2008 Volvo XC70 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2008

The 2008 Volvo XC70 brings an extra dose of real off-road ruggedness to a wagon that’s comfortable and spacious but not all that sporty.

While compiling this review that covers the 2008 Volvo XC70, the experts at TheCarConnection.com first looked to some of the Web’s best reviews, then included firsthand driving experience behind the wheel of the new XC70.

The 2008 Volvo XC70 combines the body of Volvo’s large V70 station wagon with more rugged styling cues, increased ground clearance, and skid plates for those who plan to travel on rutted forest paths or deep snow—resulting in a more size-efficient alternative to mid-size sport-utility vehicles.

Only a 3.2-liter, 238-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine is offered on the 2008 Volvo XC70, along with a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Its fuel economy isn’t any better than that of most mid-size crossover SUVs, though, at just 15 mpg city.

Inside, the 2008 Volvo XC70 gets the same very fashionable instrument-panel design that’s used in the V70 wagon and S80 sedan, a simplified, horizontal layout complemented by a "floating" center stack that borrows its look from flat-screen monitors and high-end audio systems. Instead of using complex screen-driven controls, Volvo has situated the climate controls in an especially intuitive way, with the available navigation system’s screen tucked neatly inside the dash when it’s not in use.

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The seats in the 2008 Volvo XC70 are among the best in any crossover vehicle; the standard units are very firm and comfortable, while the available perforated heated and cooled options rank high among all vehicles. The XC70 also has a particularly versatile arrangement for its rear seats. The second row is split into three separate cushions, each of which folds forward flat to amplify cargo space. For the smallest passengers, the second row can be outfitted with integrated two-position booster seats—a world first, Volvo says—that eliminate the need for aftermarket strap-ins. The cargo space itself is impressive, and under the cargo floor there’s another hidden compartment for smaller items, along with a tie-down system to help keep items from moving around.

Volvo’s Four-C automatic damping control is now available on the 2008 Volvo XC70; the system firms up the suspension quickly when needed for sharper cornering control while allowing the ride to be quite soft and absorbent under normal driving. The six-cylinder engine is smooth and delivers adequate power, but it doesn’t exhibit much pep from a standing start, and the transmission can balk when a downshift is needed for hills.

The all-wheel-drive system that’s included with the 2008 Volvo XC70 uses a Haldex clutch system to shuttle power to the wheels where it’s needed most; in normal driving, it sends 95 percent to the front wheels, but it can transmit up to 65 percent to the rear wheels for better traction. The XC70 has more ground clearance and a heavy-duty suspension, along with protective lower-body cladding and skid plates, to handle light-duty off-roading. An electronic aid, Hill Descent Control, also helps traverse steep, slippery downhill slopes at low speed.

The 2008 Volvo XC70 comes in a single very well-equipped model. Fog lamps, heated side mirrors, a power driver’s seat, keyless entry, cruise control, and dual-zone climate control are all standard. Options include front and rear parking assist, heated front and rear seats, heated wiper nozzles, headlamp cleaners, active bi-xenon headlamps, a dual-screen rear DVD system, adaptive cruise control, and a 650-watt Dynaudio surround sound system.

Several other top-technology options should appeal to those who want to play it safe. A Blind Sport Information System (BLIS) detects when a vehicle is beside and just behind the vehicle and warns the driver with a light at the base of the side-view mirror. Included with adaptive cruise control in the Collision Avoidance Package is a collision warning system that applies the brakes when it anticipates a crash. There’s also a keyless entry and ignition system called the Personal Car Communicator, which will detect the heartbeat of an intruder and warn the owner at a distance on the keyfob, and Driver Alert Control, a system that follows lane markings and warns the driver if it suspects concentration is waning.

The 2008 Volvo XC70 has not yet been crash tested in North America, but it’s loaded with other safety features, such as front side airbags, side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control.

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2008 Volvo XC70

Styling

The 2008 Volvo XC70 looks tougher than the average wagon, and it’s intentionally so.

The 2008 Volvo XC70 earns mild kudos from reviewers around the Web for its styling, inside and out, though the exterior is less exciting to some.

“Clearly, the Swedish purveyor of sensible sedans and wagons is afraid of alienating its clientele,” says Car and Driver in a statement that could either be taken as outright contempt or faint praise. Whether or not you cotton to soccer moms, swim meets, farmer’s market produce, and “College of William and Mary window stickers” (thanks, Jalopnik), you have to respect the staying power of the Volvo Wagon. “One company that has steadfastly continued the tradition,” continues Car and Driver, “even when wagons weren't fashionable, is Volvo.” So while the XC70’s styling won’t sets hearts aflutter, it follows in a long line of proven Volvo Wagon DNA, albeit in a somewhat higher-testosterone version when compared to the V70 Wagon upon which it is based. The changes from the previous XC70 are evolutionary, but reviewers seemed to appreciate the more subtle integration of this new XC70’s macho bits and pieces; “gone is the tacked-on side cladding, replaced by a more streamlined treatment covering the molded bumpers and lower door panels,” comments Kelley Blue Book. “Certainly more interesting to look at than past versions,” says Cars.com.

