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2008 Volvo XC70
Reviews By Martha Hindes

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2008 Volvo XC70

SEE ALSO:Volvo Specs and Prices - Volvo Buyers Guide

2008 Volvo XC70 Review
By Martha Hindes
The Auto Channel

The car I was driving sat for a moment near the crest of a steep hill, the nose pointed skyward. On the other side was a hundred foot drop down a barely existent trail, mostly tire tracks with a lot of brush growing in between. It was obvious not many vehicles could clamber up and over this kind of terrain. Most likely it would be a sport utility, and perhaps one designed for rock climbing at that. But a car making the grade? That was another story. Could mine? I was about to find out.

I had no idea just how steep the descending embankment would be, although I had been promised by the folks at the Swedish auto maker Volvo that the newly redesigned 2008 XC70 I was commanding would handle it with ease. Relax, I had been told. The car will do it all. There wouldn't be any scrambling to change gears, no frantic attempt to maintain control on the steep slide down, no punching the brake pedal in an effort to slow a too-fast descent.

I gathered my courage and toggled the vehicle over the crest, trusting that I wouldn't be falling off a sheer cliff. Then I saw what was waiting below. I couldn't guess the grade, but it obviously was extremely steep. Kind of mountain goat territory, it seemed. As instructed, I nudged it forward, making sure my foot wasn't on either the gas or the brake pedal and let Volvo's Hill Descent Control take over. With a slight sound of gear changes and braking grunt, I felt it edge gently down the extreme slope until it met up with a gathering of similar vehicles at the bottom, where some drivers who had preceded me watched the next "victim" take the plunge.

With this as a culmination of a day of driving on mostly non-paved roads or trails, I was finally convinced. The vehicle that company officials claimed was an off-road Volvo certainly seemed to be so.

We had set out from the Lodge at Whitefish Lake just a few miles from the Canadian border near Glacier National Park in the Montana Rockies to prove a point. This redesigned wagon not only would offer up premium luxury, flexibility and the ever present and expected safety features Volvo is legendary for, but would serve as a true get-away adventure vehicle for the hardiest of its fans.

All-wheel-drive is standard on the XC70, and was much appreciated during the scoot along mountain roads that sometimes edged close to dropoffs.

A 3.2-liter transversely mounted, gasoline-powered inline 6 is the only engine available and is limited to 130-MPH according to Volvo. Pumping out 235-horsepower and 236 lb-ft. of torque, it is guided by a standard six-speed "Geartronic," driver-adaptive automatic. When the urge to kick gears comes into play, manual mode is available to handle the call. Despite hearing some complaints about insufficient low-end torque, I found it competent for the kind of driving we encountered during the day. With no track nearby to test its zero to 60 potential that Volvo rates at 8.1 seconds, I would leave that argument to those who had.

The XC70 delivers an estimated fuel economy of 15 MPG city and 22 highway. Our hours of driving left a relatively modest gap in the gas gauge readout. As a woman driving on this kind of trip, I actually was more typical than not. Slightly more women than men buy Volvos overall, a testament perhaps to the leading edge safety systems Volvo is known for. The XC70 comes loaded with standard and optional safety equipment, including a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) to warn of adjacent traffic, inflatable side air curtains among a full complement of air bags, Whiplash Protection Seating System (WHIPS), and tire pressure monitors. A Personal Car Communicator has keyless drive and a two-way communicating heartbeat sensor.

I tried out the expanded rear legroom (now 34.6 inches) and found it more than adequate even if there hadn't been some additional toe wiggle room under the front seat. I can only guess how a six-foot male would do, however, since I'm several inches shorter than that. Child booster seats in the rear weren't the one-step-up variety found in other autos. Instead, the design is a patented two-stage version developed by Volvo with dual levels so the seat will go lower in increments as the child sitting in it grows larger.

Interior trim was quality with an attractive overlapping of tones, brushed aluminum and mesh pockets. Driving gauges are "caved" under a high instrument panel arch to prevent sunlight fadeout. Leather seats (heated front and rear for those cold Nordic drives) were supportive but comfortable after several hours. The sloping center console that housed the shifter offered easy access to sound and comfort gauges. A 40-20-40 split rear seat would allow longer storage items to intrude between two outboard-seated rear passengers.

While Volvo vehicles have been maligned at times in the past for paying more attention to safety than to style, the XC70 has grown downright handsome in its revision. Body work is sleeker with just the right amount of supple lines to keep it from being boring. Trim is added in unexpected places such as a bold surround that encircles and draws attention to sport lights in front and around rear lamps. The windshield flows back in a more aerodynamic slant, and the overhead roof rack flows in a continuous line from the A pillar rearward. Additional ground clearance height for better water fording ability and available 17" wheels lend a strong, aggressive appearance. Sweeping profile lines taper smoothly into the rear fascia. And the rear hatch has a molded look rather than being squared off as before.

Thanks to expanded size, the 2008 XC70 sports a surprising amount of interior storage room -- 72.1 cubic feet maximum with all folding seats stored away. Rear tire wells don't intrude into the cargo space. The storage floor is low enough to easily accommodate storing bulky or heavy items. And hidden storage beneath the rear floor can hide some precious items that need to stay out of sight and away from greedy hands. I took a dare and put my hand in the way of the self-closing hatch door and found the safety sensors that prevent smashed fingers really do work.

The XC70 clocks in at $36,775, before many of the options on our test vehicle. (BLIS tacks on $695 and adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support adds another $1,495. Such safety adds are well worth the price, according to those who testify to Volvo's acclaimed safety record.) Volvo adds a four-year/50,000-mile standard warranty that includes four years of On Call Roadside Assistance. Corrosion is covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

On paved roads, the XC70 handled easily and returned a solid feel through the steering wheel, seats and gas pedal. It lapped easily along the curving dirt roadways we followed during most of the day's drive.

The collection of automotive journalists --- famed for often pushing the limits -- had been warned in advance to resist the temptation to test the active chassis by becoming airborne over bumps during our flights down some undulating dirt roads. After a driver change I learned, as a passenger, just how solid and agile the XC70 was in an exhilarating, post-airborne landing. That was something almost every driver apparently tried.

But Volvo didn't divulge all of its secrets prior to the ride. As we sat around a dinner table the last evening there, execs shared the secret that the Hill Descent Control would work just as well in reverse as in drive. You don't think they figured we'd try that out too, do you?

Martha Hindes, All Rights Reserved