While station wagons are a very big part of the European automotive landscape, here in the States the two-box design sells much better when it's a crossover. We Americans don't have many choices on the true wagon front, mostly because high volume demand simply doesn't exist. One wagon that has been around for a while is the Volvo XC70, which combines much of the rugged AWD utility of an SUV with traditional wagon packaging.
The XC70 is all-new for 2008, including its Ford Mondeo-derived platform, 3.2L engine and more refined sheet metal. On paper, the XC70 delivers a good-looking, safe and evolved station wagon to go head-to-head with upscale utility vehicles, but how will it hold up in the Autoblog Garage? Hit the jump to find out.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.
Our Seashell Metallic XC70 came equipped with heated leather seats, a moonroof, premium audio system, and most of the available safety features. All those options added $9,000 to the Volvo wagon's $37,000 entry price, bringing the total damage to $46,405.
The previous generation XC70 was a major leap in terms of styling compared to the ultra-boxy Volvo wagons of yore, but the 2008 model delivers an evolutionary change. The new XC70 has a more refined look than its predecessor, with a slightly chiseled hood, shapely Bi-Xenon headlights and a larger grille. Attention has been taken away from the lower air dam and instead refocused to the XC70's fog lamps that are ringed with chrome, accentuating the wagon's wider, more athletic-looking stance.
On the inside, the XC70 carries many of the styling cues from the more expensive Volvo S80 sedan that went on sale a year earlier. The dash materials, gauge cluster and steering wheel are among the items virtually unchanged form the S80. The centerpiece of the cabin is the sharp-looking suspended center console that appears in some form on most new Volvos, with high quality buttons and knobs that are easy to find.
Our XC70's dark brown leather seats were among the more pleasant in which we've sat, with ample bolstering and thigh support. Seat materials were also very high quality, and soft touch materials draped the arm rest and doors. One area of disappointment was the hard plastic against which our knees would bang while driving. In the S80, softer materials were used around these touch points, which made the cabin look and feel more luxurious.
Keeping in step with Volvo tradition, safety is omnipresent. Volvo uses high-strength steel everywhere it can, and considerable engineering effort was put into "deformation zones" that absorb crash energy from larger vehicles. Volvo stocked the XC70 with front and side impact airbags while protecting our necks with the WHIPS whiplash protection system. The automaker also employed optional equipment like adaptive cruise control, BLIS blind spot protection and emergency brake assist to keep vehicle occupants out of harms way altogether. One safety technology that drove us bonkers during our time with the XC70 was the parking assist system. Each time we started the wagon, the system defaulted to the On position, and it beeped loudly whenever we were within about four feet of a surrounding vehicle.
On the road, the XC70 has a nicely composed yet slightly soft ride that provides plenty of comfort for long commutes and family vacations. The 3.2L inline six mates to an Aisin six-speed auto transmission for a very smooth yet somewhat unexciting driving experience. While Volvo's corporate six sounds great and revs freely, 235 horsepower just isn't enough to properly motivate a two-ton station wagon, and it's not what we expect for $46,000. The steering, however, is nicely weighted for a wagon, which basically means that it wouldn't pass muster in a sports sedan but is engaging enough for family transportation. Body roll is quite a bit better than what I get with my taller Ford Freestyle, and the standard Haldex AWD works splendidly in the slushy ice conditions we experienced during our time with the XC70.
Bad weather is the reason most people want AWD, but we were disappointed that the rugged looks of the XC70 didn't carry over to off-road performance, as stability control and AWD neuter wheel slip by locking the rubber all together. We also had little luck testing Volvo's hill descent control due to the fact that we couldn't get up the hill in the first place, and we're not talking Mt. Kilimanjaro, either folks. This was more like a bunny hill.
We were looking forward to our time in the XC70 because we thought it would give us most of what we wanted from an SUV without the extra size and fuel economy. After a week with the wagon, however, it was its fuel economy that left us utterly perplexed. We achieved a miserable 18 mpg in mixed driving, which was worse than what we got in the 5,000 lb, seven-passenger Buick Enclave. We even got 18.5 mpg out of the 4,500 lb, V8-powered flying brick that is the Dodge Dakota. It seems like it would be against the laws of physics for the Volvo wagon to get worse fuel economy than a larger, more powerful CUV, but the numbers don't lie. We even reset the fuel economy gauge half-way through the week, but the results didn't change.