As northerners prepare for the wintry weather ahead, those in the south are still recovering from a brutal hurricane and rain season. While all-wheel drive vehicles have a large following in the northern states for navigating snowdrifts and ice-covered roads, their added traction is beneficial in mud, sand and water, too.
For this reason, Volvo introduced the third generation of its off-roading station wagon, the 2008 Volvo XC70 crossover. While most crossovers use an SUV-like design on top of a car-based chassis, the XC70 reverses that thinking and uses a body almost identical to the V70 wagon, focusing on suspension and drivetrain enhancements to create a more rugged and versatile vehicle.
With 8.3 inches of ground clearance, the XC70 sits higher than a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander despite giving up at least six inches in overall height to both vehicles. While the Haldex all-wheel drive system lacks a true locking differential and most likely won't be confused for a full four-wheel drive system, the XC70 is more than capable of getting itself into and out of low-traction situations. The standard hill descent control uses the brakes and engine torque to help keep Volvo's crossover wagon from getting out of control while descending steep grades. While some crossovers look like they are designed for mall parking lots and school pickup lanes, the XC70 looks every bit the part for an off-road capable vehicle.
The smooth, clean lines of the V70 are interrupted on the XC70 with the extensive use of dark, matte plastic and bright, aluminum-colored trim encompassing the lower portion of the car. In addition to providing an aggressive look, the XC70's plastic cladding adds increased ruggedness and scratch prevention on trails, as well as providing wider wheel flares to protect the 235/55R17 Continental tires. Unique front and rear fascias help give the XC70 a wider appearance with large, blocky fog light bezels up front and thick, accent reflectors out back. The Oyster Grey Metallic paint job on our test car was actually more of a light brown hue and, combined with the dark plastic cladding, gave the XC70 a very outdoorsy look.
Despite the XC70's rugged, off-road exterior, the cabin is an untouched carryover from the luxurious S80 that we tested last year. The optional leather seats were soft and provided exceptional support luxury, while all of the gadgetry and controls were within a close reach and easy to use. The center stack uses Volvo's signature waterfall design that flows down into a gear shifter wrapped in more soft leather and surrounded by real wood inlays that are also found on the door panels and on the instrument panel. The leather seats and wood inlays were part of a $2,995 option package that also included the power moonroof, power passenger seat and a rearview mirror with compass and HomeLink.
In fact, most of the added options on the XC70 we drove were inside the cabin. The $1,650 Dynaudio Package adds the Dynaudio premium sound system with Dolby ProLogic II surround sound, rear seat audio controls and headphone jacks and Sirius-ready stereo, while the $2,995 Climate and Child Booster Seats Package adds heated seats and windshield washer nozzles, rain sensor windshield wipers, headlamp washer nozzles and dual integrated, two-stage booster seats for children in the outboard seating positions of the rear seats.
With the same amount of cargo capacity as the V70 wagon, the XC70 increases its utility by providing 33.3 cubic feet of cargo space while seating five passengers and up to 72.1 cubic feet with the 40/20/40 split rear seat folded down. For bulkier items, the XC70 comes standard with integrated roof racks and with the convenience of a fold flat passenger front seat, the XC70 can swallow items up to nine feet in length. The XC70 also has the ability to tow the dirtbikes or ATVs to the trails with a 3,300-pound maximum towing capacity.
Powering the 2008 XC70 is Volvo's proven 3.2-liter I-6 mated to a six-speed automatic Geartronic transmission with manual shift mode. Good news for those looking for a little more power, the 2009 XC70 will offer a turbocharged 3.0-liter I-6, which puts out 281 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque without sacrificing fuel economy. The XC70 gets an estimated 15 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, and our test car averaged just over 19 mpg on mixed driving.
Considering the XC70's purpose, it still maintains a comfortable, smooth ride and is surprisingly agile on twisty roads. For such a tall vehicle, the XC70 exhibited little body roll in tight corners and the steering was very predictable. While this boxy Volvo probably won't win any drag races, its quick acceleration and smooth shifting make it feel much faster than it probably is. Volvo says the XC70 can run from 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds - about average for a vehicle in this class.
Volvo's commitment to safety is apparent on the latest XC70. The XC70's side-curtain airbag extends lower to protect children in the integrated booster seats, while multiple crumple zones and whiplash protection help keep everyone inside the car safe in the event of an accident. Additional standard safety features include dynamic stability control with traction control, daytime running lights and a total of six airbags.
The hard part to swallow for those cross shopping the XC70 against the Pilot, Highlander or even XC90 may be its price with a base MSRP of $37,775. Tack on the laundry list of optional luxury and premium features our test car had and the prices jumped up to $44,065. That price puts the XC70 about on par with some larger and roomier competition. In the end, though, it comes down to the ability to stand out among a sea of crossovers without giving up any of the rugged off-road capabilities that many buyers are accustomed to, and the 2008 Volvo XC70 delivers.