2008 Volvo XC70: Inoffensive Transportation

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Volvo’s redone XC70’s main trait is to blend in and avoid controversy. Even though there has been major work done, the old XC is nearly identical in appearance and performance to the new one. Thus if you can forgo the extra safety features and larger cargo capacity a good deal on a 2007 model would be in order. Remember that these aren’t big sellers, but they do have a wonderful reputation for utility and safety that should appeal to those customers who like a bit of character in what they drive as well as having a practical bent.

To make more room the new model is two inches longer in the wheelbase and four inches longer overall. This makes for a very commodious interior, but one that lacks any type of exotic or cushy features. It is as if Volvo decided that being political correct was the way to attract new customers. There aren’t any sharp edges, puffy leather surfaces, glaring chrome pieces, and no electronic doodads, just a large cavern on wheels. Of course, that cavern has a host of safety features that has become a tradition from this Swedish company.

Standard equipment includes traction control, a hill decent program that permits the car to edge slowly down steep grades at six mile per hour, air bags nearly everywhere, tire-pressure monitoring, and a unique adjustable child’s seat that is clearly novel and needed. Also available are a collision warning with brake support that warns the driver if it senses a collision may occur with the car in front and automatically brakes if the driver fails to respond. We didn’t check this system or even challenge it, but it is nice to know it is there. Also available is a blind spot information program. This lets you know if there is a vehicle in your side mirror’s blind spots. Well worth it, but after testing if we found that there needs to be a more distinct warning buzzer that can be turned up or off by the driver.

Under the hood is a transversely mounted 235-horsepower, 3.2-liter; inline-6 that offers 236 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is adequate, but when the wagon is fully loaded and you are driving in the mountains you are going to want a more power. It takes a while for the six speed automatic transmission to react to and when it does the engine’s response is tepid. The standard all wheel drive system eats up a lot of the propulsion and the cars 4400-pound weight doesn’t help either.

Mom’s view: A trip back in time, that was my reaction to the Volvo XC70. It is the least expressive car I have driver in ages. It is smooth, quiet, slow, and gentle. There isn’t an aggressive bolt in its character. You can’t even provoke it by pushing on its petrol pedal. The ride is on the bouncy side due to the long travel of its off-roadable suspension and any quick input from the steering wheel is taken with a grain of salt. It reacts, but not dramatically. For those who like to drive get the V70 wagon and you have a winner. This is the best XC 70 ever, but it isn’t overwhelming in terms of driver participation. Overall this Volvo is a fine car for ski trips, travel in areas of inclement weather, and for those who want the room of a SUV with the safety and practicality of a station wagon. It is well worth the $36,000 price especially when compared to the competition from Subaru that offers less interior room and fewer features for a similar price.

Safety features abound. High -intensity-discharge headlights that turn in the direction of the steering wheel are optional and terrific. They could fry that deer caught it the headlights. You also have over eight inches of ground clearance to safely ride over highway residue as well as snowdrifts and high centered dirt roads. There are dual stage front airbags, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags that extend lower than on previous models, a stability system, and the Volvo anti-whiplash system that helps prevent serious injury in rear-end collision. The longitudinal layout of the engine provides a greater front crush area. Volvo also has daytime running lights and adaptive cruise control as well as an available Personal Car Communicator keyless starting system. I found this feature very useful as it was easy to place the keycard in the ignition located high on the dash and press the start button to get underway. It was much better than a key system. Volvo also had what they call a Ready Alert Brakes and Fading Brake Support that are supposed to improve braking response time. I found the brake pedal feel a little soft, but when you were serious the XC responded well.

The interior is plain, painfully plain, except for a very unusual gas gauge that sits horizontally near the bottom of the center cluster. It is easy to read and leaves room for a larger speedometer and tachometer. However, the font sizes could be increased for ease of reading at night. The interior lighting is only average. The rear hatch isn’t too high or heavy to lift and close, but if you are left handed, as I am, you are out of luck because the grab handle to shut the hatch is on the right hand side. Why not one on both sides? The rear seats have a 40/20/40, and the outboard ones have an optional heating feature do the front seats. This is a blessing on cold mornings as the seat heaters work quickly and evenly. The car heater and air conditioning are slower to react and the controls are a bit more complicated. Fortunately, Volvo has gotten rid of its awful radio station all in one knob. The stereo selection if now simpler to use, but the knobs for the climate control and radio are easy to mix-up at first.

I like the look of the XC70 and feel it is superior to SUVs and even minivans for straightforwardness of use and safety features. It has a high seating position, is easier to load an infant, and has much greater visibility in all directions to vans and SUVS. My only disappointment was the relaxed nature of the engine’s response and the 18-mpg we averaged on regular. Only at highway cruising speed were we able to break the 20-mpg barrier.

