2008 Volvo XC70 Road Test
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2008 Volvo XC70 Preview
I'm on a forest service road in the mountains of northern Montana, just outside of Glacier National Park and only a few miles from Canada. I really don't need the ice-alert light in the instrument cluster to tell me that it might be cold enough for slippery, icy conditions. I can feel the cold through the window glass if I touch my hand to the side window, and I can see the white stuff coming down. It's sticking, too - just a light covering, but still a little unusual for mid-September.
I'm not too worried. The 2008 Volvo XC70 that I'm driving is perfect for this road and this weather. With 8.3 inches of ground clearance and short overhangs, it has good approach, breakover, and departure angles for the trickier sections of the dirt and gravel roads that make the majority of the drive route, especially the full-width dam-like structures that look to be an interesting - and functional - solution to water erosion problems. The XC70's long-travel fully-independent suspension had no problem dealing with anything found on or in the mostly-improved but unpaved roads that are the fare for the day, and comfort is very good - a compliment to both the suspension and the fine Volvo seats. The standard all-wheel drive system has been upgraded with "Instant Traction"(tm). There's even Hill Descent Control if the road should get seriously steep. And the previous model's light-pressure turbocharged five-cylinder engine has been replaced with a 235-horsepower inline six, so power is never in short supply.
"Luxury, versatility, and safety" was a term Volvo spokespeople used often in the pre-drive briefing to describe the goals of XC70 development and market positioning. And these goals have been met. It has the Swedish Modern design and high degree of refinement and comfort expected from a Volvo, SUV-like interior configurability and poor-road capability, and the full complement of Volvo safety technology, both passive and active.
The third generation of Volvo's luxury crossover wagon, which debuted a decade ago as the Cross Country and was renamed XC70 partway through the second generation in 2003, might look much like a simple restyling of immediate predecessor, but far more is involved. Almost every part is new, starting with the structural platform. It's based on the newest S80, which although a development of the previous large Volvo platform has increased structural strength and rigidity. It's designed for safety, with a strong safety cage around the passenger compartment. As with the S60, extra length in the front and the use of a transversely-mounted inline six-cylinder engine allows a larger deformable crush structure in front, for improved occupant protection in frontal collisions. Further passive protection comes from standard daytime running lights, dual-stage front airbags, the SIPS side-impact protection system with side and side curtain airbags, the WHIPS whiplash protection system, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Adaptive cruise control, the BLIS blind spot information system, and the Personal Car Communicator keyless starting system are also available. Active safety is addressed by four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist and the DSTC dynamic stability and traction control system. Ready Alert Brakes and Fading Brake Support improve braking response time.
As before, the XC70's suspension is similar to that of other Volvo sedans and wagons, fully independent with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink system in the rear. Ground clearance is greater and suspension travel is longer, but the suspension is calibrated in the contemporary European luxury-sport manner, moderately firm with very good shock damping. Despite over eight inches of ground clearance, that and the XC70's low height and 4092-pound curb weight mean much better handling than is available from a higher, heavier SUV. It is by no stretch of the imagination a rally car, but it can quite happily and safely be driven briskly in the twisties, and can deal well with poorly-paved and improved unpaved surfaces thanks to its clearance and standard all-wheel drive system. The Hill Descent Control system allows easier operation in low gear when slowly descending steep hills - or in reverse when backing a boat trailer down a slippery launch ramp. And with a 3300-pound towing capacity, the new XC70 can handle personal watercraft or small boats easily.
The 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine introduced last fall in the S80 also powers the 2008 XC70. A dual overhead cam design in aluminum alloy with Cam Profile Switching and the Variable Intake System, it's the same physical size as the old 2.5-liter turbo and produces 235 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 236 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm on regular unleaded gasoline. It's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with Geartronic manual shift mode. Acceleration is good - Volvo claims an 8.1-second 0-60 time, and that seems about right, and EPA gas mileage estimates are 15 mpg city / 22 highway, not bad considering the XC70's size. My driving experience was very good. Inline-six engines are naturally smooth and balanced, and this one is a good example. Top-end power is not a consideration at low speeds on poor roads, but low-end torque is, and here the XC70's powertrain did very well. Rarely was there a reason to over-ride the automatic and use Geartronic.
Outside, the new XC70 is cleaner than its predecessor, with less body cladding. It has the broad-shouldered look that has characterized Volvos since the debut of the first-generation S80 almost a decade ago, and the high-visibility full-height taillights that have been a Volvo wagon hallmark even longer. The rear window has been enlarged, principally at its bottom, for improved visibility. Inside is the Swedish Modern design that has also been a Volvo hallmark in recent years, with a free-standing center stack and excellent seat comfort. A new option that improves rear passenger comfort and safety can be fitted to the outboard portions of the 40/20/40 split rear seat. It consists of integrated dual-height booster cushions, which bring head height for children or small adults to the proper level for correct airbag protection, and also improve visibility.
Volvo calls the new XC70 a "family adventure vehicle", and it fits that description well. But in the marketing presentation, journalists were told that a large percentage of buyers were expected to be pre-family couples with active lifestyles. For them, I see it as a four-wheeled equivalent of the European "adventure touring" motorcycles that are characterized by a Paris-Dakar enduro replica look and long-distance touring ability on improved unpaved roads as well as pavement. Call it an "adventure touring crossover", then. In that role, the 2008 Volvo XC70 combines all of the comforts of civilization with the ability to go to interesting and out-of-the-way places. It's on-sale date is October 1, 2007, with a base price of $36,775 plus a $745 destination charge.