Volvo XC70 Review
So Ford’s taking Volvo upmarket. Never mind why. How? On the face of it, the Swedish brand is as suited to life at the top as Volkswagen, whose mighty Phaeton died for their premium-priced aspirations. Volvo owns the sensible, safety-oriented, “car for life” mindspace. While it’s become a full-line automaker, Volvo’s station wagons best exemplify the underlying ethos. And here comes the all-new XC70, and extremely pricey people mover. If Volvo can take their station wagon upmarket, well, Ford might be onto something…
Only a deeply committed Volvo fan could/could be bothered to distinguish an ‘08 XC70 from its predecessor. The new wagon’s rear glass extends further down than the side windows (for improved rearward visibility), and the sloping rear window and “hexagonal style” add a stump of chic. Up front, alternating silver and black rings ‘round the fog lights give the XC70 an outdoorsy, raccoon-like look. Clean, simple, modern, done.
If the words “Scandinavian Luxury” have any meaning, it’s found inside the XC70’s cabin. Organic shapes with smooth, flowing lines intersect with seamless precision. Surfaces are swathed in high quality materials, [optionally] accentuated by warm natural wood. In terms of ergonomics, the XC70’s interior design is like an Audi for long-sighted, glove-wearing architects. Or, if you prefer, the XC70 is the anti-iDrive BMW. That said, while Volvo’s now signature floating center console is logical enough for a Vulcan, the cubby behind remains less than useless.
In the toy department, a liberal hand with the options tick list unleashes Fredrik Arp’s Wonder Emporium. Volvo’s trick pop-up satellite navigation system returns (and then hides). Volvo’s 650-watt MP3-ready Dynaudio surround sound system with twin subwoofers will restore some valuable street cred for teenage drivers. The dual screen (headrest-mounted) rear video system is a much-appreciated palliative for younger family members. And a brace of Sponge Bob fans can rest easy on the world’s first height-adjustable integrated child booster cushions.
Behind Volvo’s trick power tailgate lie more aluminum rails and tie-down points than a dominatrix’s basement (and a useful grocery bag holder as well). In five-passenger mode, there’s 33.3 cubic feet of köttbullar-schlepping. Fold the 40/20/40 rear seats– now a one-step affair– and anal retentive owners are rewarded with 71 cubic feet of cargo carrying capacity. For antique dealer’s grandfather clocks and surfers too lazy to strap their board to the roof, Volvo’s front passenger seat also folds flat. Try THAT in your Jeep Grand Cherokee.
To strengthen the XC70’s case against PC poisonmobiles (i.e. fuel-sucking SUVs) and amp-up the lifestyle marketing angle (wagons ho!), Volvo has raised the station wagon’s ride height to 8.3”, which is HIGHER than a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Volvo makes a point of advertising the XC’s approach, departure and break over angles (19.2, 19.8 and 24, in case you were wondering).
Although most XC70 buyers would no more venture off-road than go fur trapping, the new XC is an amazingly competent mud-plugger. Volvo’s “Instant Traction” part-time all wheel-drive system channels the power where it’s needed, and the Hill Descent Control gets five stars from Off-Roading for Dummies.
Riding on Volvo’s new large car platform, the XC70’s on-road manners offer effortless highway cruising and stressless pothole surmounting. But when it comes to cornering, the high-riding XC70 floats like a bee and stings like a butterfly. Hustling the wagon is both counter-intuitive and counter-productive– especially if the rear passengers’ digestives systems aren’t fully developed. Sadly, the active suspension system from last year’s XC– which completely quelled the cetaceous behavior typical of crossovers– is a Euro-only option.
Volvo’s 3.2-liter powerplant nestles into the XC70’s engine bay, sideways. The inline six brings yet more honor to the excellence of its basic configuration. The acceleration is automotive cashmere, and the sound emanating from the twin tailpipes under wide open throttle is intoxicating. Unfortunately, the XC70 has gained weight. Pitting 235hp against 4100 lbs. yields an 8.4 second zero to sixty sprint. That’s a full second slower than last year’s XC70 (with a turbocharged five cylinder engine underhood). Worse yet, fuel economy is a tad lower than before.
Aye, there’s the rub. No car can have it all: safety, passing power, handling, practicality, reliability, luxury, excellent fuel economy and a competitive sticker price. If Ford wants to take Volvo upmarket, the brand must become a master of one core competency, rather a Jakob of all trades.
Meanwhile and in any case, the XC70 will please those relatively few fans who can pay the freight. But the idea that this $37k to $50k wagon will deliver massive profits to Ford is entirely mistaken. At this price, the XC70 has to hunt with upmarket German wagons– and it's still a small niche. If Volvo stripped-out the XC70 and dropped the price by $10k (and then some) they’d have a better chance of a major hit. In that sense, the all-new XC70's excellence proves that Ford’s got their Volvo brand strategy exactly backwards.
More by Alex L. Dykes
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