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Volvo built much of its reputation in the U.S. on wagons; yet if you want anything close to a traditional wagon, the 2013 XC70 is it. With the 'normal' V70 wagon now discontinued here, you have to be willing to accept the XC70's somewhat brawnier look and increased ground clearance. But otherwise, in most respects, the XC70 remains true to Volvo's safety- and utility-minded history and mission--with reasonably strong performance, and some noteworthy active-safety features.
The XC70 is essentially a wagon based on the S80 flagship sedan, but it's positioned alongside the XC60 and XC90 with its chunkier crossover details. It's neither as curvaceous as the XC60 nor as substantial-looking as the XC90, but it impresses as a good mix of tough and sporty from a distance, with a nice stance and prominent body cladding and skid plates that look up to the task of venturing away from pavement. It fits right in with other Volvo cars and crossovers inside, with the same characteristic 'floating' center console, a thin panel housing climate and sound-system controls, with an open storage area just behind.
Volvo offers the XC70 with three different powertrain possibilities: There's a base model, with a 240-horsepower 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine and either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, while the T6 model comes only with AWD and a 3.0-liter, 300 hp turbo six. No matter which model, you get a (sometimes hesitant) six-speed automatic transmission, and in all-wheel-drive versions the sophisticated Haldex system sends 95 percent of power to the front wheels under normal driving duties, or up to 65 percent of torque to the rear wheels when needed--making it a good pick for snowy driveways.
The T6 model, as you might assume, is quicker than the base model, but because of its much lower price, as well as a lighter, more nimble driving feel, we do tend to like the non-turbo XC70. The non-turbo engine with front-wheel drive only is quite a bit better on gas, too, with EPA ratings of 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway. All-wheel drive knocks that down to 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway with the base engine, and the turbo takes 1 mpg more off each rating, at 17 city, 23 highway. Especially with the available automatic damping control, ride quality is superb, with a softer, absorbent setting for more driving conditions and a sportier one when you need it.
The XC70 doesn't at all break from tradition inside, where just like its Volvo-wagon predecessors it has roomy, reconfigurable, and adult-size accommodations. Supportive front seats are sized just right and great for long trips, and the second-row seat is one of the few that proves comfortable for six-footers; it's split into three separate sections for maximum flexibility, and you can get up to 72 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats if you fold the rear seatbacks forward.
It's not at all surprising that the XC70 piles on the standard safety systems, and that you can choose from some of the world's most advanced accident-avoidance and active-safety technology in the XC70. Blind-spot monitoring is optional, as is a package that bundles radar adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, a system to alert the driver when her driving indicates she may be fatigued, and a collision-warning system, plus the new Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake system designed to reduce the speed of impact with pedestrians or at very low speeds, stop the car and completely avoid a collision. Also of note is an optional Dual Outboard Booster Seat option--among the only custom-fit original-equipment child seats offered in a new car. This year Volvo has also added Tunnel Detection to the headlights, while the Tech Package offers a new Road Sign information feature as well as an Active High Beam system. Crash-test ratings aren't available from either of the major U.S. agencies, however.
Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, keyless entry, a power driver's seat, heated side mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, and fog lamps are all standard features in the XC70, as well as satellite radio. T6 models include a moonroof, upgraded wheels, Keyless Drive, the Personal Car Communicator, leather upholstery, and walnut-wood trim. Heated front and rear seats and wiper nozzles, washers for the headlamps, active bi-xenon headlamps, a rear-view camera, and a 650-Watt Dynaudio surround-sound system remain among the many options. Those who want to take advantage of the XC70's safety-tech prowess will want the Technology Package, which groups several of the safety systems, the Dynaudio system, and the bi-xenon headlamps. Volvo has also for 2013 improved the steering-wheel-based features of the available Sensus navigation system and screen displays.