Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Safe, comfortable wagons for all seasons.
Volvo's 70 series wagons offer a vehicle for every style of driving, from backcountry bushwhacking in a Cross Country to antiquing in a V70 to turbocharged barnstorming in a V70R. With the range of models, buyers can choose urban practicality, comfortable sophistication, serious performance, or off-road competence. Regardless of your choice, these are superb wagons.
The Volvo V70 2.4 offers a smooth ride and front-wheel drive. The V70 2.5T kicks it up a notch with turbocharged power, and sportier handling. For the driver who wants a real adrenalin boost, the high-performance V70R with big Brembo brakes and a 300-horsepower engine would even be at home at car club track days. The 2006 V70R comes standard with all-wheel drive, which improves its handling stability in the rain and snow.
Most popular, however, is the Volvo XC70 Cross Country. It's a great substitute for a sport-utility. We verified this on epic drives over rough, rock-strewn trails in the Baja in the summer and up lonely, frozen roads from Anchorage northward across the Yukon River to Point Barrow in the winter. The Cross Country boasts an elevated chassis for ground clearance, no-dent body armor to brush aside trail debris, and all-wheel-drive traction for slippery conditions. Yet it offers the smooth ride and agile handling of a luxury car, while coddling occupants in a luxurious cabin. The Cross Country gets an improved all-wheel-drive system for 2006.
The cabins are elegant and well designed. An adaptable seating arrangement and a cavernous cargo compartment complete with tie-down hooks and other useful accessories make them practical. With the rear seats folded, the flat floor makes loading bulky cargo easier than in many SUVs.
The 70 series cars are worthy heirs to Volvo's historic reputation for safety. Responsive steering, electronic brake enhancements, and optional traction control are designed to help drivers avoid accidents in the first place. Airbags are positioned to cocoon driver and passengers from after-impact injuries. Active seats protect occupants from whiplash injuries, and interior integrity is sustained by a safety-cell body structure.
Four major models comprise the Volvo 70 series of wagons: the V70 2.4, the 2.5T, the V70R, and the XC70 Cross Country. They differ in terms of engines, suspensions and packaging but share attributes.
The V70 2.4 ($29,445) is powered by a 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine that develops 168 horsepower (165 in California) and drives the front wheels. It comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic is optional ($1000). Standard equipment includes power four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS, 15-inch aluminum wheels, and a long list of luxury, safety, and convenience features.
V70 2.5T ($32,765) has more power, using light-pressure turbocharging with intercooling to coax 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque from the same basic engine. The 2.5T comes standard with Volvo's Geartronic automatic transmission, wider tires on 16-inch wheels, power seats and automatic climate control.
V70R ($39,545) gets a turbocharged, twin-intercooled 300-horsepower version of the 2.3-liter engine, featuring bigger brakes with four-piston Brembo calibers, a six-speed close-ratio gearbox, and the technically advanced Four-C active suspension system. Instant Traction all-wheel drive comes standard on the V70R for 2006. A six-speed Geartronix microprocessor-controlled automatic with an auto-stick function is optional ($1,250).
XC70 Cross Country ($35,700) is powered by the same turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-5 engine as the 2.5T, and comes standard with the Geartronic automatic transmission. The Cross Country features a Haldex all-wheel-drive system improved for 2006 with Instant Traction, which maintains a constant torque load on the rear wheels to maximize traction response in slippery conditions. The off-road capabilities are enhanced with higher ground clearance, and front and rear skid plates. The XC70 comes standard with a traction control system called TRACS; the more sophisticated Dynamic Stability and Traction Control is optional ($695). A sophisticated active chassis system of adjustable shock absorbers, called Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) is optional ($995). The Cross Country comes with slightly taller P215/65R16 tires than the other models.
The V70 T5 model has been discontinued.
Many options and option packages are available. Premium Packages for each variation add leather upholstery, a sunroof and features that come standard on higher-level models. Leather upholstery is available as a stand-alone option for the XC70 ($1450) and V70R ($1550). A navigation system ($2120) is optional on all models.
Safety features include ABS with traction control, dual-threshold front airbags, dual side-impact airbags, front and rear head-curtain airbags, WHIPS active whiplash protection, and ISO-FIX and LATCH anchors for child seats. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) may be added to the 2.4, 2.5T and XC70 ($695).
The Volvo 70-series wagons are attractive vehicles featuring long, sleek lines that form a wedge that's cocked high at the boxy tail but slammed low in front for a tapered nose, capped by Volvo's signature diagonal-slash grille.
