SUV's slowly came into prominence with manufacturers adapting their truck chasses to carry wagon bodies. Volvo on the other hand did the opposite, jacking up their S80 sedan to fit a wagon body and adding four-wheel drive.
Some manufacturers continue to roll out new wagons, but the buying public seems already converted to SUV's. Volvo is a victim of its own success, losing V70 and XC70 sales to the more SUV-like XC90. But in spite of the SUV and MPV growth, Volvo continues to push its XC70.
Indeed the XC70 is something of a niche-car being part wagon and part SUV. Yet much of the experience remains unmistakably station wagon.
The exterior is very S80 albeit with some tougher scratch-proof body cladding all around the bottom. There are brushed aluminum (rather than chrome) accents all around, and the hardy six-spoke wheels still bear an embossed "XC" logo on one spoke. The proud shoulders remain while the cut of the tail gate now takes most of the tail-light assembly with it.
Inside, there's hardly any hint of off-road aspiration. The interior is very civil and feels every bit like an S80. The steering is festooned with buttons laid out in a very logical manner. The instrument cluster consists of two dials; speedo and tach, with innovative floating needles. In the center of each lie multifunction displays that can tell everything from an incoming call, door ajar, radio station, mileage, range and fuel consumption. The Volvo has adapted the start/stop button system as well, but executed in a more no-fuss manner.
In the center of the dash sits the distinct floating console with nothing more than a single screen for climate, radio and cell-phone display. All the buttons fall into a neatly arranged cluster, for brainless operation. The car pairs effortlessly with a cell phone. It can copy all of the messages to the car's memory so that contacts, logs and text messages can be read in the screen while the phone is stowed neatly away in the glove box. When a call comes in, the volume of the stereo is automatically muted while the voice call comes out of the sound system. The genius of its design begins to make more sense when you begin to use it. Imagine being able to control the climate, radio station and Bluetooth function all at the same time. There's a bit of ingenuity everywhere from the height-adjustable integrated child booster cushions, to the cornering lamps, power tailgate and even the front passenger folding seat.
Of course, all the toys aside, the XC70 still drives like a dream. The suspension is truly amazing, muting even the harshest of bumps that make a rocky road feel like a carpet all while keeping the body securely in check. There's some amount of roll and it certainly isn't as sporty as its predecessor, but the comfort has certainly been brought to a higher level.
Being a Volvo, you can imagine the paranoid amount of safety equipment; everything from anti-body roll control, curtain airbags, side impact beams, blind spot warning lights, sonar and even a sensor in the tailgate that ensures no hand gets caught. Needless to say, you'd have to have a death wish to get into an accident with this car.
This model was pulled along by a 5 cylinder 2.4 liter common rail turbo diesel, making power always available with hardly a fuel penalty at that. Power is delivered through the six speed automatic with manual mode and it is, in turn, delivered to the wheels with the smart part-time all-wheel drive system. It's not lacking in off-road ability either as the generous clearance is more than enough to survive muddy trails and steep ascents or descents. Thanks to the economical diesel, the whole 500+ kilometer adventure used little more than half a tank with a mix of highway, city and off road driving.
Three of us motoring journalists had our turns in the car; a father in his forties, and two of us in our mid-twenties. Despite our varying preferences in cars, we could all agree that the XC70 was quite a gem. It can be a laid back drive with nothing but cruising, or a spirited one, complimented by the car's assortment of tech bits. Either way, it's bound to perform exceptionally. And while none of us was an off-road aficionado, it was clear that anything the Volvo could do was all you really needed.
There was even an argument as to whether the XC70 was now an SUV rather than a very capable station wagon. I'd still like to think of it as a station wagon. Adding all-wheel drive hasn't detracted from its initial purpose. It's still very much the family car with new abilities to take it further. If you only have room for one car in the garage, the XC70 ought to be parked there, because it will please every member of the family, even the sporty, young-at-heart Dad.
For once I'm beginning to understand the rationale behind Volvo's insistence on the XC70. Nothing beats the car-like ride, handling and warm, fuzzy and worry-free atmosphere a station wagon can bring. Come to think of it, it's not a typical station wagon feeling, it's strictly a Volvo station wagon feeling.