The interior, a close copy of the S80 sedan upon whose platform the XC70 is based, is highly praised for its elegance, luxurious simplicity, and clean lines. Says Kelley Blue Book: “the clean and simple dash design puts controls within easy reach of both driver and passenger, while Volvo’s new signature open-back center console adds a touch of style not usually associated with the family wagon.” Cars.com coos, “the materials are exceptionally pleasing to the touch…elegantly simple dashboard with a nicely grained finish.” Autoblog praises Volvo’s signature, ultra-modern “suspended center console…with high quality buttons and knobs that are easy to find.”

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2008 Volvo XC70

Performance

The 2008 Volvo XC70 won’t win at the drag strip, but its safe, smooth, and stress-free demeanor is perfectly in keeping with its mission.

For 2008, Volvo has eschewed years of turbocharged fives for the inherent balance of an inline-six. The sole powerplant in the 2008 Volvo XC70 is a six-cylinder; it displaces 3.2 liters and is equipped with variable valve timing and lift and variable-length intake runners. This naturally aspirated engine makes the most of its modest displacement to generate 235 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Thankfully, 90 percent of the latter figure is on tap at just 2,000 rpm, but it seems this low-end twist simply pulls the acceleration of the XC70 into the realm of adequate.

Kelley Blue Book remarks, “Volvo's 3.2-liter in-line six is a strong engine, but delivers only acceptable performance in the 4,000-plus pound XC70. Off-the-line acceleration is brisk, but passing power could be better.” Edmunds laments that the inline-six “provides ample power, though most rivals offer a more spirited drive.” Autoblog praises the engine, saying “Volvo's corporate six sounds great and revs freely,” but concludes “235 horsepower just isn't enough to properly motivate a two-ton station wagon.” In many ways, it seems Volvo is reading right from the station wagon playbook in offering a smooth, torquey engine that’s stress-free around town but won’t set any acceleration records.

The power is routed mainly forward through an Aisin-built six-speed automatic with manumatic control. A standard electronically controlled Haldex wet-clutch all-wheel-drive system apportions 95 percent of the power to the front until wheelslip is detected, at which point up to 65 percent of the power may be sent rearward to resume forward progress. Autoblog finds this transmission/drive combo provides “a very smooth yet somewhat unexciting driving experience,” whereas the editors at Popular Mechanics feel that “with the slick six-speed automatic transmission, performance is more than adequate for normal driving.”

Opinions are also split on the effectiveness of the AWD system, with some regarding the system as more of a soft-roader, yet others finding it quite capable indeed. In the opinion of Kelley Blue Book, “gravel roads, deep mud and slushy snow prove little match for the XC70's all-wheel drive abilities.” Edmunds counters, “The all-wheel drive is a boon in inclement weather, though the XC70 really isn't rugged enough for off-road adventures.” “Take the XC70 off-road,” gushes Popular Mechanics, “and you quickly experience its rock-solid SUV credentials.” “The XC70’s all-wheel-drive system with Hill Descent Control (HDC) will take you through any light - to - medium duty terrain with little effort,” concludes Road & Track.

The sober voices at ConsumerGuide summarize the ride/handling balance of the XC70 well: “Compared to SUVs, as is Volvo's pretense, the XC70 is nimble and nearly sporty. Compared to the V70, XC70 has slightly less communicative steering and marginally more lean in corners.” Kelley Blue Book repeats these sentiments, reporting that “the XC70 handles better than any truck-based SUV we've driven, but the added height and big wheels and tires don't return the same feel one might experience from a V70 or V50 wagon.” When driven aggressively off-road, the XC70 has its limits, as Motor Trend discovers: “the harshest bumps elicit a clompity-clomp racket that smacks of excess unsprung weight-or perhaps is the car's way of saying 'slow down.'"

Fuel efficiency marks a sore spot with some reviewers of the XC70. Autoblog blasts the Volvo, complaining they “achieved a miserable 18 mpg in mixed driving, which was worse than what we got in the 5,000 lb, seven-passenger Buick Enclave.” This reflects others’ opinions that, considering its image as a smaller, lighter, more earth-friendly car in the land of hulking SUVs, the XC70 should simply make better numbers than its EPA-rated 15/22 mpg. ConsumerGuide averages 20.1-20.9 mpg in its testing, and a Cars.com tester “hovered around 20 mpg” during 500 miles of driving.

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2008 Volvo XC70

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Volvo XC70 excels in creature comforts, and has impressive fit and finish.

Conceivably doubling as a high-end Swedish furniture gallery, the 2008 Volvo XC70’s interior hits a home run with reviewers: “Both the driver and front passenger seats are exceptionally comfortable,” says Cars.com. ConsumerGuide agrees, commenting that the leather seating and real wood trim of the premium package “impart a convincing luxury feel.” Autoblog also praises the chairs: “Our XC70's dark brown leather seats were among the more pleasant in which we've sat, with ample bolstering and thigh support. ConsumerGuide declares that the front buckets have “plenty of headroom and legroom, even for taller occupants.”