Hard creases in the peaked hood thrust the grille forward at the leading edge of the vehicle. The grille and headlight clusters were updated for 2005, unified behind curving polycarbon lenses (bi-Xenon lamps are optional) notched into recesses flanking the grille. Body-colored bumpers trimmed with black molding wrap around the V70's face to meet the front wheel wells.
Roof pillars and side glass curve inward to meet the roof panel, softening hard corners and diminishing the visual massiveness of the wagon's rear bay. The rear liftgate also bows slightly in a curvy profile, but maintains an essentially vertical plane to maximize interior cargo space. Composed of steel-reinforced polyresin fiberglass, the back door tucks between two thin vertical taillights, redesigned in 2005, that boldly extend from bumper to roof.
The V70R gets a distinctive nose that is smoother, with a smaller, lower grille crosshatched in anthracite gray. An integrated front spoiler with a large air inlet for the twin intercoolers hints at its performance. The spoiler is designed to reduce lift for increased stability at high speeds. There's an optional spoiler over the rear glass that, along with the Pirelli P Zero P235/45ZR17 tires, make this a conspicuously mean-looking wagon, especially in black.
The Cross Country features special styling cues that emphasize its off-pavement capabilities. Protective cladding rings the base of the body, matching deep front and rear bumpers, wheelwell flares and door sills. The plastic compound is tinted a dark shade so scrapes and scratches from driving on gravel and dirt roads will not be obvious. The molded cladding contrasts with the painted metal upper surfaces to create the illusion of an even higher stance. A pair of roof rails linked by two sliding cross braces form a flexible car-top carrier for extra cargo or sports equipment such as bicycles and kayaks.
The Volvo 70 series models feature rich interior appointments with an understated air of elegance. Muted tone-on-tone colors are enhanced by sparing touches of faux redwood trim (optional on 2.4, standard on the others). It's a clean design, with buttons and switches in logical positions and analog gauges housed in an uncluttered instrument panel. Chrome bezel rings surround the instruments. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard in all V70 models, along with a single-disc in-dash CD player.
The V70 2.4 has a nice interior well appointed with attractive styling touches. Like the other models, the V70 2.4 has great heating, ventilation, and air conditioning controls on Volvo's nicely textured, flat-charcoal panels. Controls for front and rear defrost and seat heaters were easy to find. Volvo's cup holder for the driver is cleverly designed and takes up little room when not being used. The 2.4 we tested was trimmed in optional leather.
The XC70 Cross Country we drove came with the Premium Package, which includes leather upholstery, eight-way power for both front seats, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof and a trip computer. A front passenger grab handle is integrated into the center console, a nice touch when driving on bumpy back roads. The seats were plush and luxurious, and the dark brown leather they came in was appealing. They are intelligent seats, loaded with technology designed to enhance safety.
The front seatbacks incorporate mechanisms to guard against whiplash from a rear-end impact. During such a crash, the seatback moves rearward to reduce acceleration forces on the rider's back and neck, as the headrest pushes forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head as they are thrust backward. We did not test this aspect of the seats, but Volvo is a leader in this technology.
The broad rear bench seat fits three adults comfortably, and features three-point safety belts for all three positions. It splits 60/40, and each individual section can be flipped forward to form an extension of the flat cargo floor to the rear. The rear seat also provides anchors for securing two different types of rear-facing child safety seats. One style fits infants weighing up to 20 pounds and another suits a toddler up to 40 pounds.
With the seats folded, the cargo area is perfectly flat, an advantage over many sport utilities. The back cargo bay can be fitted with convenience items available from your Volvo dealer, like a container for shopping bags or a table that pops up from beneath the second-row seat. A Versatility Package ($1300) includes the third seat with integrated booster seat, the folding table, and a 12-volt outlet.
Appointments in the Cross Country we drove included power operation for virtually everything, as well as automatic climate control. The premium 200-watt stereo with Dolby Pro-Logic Surround Sound and a four-CD changer works well; Volvo has its own approach for channel presets that are understandable once learned, but most of us don't need to save 20 stations. Audio controls on the left side of the steering wheel work well, with cruise control buttons on the right.
Though there were no significant changes to the interiors for 2006, they were modestly improved for 2005: Upgrades included better front seats with more adjustments, a new center tunnel console and center stack as well as a more comfortable armrest in the rear.
The character of the Volvo 70-series wagons varies by model, but all are enjoyable vehicles in their own way.
