WHITEFISH, Montana - Few vehicles seem as completely suitable for their anticipated environment as Volvo's XC70. First launched in the U.S. market back in 1997, the XC70 straddled a line between sedan/wagon and SUV. Volvo considers it the first "crossover" vehicle, though that term had not yet taken hold to describe models that overlap categories.
Along with bodily alterations, redesigning of the XC70 for 2008 has given it a normally aspirated six-cylinder engine rather than the former turbocharged five-cylinder, plus a new six-speed automatic transmission (a "first" for Volvo). Measuring 4.4 inches longer than before, the 2008 XC70 rides a wheelbase that has gained 2 inches. Cladding around the nose is mostly gone now, though it remains to encircle foglights. The power liftgate has an anti-pinch provision to help prevent injuries as it lowers. Volvo's 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine develops 225 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.
Based upon Volvo's large-size S80 sedan, the XC70 has an 8.3-inch ground clearance that makes it possible to indulge in moderate off-pavement treaks. Safety has long been a major selling point for Volvos. Three-stage front airbags are installed, and curtain airbags have a larger coverage area than before. Volvo calls its XC70 a "perfect balance between luxury, versatility, and safety."
Doug Speck, executive vice-president of sales and marketing, says his mission is "to retain Volvo's leadership in the crossover segment," adding that the XC70 "clearly outsells anything in its category." The primary target buyer is a "very active lifestyle type of individual." Evolved, open-minded and tolerant, the likely XC70 owners are "users" rather than "havers."
Late in 2007, after the first 2008 XC70s go on sale, two new safety features will become available. One is a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which warns when a vehicle is in the blind spot, likely unseen in the mirror, on either side. The system already is offered on the S80 sedan, and can be shut off if desired.
Volvo also will offer a Forward Collision Warning System, which can be set to three levels (or turned off). When you get too close to the vehicle ahead, a pattern of flashing lights appears in the windshield, accompanied by audible beeps, warning you to apply the brake in a hurry. Set for the longest following distance, the warning goes off when about 10 feet from the car ahead. How it responds depends upon how you're driving. By early 2008, if not sooner, this system also will include automatic braking.
As in prior models, Volvo's backup camera rises from the upper dashboard, and shows the steering angle as well as a view toward the rear. The available child safety seat has two stages, to accommodate a growing child.
"We always want the driver to be in control," said Thomas Broberg, from Volvo's safety center. The goal is to "help the driver be a better driver, without taking control" away from him or her, and to help the person stay alert.
Not many cars amaze these days, but the XC70 manages that feat in terms of ride quality - especially along unpaved, twisting, narrow roads, where its suspension truly absorbs all but the nastiest bumps and holes. Even where potholes become incessantly constant, the XC70 copes masterfully, behaving as if it's simply out for a leisurely jaunt through the park, sniffing the flowers. On relatively smooth unpaved surfaces, you hardly know you're on anything unusual. And on paved highways, the ride is utterly untroubled.
Some road noise turns up at times, but it's not irritating. A thick steering-wheel rim is ideal for challenging drives, and XC70 comports itself with easy confidence, fazed by little. Utterly unperturbed overall, no matter how harshly it's treated, the XC70 keeps coming back for more. Even nasty washboards don't really threaten composure. Poised and surefooted, it never gives a hint of looseness, squeakiness, or laxity of any sort. Plenty of supposedly tough, truck-based SUVs could take a lesson from the Swedish engineers who developed this model.
Acceleration is not the XC70's strong point, even with the new six-cylinder engine, but performance is wholly adequate for this class. Volvo's Hill Descent Control does its job of limiting speed on downgrades, but it works only in first gear (or reverse) of the transmission's manual mode.
Firmly cushioned seats are pleasant and sensible for long hauls, providing fine thigh support and moderate side bolstering. Handsome leather gives the interior an appealing personality, helped by an easy-to-read trip odometer and gauges.
On sale since late September, the XC70 stickers for $36,775 (plus destination charge). That's only a slight increase over the previous model, which had a base price of $36,420. With a Premium Package, metallic paint and other extras, the price escalates to $41,865. Competitors are few: mainly the BMW 3-Series wagon and Audi Avant Quattro. Shoppers might also be looking at an Acura RDX or BMW X3 SUV-style crossover. Audi's allroad quattro used to be a more direct competitor to the XC70, but that model no longer exists.
With the 2008 XC70, Volvo "tried to redefine the crossover entry," said product manager Leif Settergren. Judging by its prowess through the wilds of northwest Montana, the new model has taken a substantial leap ahead of its already-appealing predecessor.
In November, a redesigned, more conventional V70 wagon will debut. "Wagons are a core part of our brand," said executive vice-president Speck. "We have a very loyal following in that segment."