Jumat, 06 Juni 2008

Volvo XC70 Review

By Alex Dykes

In 1998, Volvo was SUV deficient. As they didn't have a truck chassis upon which to build, those crazy Swedes grabbed a station wagon, raised it a couple of inches and added all wheel-drive. Since then, the XC70's ground clearance has risen, transforming a slightly jacked-up joy rider (6.5") to a Jeep-wannabe (8.2"). The move leaves Volvo with a fully-fledged… something. Whatever it is, it is what it is. And now that Volvo has a "proper" SUV, the question must be asked: is the XC70 an anachronism whose time has come and gone?

On the outside, Volvo's anti-stylists went for Eddie Bauer off-road chic: front and rear skid plates, flared wheel arches and enough protective side cladding to fend off a flotilla of angry supermarket shoppers. The designers also swiped the side mirrors off an XC90, creating an elephantine addendum that's more Dumbo than dirt devil. In sum, the result is as intended: a cross between a V70 wagon and a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo.

The XC70's interior architecture is bog standard Volvo, save the area between the armrest and the shifter. That hallowed (hollowed?) space offers front seat passengers a grab handle for forays into the rough stuff, whether it's speed bumps in Neiman Marcus' parking lot or genuine off-road action. The leather seat's "rugged" stitching provides a welcome alternative to French seams, while the Berber floor mats' thicker, tighter loop is more durable and less likely to show footprints than standard surfaces– which is, you know, important for a station wagon cum mud plugger.

Despite being seven years old, the XC70's interior's fit and finish is superb, with panel gaps and materials that wouldn't seem out of place in an Audi. The XC70's wood inlays (real or simulated, your choice) are applied with perfect restraint, and the doors close with more of a thud than you'd imagine for a vehicle once famous for schlepping college professors to liberal arts universities. The only blot on the copy book: the made-like-Rubbermaid instrument cluster cover.

On the road, the XC70 pitches and wallows like pre-oil embargo American land yachts. While you would expect whale-like manners from a Jeep product, the XC70's car-like interior atmos clashes with the SUV ride. Fortunately, Volvo's [optional] Four-C active chassis system banishes the high seas body roll, as well as nose tip and dive– without detracting from the XC70's off-road prowess.

With 208 turbocharged ponies and 236 ft.-lbs. of twist on tap, the XC70 isn't slow. Nor fast. Volvo's corporate 5-cylinder mill's rabid tip-in will no doubt make XC70 owners feel quick. But after half throttle is engaged, even Scottie can't get any more power (Captain). The five-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly enough, but when it comes to downshifting, it's inclined to decline on an incline. It's a pity Volvo's parts sharing party didn't include the 257hp or 300hp versions of this engine. [Next year's U.S. model gets the 3.2-liter 236hp engine shared with the S80 and XC90.]

And yes, I did say off-road prowess. The XC70's approach, break over and departure angles (16°, 18° and 20° respectively) are none too shabby for a glorified grocery getter. The wagon's ground clearance makes short work of streams and dismisses small boulders in a single bound.

On rough dirt roads, the XC70 feels wonderfully well poised and reassuringly secure. The wagon's all-wheel-drive system's front wheel bias also keeps handling predictable when the roads get slick. The system engages so quickly that it's almost impossible to elicit anything more than a slight slip before the electronics shuffle power around (Volvo claims less than one seventh of a tire rotation before power transfer).

In the redwood forests inhabiting the Santa Cruz Mountains, the XC70's stiff chassis, low curb weight and low center of gravity made hooning around the dirt tracks as simple as choosing the correct CD accompaniment. The XC70s rudimentary skid plates provided welcome protection from the rocks and sticks of outrageous scenery. And despite YouTube videos to the contrary, the XC70's Haldex AWD system proved a faithful companion when one or more wheels went airborne.

You could say the XC70 is a slightly underpowered, slightly over-priced, slightly more luxurious Subaru Outback. But then that wouldn't give credit where credit's due. For people who need an extremely capacious go-anywhere wagon, there really isn't any suitable alternative. Now that Audi's Allroad has been deleted from Ingolstadt's lineup (in favor of the grotesque Q7 SUV), there's no vehicle that compares directly with Volvo's $45K wagon-on-stilts.

If you need/want this sort of thing, it's most definitely NOT an irrelevance. Better yet, Volvo is evolving the model for '08, adding the aforementioned more powerful engine, more ground height, better approach/departure angles and hill speed control. The XC70 may fill a relatively small not to say obscure niche, but it fills it very well indeed.