volvo features an attractive, comfortable interior. Fit and finish are of first quality and materials are top notch. The slightly higher seating position makes for excellent command of the road visibility and the seats are superb. They are instantly comfortable and they stay that way through hundreds of miles behind the wheel.

Gauges are big and easy to read. The one sour note in any review of a recent-model Volvo is the aggravating and hard-to-use stereo system that features a knob to gain pre-set stations rather than the traditional buttons.

It’s also one of the few wagons sold in America that will rival popular sport utility vehicles for hauling capacity. When you purchase a wagon and you want storage space, or what’s the point? The XC70 has a large 37-cubic-foot volume behind the rear seat. And with the second row folded, it expands to 71.5 cubic feet, this assuming that the third row seat hasn’t been installed.

One area where an SUV usually has the upper hand is in towing capacity. The XC70 can tow up to 3,300 pounds. That’s modest when compared to SUVs in this price class, many with towing capacities of 5,000 pounds and more.

Our test vehicle was loaded with most of the stuff people want. But there was still more than $5,000 worth of options including leather seating, power seats, power moonroof, Bi-Xenon headlights, 4-CD changer and Dynamic Stability Control. That brought the bottom line to $41,380.

The XC70 is a viable alternative to the car-based luxury sport utility. It generally offers better ride quality, superior handling, more responsive performance and better gas mileage than most sport utilities, as well while providing the bad-weather road capability that Volvo is equally as famous for.

And it’s a great looking vehicle that will make your neighbors envious.