2008 Volvo XC70 Road Test Review
"Hey, look, Mom, isn't that a nice car?"
"The one over there that guy's taking pictures of."
I'm at the edge of an idyllic lake photographing the 2008 Volvo XC70 estate car (that's "station wagon" in American). The light is soft, the water is calm, the evening is quiet. A completely sincere product endorsement has just floated a hundred feet or so into my hand, unsolicited, from a teenage boy walking with his family.
And then my thoughts stumble. A teenage boy likes a station wagon. Again, a teenage boy likes a station wagon. I try to pick apart the contradiction. I eye the car.
I agree with him. The XC70 is a nice car. It's comfortable, quiet, roomy, and luxurious. It has massive cargo space. And, of course, like any Volvo it's loaded with safety features that we at carparts.com really like. However, one cannot pick up chicks in this car unless they're, say, harried single mothers. Which begs the question: what's here to catch the eye of a teenage boy?
Here's the problem: Volvos in particular are traditionally for the sensible, not the hip, and teenagers are traditionally desperately hipper than their parents. Station wagons, if memory serves, aren't cool at all. Many soccer moms wouldn't be caught dead in a station wagon since driving one would invite comparison to their own mothers, or Mrs. Carol Brady of the Brady Bunch.
I hear another comment: "It's a pretty sleek looking car." Staring at the blocky Volvo, I fail to understand, until the final comment arrives: "Compared to an SUV."
Ah. That makes sense. My, how times have changed if SUVs are ranked below station wagons on the the coolness scale. But here, too, I agree with the kid. This car is much more attractive than an SUV.
In fact, from the inside the XC70 feels like a five-passenger SUV. Visibility is fantastic in all directions. Headroom is high, and there's room for a tall long-legged driver and passengers. Oddly, at carparts.com we've tested SUVs with less occupant space than the Volvo XC70.
The XC70 has lots of cargo space, with several related features that our testers really liked. The back seats split and fold in three parts with a 40/20/40 ratio. This permits carrying two rear passengers comfortably while the center 20 percent is folded down to accommodate skis or other long cargo. While exploring the vehicle, two members of our team discovered four repositionable tie-down points in the floor of the rear cargo area. We liked them. With their hooks exposed, they locked in place; but with the hooks retracted, they adjusted forward and back. It is said that the rear cargo area can transport a household washing machine without the rear seats folded. We believe it, but we haven't tested it (no spare washers were available).
Our test vehicle was equipped with comfort options including leather seating, a powered glass moonroof, power-adjustable front seats with lumbar support, and a 650 watt sound system with AM / FM / Satellite radio and CD player. Optional rear seat headphone jacks and audio controls were included, as well as a rear 12-volt outlet.
Optional integrated child booster seats were installed; we haven't encountered these in any other car yet. They pop out of the rear seats in two stages to accommodate smaller or larger children, and they fully retract for adult passengers. When retracted, they're invisible. We only found them because we knew they were there. Finally, the optional Climate Package was installed, providing heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, headlamp cleaners, and heated windshield wiper fluid.
Our test vehicle was luxuriously appointed, but didn't include the Collision Avoidance Package, which we would have liked to test. (Not, that is to say, by attempting a collision.) The system includes cruise control that adapts to the speed and distance of the vehicle in front of you, which sounds very convenient, and a proximity alert if you approach the vehicle in front of you too closely and quickly, followed by automatic braking in order to prevent collision if you don't respond. These sound like a great set of safety features.
In off-road driving the XC70 excels where many SUVs cannot by design. Many SUVs are expressly built for on-road use only. The XC70 is designed for bad roads in bad weather while towing a heavy load. It has a good 8.3 inches of ground clearance. It can handle snow. It has traction control and electronic stability control and all-wheel drive with a viscously coupled limited slip center differential. It has a hill-descent control system to regulate speed on steep downhills without constant braking.
We tried driving the XC70 at sixty miles per hour on typically winter-damaged rural highways in Michigan. The ride was very nice, and yet the feel of the road was sufficiently strong for good feedback. We discovered that cabin noise from the road, engine and wind is so low that the sound of each bump in the road is disconcertingly conspicuous. It wasn't until we remarked at the sound that we realized, during the course of a discussion of road noise, that our quiet conversation was much louder than the bumps. Over healthier road surfaces, road noise was not noticeable.
During a sharp turn on one of the damaged roads, we encountered a patch of asphalt with bumpy but slick sealing. The XC70 briefly lost traction and began to understeer, then oversteer, and quickly asserted its electronic stability control. The safety demonstration was unexpected but appreciated.
We noticed a small amount of torque steer during acceleration from a stop sign on the damaged roads. This is normal for a non-rear-wheel-drive car, especially on inconsistent surfaces. The torque steer was barely noticeable, and we wouldn't have noticed it were we not looking for it.
Steering was responsive, the XC70 going where it was pointed without complaint. Optional speed-sensitive power steering can be tuned to optimize steering feedback and effort. Side-to-side rocking in turns, present in all tall vehicles, was minimal here. Our impression of control inspired confidence that we would be safe in emergency maneuvers.
The XC70 felt safe during lane changes and maneuvering in congested traffic. On the freeway during rush hour we found that the powerful 3.2 liter inline-six-cylinder 238 horsepower engine produced enough acceleration for good passing on the highway, although it isn't tuned for high-speed performance. For those who want to know, it does zero-to-sixty in a little more than eight seconds.
Our single complaint about the vehicle regards its mileage. On Michigan freeways averaging 70 miles per hour, we drove 22 miles per gallon, matching EPA mileage estimates of 22 mpg on the freeway and 15 mpg in the city. This is the cost of its engine power. On the other hand, it beats most SUVs.
The Volvo XC70 is one of the nicest cars we've driven, and certainly a Family Car. Whether they intended to or not, Volvo made the XC70 invite strong comparison not to other station wagons, but to SUVs, and in this comparison the XC70 nearly always wins. Volvo has continually refined the XC70, but hasn't made big changes from model to model. Apparently the XC70 has always been this good. Volvos are sensible cars, and the XC70 is no exception. To the random teenager extolling the XC70 to his mom: members of the CarParts.com staff agree. They have expressed the need to test the XC70 again.