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With the imminent replacement of its largest sport-utility vehicle, the 2015 Volvo XC70 becomes the oldest car in the Swedish maker's lineup. It's the last of the upright, boxy, square-tailed station wagons the brand offers--and it wasn't conceived as a crossover, although that's what it's become for all intents and purposes. It remains a demonstration of what old-school Volvo wagons once were: comfortable, practical, and always the bearers of new and advanced safety technology.
For 2015, however, Volvo has given the XC70 some new motivation by fitting a far more fuel-efficient Drive-E four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission to the large wagon. Regrettably, though, due to packaging constraints in a vehicle launched almost 10 years ago, you'll only be able to get the higher gas mileage if you forgo all-wheel drive. The new Drive-E powertrain is only offered in the front-wheel-drive XC70 models. If you want all-wheel-drive, you'll have to stick with older and far less efficient running gear.
Smaller than the big XC90--about to be replaced by an all-new 2016 model--the XC70 is larger than the high-volume and considerably more stylish XC60 crossover. Under the skin, the 2015 XC70 uses beefed-up versions of much of the large S80 sedan's architecture. It was launched as the old V70 wagon, acquired a higher ride height and all-wheel drive in its alternative persona as the XC70 crossover--and eventually the XC70 bumped the wagon out of the picture altogether.
Volvo has always had an excellent record of safety ratings, but the XC70 hasn't been tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)--so data is a bit lacking. Volvo offers some of the world's most advanced accident-avoidance and active-safety technology as standard equipment in the XC70, however.
The 2015 XC70 has a nice blend of strong and sporty lines from a distance, with prominent body armor and skid plates that make this wagon look like it's ready for dirt roads. The higher ground clearance it gained when it became a crossover will be useful on rutted roads or rocky tracks, but this isn't an off-road car like a Jeep. It's an all-wheel-drive wagon, plain and simple.
Inside, Volvo tradition is maintained in the modern idiom. Simple Swedish luxury is expressed through no-nonsense control and the same floating center console found in the rest of the Volvo lineup. Like its predecessors in half a century of Volvo wagons, the accommodations are roomy, reconfigurable, and sized to seat adults. The front seats are sized just right, supportive, and excellent on long trips, and six-foot adults are easily accommodated by the second-row seat as well. The rear seatback s split into three sections, giving maximum flexibility, and folding the rear seatbacks forward provides up to 72 cubic feet of cargo space--considerably more than in more swooping crossover designs.
For 2015, the front-wheel-drive XC70 gets a new standard engine, a 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine producing 258 lb-ft of torque, mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. It is fitted with a start-stop system that switches off the engine when the car comes to rest, and Volvo's version is one of the better ones we've driven, restarting almost instantly the moment the driver begins to lift a foot off the brake pedal. This engine and transmission are the same combination offered this year in the mid-size S60 sedan, V60 wagon, and XC60 crossover, and they are notably more fuel-efficient than the old 3.2-liter six and six-speed automatic they replaced. In fact, EPA combined gas-mileage ratings rose from 21 mpg to 27 mpg (24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway)--a good number indeed for a vehicle this large and capacious.
All-wheel-drive models have two engine options: a base 240-horsepower 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine (the 3.2 AWD model) or the T6 model with a 3.0-liter, 300-hp turbocharged six. Both of those engines power the wheels through a (sometimes hesitant) six-speed automatic transmission. Under normal driving duties, the sophisticated Haldex all-wheel-drive system sends 95 percent of power to the front wheels. But, when needed, it can shift up to 65 percent of its torque to the rear wheels--giving the Volvo excellent capabilities on, say, snowy driveways.
In comparison to the new powertrain, both AWD models pay a significant penalty in fuel economy: 21 mpg combined for the 3.2 six, or 20 mpg combined for the more powerful and quicker turbo six. In all models, ride quality is superb, especially with the available automatic damping control--it provides a softer, absorbent setting for conventional driving conditions, plus a sportier one when you need it.
We haven't driven a base 2015 XC70 with the new engine yet, but in the mid-size Volvo range, it delivered good power and quick, smooth shifts, along with good real-world fuel economy. As for the carryover AWD powertrains, we tend to prefer the non-turbo 3.2 six for its much lower price, as well as a lighter, more nimble driving feel.
Safety options include the blind-spot monitoring system that Volvo pioneered, as well as a package that bundles together lane-departure warning, collision warning, radar adaptive cruise control, a system to alert the driver when her driving indicates she may be fatigued. It also includes a new function, which Volvo calls Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake. At very low speeds, it will stop the car automatically to avoid hitting a pedestrian; at higher speeds, it reduces the speed of impact to reduce injury to the extent possible. Another optional feature is Dual Outboard Booster Seat option--among the only custom-fit original-equipment child seats offered in a new car.
The list of standard features in the 2015 Volvo XC70 is long. It includes dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, cruise control, fog lamps, heated side mirrors, satellite radio, and Bluetooth connectivity and device pairing. For 2015, not only is a power driver's seat standard on all models, so is a power front passenger seat as well.
Upgrade to the T6 AWD model and you add special alloy wheels, a moonroof, leather upholstery, walnut wood trim, keyless drive, and a Personal Communicator. Options include heated front and rear seats and wiper nozzles, active bi-xenon headlamps with washers, a rear-view camera, and a 650-Watt Dynaudio surround-sound system.
The Tech Package includes an Active High Beam system and the Road Sign information system, which shows the prevailing speed limit in a replica of the sign displayed in the instrument cluster--remarkably useful if you sometimes miss speed-limit changes. It also bundles in the bi-xenon headlamps and the Dynaudio system. Volvo added Tunnel Detection to the headlamps last year as well.