The V70 2.4 is soft and smooth, a sensible vehicle that offers a strong value equation. The 2.5T is more powerful. The XC70 Cross Country is firm and actually pretty sporty, considering its off-road capabilities. And the V70R is definitely a sleeper hot rod.
The Cross Country is are Volvo's best-selling wagon, so we'll start with it. Volvo insiders tell us that active outdoors enthusiasts tend to buy the XC70 Cross Country wagon, while Volvo's XC90 SUV is more popular among urban moms hauling groceries and kids around town. (We like the Cross Country more than the XC90, but we like the XC90 better than the headline-grabbing BMW X5.)
We drove a Cross Country down the Baja Peninsula in Mexico over some of the same rocky roads used in the Baja 1000 off-road race and were impressed how well the Volvo stood up to more than 2,000 grueling miles over the course of seven weeks. Likewise, we were impressed by how well it handled the icy haul road that runs along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to Deadhorse, the farthest north you can drive on Alaska's road system, a trip we took in February.
The all-wheel drive works wonderfully, automatically switching power to the wheels with the best grip. Most of the time the system sends power to the front wheels. Our car was fitted with the optional Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) system, which further enhanced stability.
The Four-C active suspension system is a plus as it continuously adjusts the damping rates in the shocks so that the wheels stay in better contact with the ground for improved handling while also delivering a nicer ride.
Though not designed for true off-road travel, the Volvo Cross Country can comfortably go just about anywhere that's accessible via primitive roads. Yet on dry pavement, it behaves like a sporty European sedan.
We found the least expensive Volvo V70 2.4 offers a nice smooth ride. Its soft suspension dampens bumps well. The tradeoff is that it leans in corners and the nose dives under hard braking. The base 2.4-liter engine works great on the highway, but with just 168 horsepower it lacks the responsive performance of the more powerful models. Drivers who aren't inclined to dally may find the 2.4 sluggish and slow to respond. The base model offers the regular five-speed automatic as an option, but if you're willing to shift gears, go for the manual transmission as it improves response.
The other V70 models use turbocharged engines in various states of tune and are far more responsive. They also benefit from Volvo's more sophisticated Geartronic automatic transmission. We recommend the 2.5T over the 2.4 model. For $2,320 more than a 2.4 automatic, the 2.5T gets a more sophisticated transmission, wider tires on 16-inch wheels, power seats and automatic climate control. We think this is money well spent and it may be a more desirable package when selling it.
Drivers who like the stealth capabilities of a wagon that roars will be amused by the V70R. Its 2.5-liter engine with turbocharger and twin intercoolers pumps out 300 horsepower. The engine delivers 295 pound-feet of torque with the six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox, and 260 pound-feet with the five-speed automatic. With the six-speed manual, it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.6 seconds; with the automatic, 60 mph comes in just 6.5 seconds. That's quick. All-wheel drive, DSTC electronic stability control, and big Brembo brakes with four-piston calipers help the driver maintain control.
The V70R offers exceptional high-speed performance, and the Four-C active suspension makes it feel confident in all conditions. We drove one comfortably for hours on choppy, twitchy and undulating Nevada back roads. On one stretch of very remote road, dead straight with visibility for miles, we achieved a very high speed, but despite th.
The Volvo 70 series wagons are attractive, luxurious and enjoyable to drive. The base V70 2.4 offers a smooth, soft ride, but the engine lacks the sporty response of the turbocharged models. The 300-hp V70R is a wagon to die for if you're a car enthusiast who wants a sports car but needs a people/cargo hauler. The XC70 Cross Country offers ruggedness and the sure-footed benefits of all-wheel drive without the poor ride and sluggish handling of an SUV.
NewCarTestDrive correspondent John Rettie reported from Mexico's Baja Peninsula; with Sam Moses in the Pacific Northwest and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.
Volvo V70 2.4 ($29,445), V70 2.5T ($32,765), V70R ($39,545); XC70 Cross Country ($35,700).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($2995) includes leather seating surfaces, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, trip computer, eight-way power passenger seat; Convenience Package ($1,595) includes Homelink transmitter, auto dimming interior rearview mirror, grocery bag holder; 12-volt power outlet in cargo area, power rear door child safety locks, rear parking assistance, laminated security side windows, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat; Four-C Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept ($995); Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) ($695); Climate Package ($675) includes heated driver and front passengers seats, headlamp washer/wiper, Rainsensor windshield wipers; interior air quality system ($175).
Volvo XC70 Cross Country ($35,700).
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