The space efficiency and utility of the second row and rear of the XC70 receives accolades. Volvo wagons have been swallowing astonishing amounts of oddly shaped cargo since the '70s, and it seems the XC70 builds upon this tradition. Cars.com attests that “the XC70’s rear seats fold down flat with one easy motion” and that “the load floor's low height also makes everyday tasks like loading and unloading groceries or luggage much easier to handle.” When its seats are folded into the floor, the XC70 offers up to “an SUV-like 72 ft. of cargo space. In the cargo area, aluminum rails on the floor offer attachment points where items can be secured in place,” reports Popular Mechanics. Road & Track giddily proclaims, “Check out the Volvo’s 33.3 cu.-ft. of rear storage volume - even with the seats filled! Fold down the second row of seats and you’ll get…enough room to fit a go-kart.” ConsumerGuide is a little more subdued, saying the rear seat offers “decent space for two adults, but three abreast seating is best reserved for quick trips. Under-seat foot space is tight, compromising comfort when the front seats are too far back.”

The XC70 is convincing as a luxury car and, at an entry point of around $36,000, yields impressive value to boot. ConsumerGuide remarks that “cabin materials are padded and/or nicely grained where it matters most,” “gauges are large, clearly marked, and easy to read,” and “assembly quality is first rate.” Kelley Blue Book reports “engine noise and vibration are barely detectable from inside the car.” Popular Mechanics is “most impressed by the interior, which was noticeably quieter than those of more traditional SUVs and even than that of the last-generation XC70.” “Even better,” Popular Mechanics declares, “is the handsome layout of the instrument panel, with its sweeping horizontal lines, precisely placed controls and easy-to-read instruments.” The only real negative seems to be “the hard plastic against which our knees would bang while driving,” laments Autoblog, whose editors quip that the S80 uses more plush materials in that particular portion of the interior.

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2008 Volvo XC70

Safety

The 2008 Volvo XC70 sports impressive safety gear and pedigree, but it hasn’t been crash-tested yet.

Maybe they didn’t invent the station wagon, but with the 2008 XC70, Volvo is aiming for nothing less than safety perfection.

“Safety and Volvo go together hand-in-hand,” says Cars.com, and “because cars from other manufacturers score just as highly in crash tests, Volvo has to do even more now.” While neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has weighed in on the Volvo’s fortitude in a crash test, TheCarConnection.com expects the ’08 to earn five stars and top ratings across the board, given the stellar performance of the previous-generation XC70, as well as the superior crash performance of the S80 sedan on which it’s based.

“As you would expect, stability control and traction control are standard,” reports Car and Driver. But this is just the tip of the iceberg that is the XC70’s safety arsenal. Inflatable side curtain airbags, dual-chamber side curtain airbags, dual-stage front airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, WHIPS whiplash protection system, anti-lock brakes, and the LATCH attachment system for children’s seats are all standard items, most of which are science-fiction fantasy compared to the 240GL Wagons of yesterday.

Cars.com weighs in on some optional items, such as “Volvo's $695 blind-spot monitor,” which “acts as a nanny for the driver,” and the “built-in booster seats for a pretty decent price of $495.” Incidentally, as Motor Trend points out, “the side-curtain airbags now extend 2.4 inches lower down the door to better protect kids” in the event of a side impact, effectively working in concert with those booster seats. Edmunds sheds more light on the available Collision Avoidance package that, for $1,695, “monitors following distance and alerts the driver and primes the brakes for action if the car gets too close.” Edmunds also notes that the second-row height-adjustable booster seats are “an industry first.”

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2008 Volvo XC70

Features

The fewer toys, the greater the value presented by the well-equipped 2008 Volvo XC70. But those leather seats and wood trim sure are nice.

At an entry point of around $36,000, the 2008 Volvo XC70 represents an impressive value when judged next to its crossover and SUV competitors. But a few options quickly swell the price.

Even in base form, the all-wheel-drive XC70 is well equipped, with features such as Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, Hill Descent Control (“keeps the vehicle at approximately six miles per hour when descending steep grades,” notes Kelley Blue Book), front and rear skid plates, heated side mirrors, dual-zone electronic climate control, and eight-way power driver’s seat. Think of the XC70 as a luxury wagon wearing hiking garb and riding on 8.3-inch stilts. Of the standard Hill Descent Control, Car and Driver reports that this is a feature seen in the XC70 “for the first time.”

Kelley Blue Book remarks that many of the XC70’s options, “including the Blind Spot Information System and Adaptive Cruise Control, [make] driving easier.” They also rave “stowing groceries has never been easier thanks to the power tailgate, which opens and closes via a push-button key fob.” But Autoblog comments that one safety measure that drove them “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.” And Cars.com discloses that, in order to get the leather seats and real wood inlays so well loved by reviewers, one “must add a $2,995 Premium Package.” Audiophiles can spend $1,650 for a Dynaudio/Sirius Premium Sound System. And Motor Trend feels the “costly rear-seat DVD system” might help “quell rear-seat whining.”

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8.2
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Styling 8.0
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Comfort & Quality 9.0
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