Dad’s view: A very solid vehicle that appears unflappable on most every type of road. The transmission can be shifted manually, but the lack of engine torque makes this frustrating at times as there is just so much the inline six can do when confronted with a high gear ratio and two tons of Swedish steel to tote around.

The cargo area has aluminum rails and a tie-down system to secure boxes and you can order a special unit that pops up to help hold grocery bags in place. When we owned a Volvo wagon we just put some small cardboard boxes back there, but this unit is clearly better, especially since it folds out of the way.

I felt relaxed driving the XC70, not because it felt sturdy and was loaded with safety features, but because you just can’t be in a hurry with this wagon. The 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine with its dual overhead cam design and variable intake system needs 6200 rpm to produce its work, even though the 236 lb-ft of torque is ready at still high 3200 rpm. This means that unless you are willing to work the Geartronic manual shift acceleration is going to be languid. Volvo says the XC70 will arrive at 60 mph in just over eight seconds. We found that with a family onboard it was over 10 seconds. I found that it was best just to let this Volvo do its work at its own pace and relax.

Suspension is fully independent with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink system in the rear. Shock damping is very good considering that the engineers had to design a car that was capable of going both off road and on paved highway without sacrificing safety or ride comfort. You can even get a 3000 plus pound towing capacity with the wagon. Driving curves is best left to the brave as there is considerable lean. However, this Volvo is far more capable than it feels as it stays well grounded and the front wheel power pulls you through corners well, but beware that the understeering means you must be schooled in how to drive all wheel vehicles to get the most out of them.

Working woman’s view: There is a lot of room here and seating for four adults is a snap. The back seats could use a bit more headroom and the rear center position has a driveline hump to deal with. Pricing on our test vehicle was $37,520, but the major options can drive that up dramatically with a navigation system adding over $2000 to that total and the twin-screen rear entertainment system nearly $1800 more. Other options include a premium package with leather upholstery, sunroof, wood trim, auto-dimming inside mirror, a garage-door opener, heated and power driver’s seat, a desirable power tailgate, and a parking-assist system. You can easily find yourself with a $45,000 Volvo if you aren’t judicious in your option selections.

I’m a sucker for a gimmick, which is why I love the Chrysler minivan Stow and Go option. Volvo has now entered my realm of interest with its adjustable kid’s seats. They are located in both second row outboard seats. To use them just raise the seat bottoms to either of the two available positions based on the height of the child. One setting is for children from 45 to 55 inches tall and the other for those 37 to 47 inches in height. Designed for children from about four to 10 years of age or so, they are simple to use and an industry first for Volvo. The seats also allow children to look out the windows if you don’t order the DVD option with screens mounted in the front headrests to transfix their attention.

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If you have a family this Volvo should be on your short list as if is so much user friendly than the gas hoggish SUVs and provide more ground clearance then minivans. I liked the looks, too, with its wide stance and easy to use interior and cargo areas. And I always like those full-height taillights that frame the rear hatch.

College going male’s view: The sound system needs to be improved and the option system is highly recommended for a car with such a large interior space. The Audio Package has a 650-watt amplifier, Dolby Pro-Logic II Surround Sound, 12 Dynaudio speakers, 6-CD changer, rear seat headphone jacks and Sirius Satellite Radio. Get it. The slim center stack area is clever, but not visually impressive. We didn’t get a car with the GPS, but if the salesperson can’t explain it to you in under a couple of minutes don’t order it. Handheld units are less expensive, easier to update, and are obviously portable. Volvo also has a Personal Car Communicator with Keyless Drive, two-way car communication and heartbeat sensor. We didn’t have this option, but it sounds very cool. Maybe it could monitor the heart rate of your date? Now that would be an option every guy would order.

The steering wheel is a little too thick and blocks the gauges after I found a comfortable seating position even though the steering column is adjustable. The sun visors don’t slide enough to provide good coverage and although there is an abundance of interior storage areas, the glove compartment light and map lights are barely adequate. Drop the key fob on the floor at night and you’ll see why.

This is one car that looks bigger on the outside than the inside. I love to camp and there is enough room to sleep in this Volvo, but the Volkswagen Passat wagon has more area and is much less expensive as is the Dodge Magnum, and it can also be order with all wheel drive, too. Both the Dodge and the Volkswagen also get better fuel mileage. In other words, the Volvo is for those who love the idea of the Volvo and need the reassurances that it represents. If I wanted a wagon I would wait for the new V70 from Volvo.

Family conference: We owned a Volvo wagon for nearly ten years. It was expensive to maintain, but we put over 400,000 miles on it without having a major problem. Even the turbocharger proved problem free. The 2008 Volvo XC70 is much improved and a fine family vehicle. It does everything expected of a station wagon and adds all wheel drive, built in boaster chairs, and a go anywhere ability. The only drawback was the fuel mileage and the power. Overall, this Volvo is easily one of the best vehicles for those who want the versatility and safety of a wagon with the utility of a SUV.

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