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Volvo's flagship 70 series wagons have been further refined for 2005, and these superb vehicles are better than ever. Mild styling revisions freshen their appearance. The 70 series represents a range of vehicles offering everything from comfortable sophistication to off-highway capability to high-performance barnstormer.
The Volvo XC70 Cross Country can be a great substitute for a sport-utility as we found out on rough, rock-strewn trails in the Baja. The Cross Country boasts an elevated chassis for ground clearance, no-dent body armor to brush aside trail debris, and all-wheel-drive traction for slippery conditions. Yet it offers the smooth ride and agile handling of a luxury car, while coddling occupants in a luxurious leather cabin.
The Volvo V70 2.4 offers a smoother ride and front-wheel drive. The V70 T5 kicks it up a notch with sharper handling with the refined demeanor of a European luxury sedan; the T5 gets more power, sportier handling and other improvements for 2005. If that isn't enough for you, there's the V70R, a high-performance model with big Brembo brakes and a 300-horsepower engine.
The V70 and XC70 wagons are based on the same platform as Volvo's ultra-smooth flagship sedan, the S80. Their interiors are elegant and well designed. All are practical wagons with an adaptable seating arrangement and a cavernous cargo compartment complete with tie-down hooks and other useful accessories. Unlike many SUVs, the cargo floor is flat when all the seats are folded.
Safety is what made Volvo famous and the 70 series is no exception: Occupants are shielded by a safety-cell structure and active seats designed to prevent whiplash injuries. Airbags are positioned ahead, beside and above. Responsive steering, electronic brake enhancements, and optional traction control are designed to help drivers avoid accidents in the first place.
V70 2.5T ($32,110) has more power, using light-pressure turbocharging with intercooling to coax 208 horsepower from the same basic engine. Volvo's Geartronic automatic with manual override is standard. Befitting its extra brawn, the 2.5T comes with wider tires on 16-inch wheels, and adds power seats and automatic climate control.
For 2005, the V70 T5 ($36,010) comes with a more powerful 257-horsepower 2.3-liter inline five-cylinder engine with high-pressure turbocharging and the five-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. The T5 also comes with firmer suspension settings and wider (P215/55R16) tires for a sporty flavor, and adds a few more comfort/convenience items to the standard-equipment list. Volvo's Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) is standard.
XC70 Cross Country ($34,810) features advanced Haldex all-wheel drive, a higher ground clearance, a front skid plate, and unique appearance and trim items. It is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-5 with light-pressure turbocharging, developing 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Cross Country comes standard with the Geartronic automatic transmission. The XC70 uses a simpler traction control system called TRACS; the more sophisticated DSTC is optional ($695). For 2005, the sophisticated Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) active chassis system of adjustable shock absorbers is available as an option ($995). The Cross Country comes with slightly taller P215/65R16 tires. Luxury appointments resemble those of the T5.
V70R gets a turbocharged, twin-intercooled 300-horsepower version of the 2.3-liter engine, featuring bigger brakes with four-piston Brembo calibers, a six-speed close-ratio gearbox, and the exotic active Four-C suspension system.
Many options and option packages are available. Premium Packages for each variation add leather upholstery, a sunroof and features that come standard on higher-level models. Leather upholstery is available as a standalone option for the T5 and XC70 ($1450) and V70R ($1550).
Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) may be added to the 2.4, XC70 or 2.5T ($695). A navigation system ($2120) is optional on all models.
Safety features include dual-threshold front airbags, dual side-impact airbags, front and rear head-curtain airbags, WHIPS active whiplash protection, and ISO-FIX and LATCH anchors for child seats.
Volvo builds a wagon to suit any driving experience desired and each performs in its own style. The V70 2.4 is soft and smooth. The 2.5T is more powerful. The V70 T5 is firmer and sportier. The XC70 Cross Country is firm and can be sporty. The V70R is definitely a sleeper hot rod.
The best-selling model is the Cross Country. Volvo insiders tell us that active outdoors enthusiasts tend to buy the XC70, while Volvo's XC90 SUV is more popular among urban moms hauling groceries and kids around town.
To demonstrate how effective the XC70 Cross Country is off-road Volvo bravely took dozens of journalists down to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. During a seven-week period a gaggle of XC70s were thrashed over rocky roads used in the famous Baja 1000 off-road race. For two days each week these cars were driven by journalists at speeds up to 100 mph on the faster sections and crawling along at 20 mph in rock strewn tracks often washed away during several rain storms.
We, along with other normally jaded journalists, were astounded at how well the cars stood up to the brutal test. Yes, there were some punctures and one engine got damaged when an over exuberant journalist hit a rock at speed and punctured the skid plate under the engine. Yes, some of the cars were suffering from some squeaks in their shock absorbers. Yes, some had dings in the air conditioning evaporators located at the front below the radiators. However, all but one were in fine driving condition.
We attended the last of the three-day test drives, inheriting cars that had covered more than 2,000 grueling miles in the previous seven weeks. We immediately felt confident on the loose surfaces as the all-wheel-drive system automatically switched power to the wheels that had grip. Most of the time the system sends power to the front wheels. Our car was fitted with the optional Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) system, which further enhanced stability. Although we didn't want to push our luck, it seemed as if it was impossible to spin out even when going fast around sandy turns.
The XC70 we drove also had the optional Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) active suspension system, previously only available on the sporty V70R model. The computers continuously adjust the damping rates in the shocks so that the wheels stay in better contact with the ground for improved handling while also giving the vehicle a better ride.
After driving the XC70 across such a variety of tracks we would have no qualms tackling trips that most would only consider in an SUV or 4WD truck. We came away with the same opinion after driving an XC70 Cross Country from Anchorage to Fairbanks and on to Prudhoe Bay at the top of Alaska in February. Yet on dry pavement, the XC70 behaves like a sporty European sedan.
The least-expensive model is the Volvo V70 2.4, and we found it offered a nice smooth ride. Its soft suspension dampens bumps well. The tradeoff is that it leans in corners and the nose dives under hard braking. The base 2.4-liter engine works great on the highway, but with just 168 horsepower it lacks the responsive performance of the more powerful models. It was sluggish when quick acceleration was needed for low-speed maneuvers around town or in stop-and-go traffic. Depending on your temperament, driving style and patience levels, you'll either find it fully adequate or sluggish and slow to respond. If you're willing to shift gears, go for the manual transmission as it improves response. The other V70 models use turbocharged engines in various states of tune and are far more responsive. They also benefit from Volvo's more sophisticated Geartronic transmission. (The base model offers the regular five-speed automatic as an option.)
The T5 is lively and lithe with its bigger horsepower and tighter handling. It's an exciting car. Its high-pressure turbocharged and intercooled engine puts out 257 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and churns 2
The Volvo 70 series wagons are attractive, luxurious and enjoyable to drive. The XC70 Cross Country offers ruggedness and the sure-footed benefits of all-wheel drive without the poor ride and sluggish handling of an SUV. The base V70 2.4 offers a smooth, soft ride, but the engine lacks the sporty response of the turbocharged models. The V70 T5 is an agile car, capable of sporty moves and high performance with a powerful 257-horsepower engine yet it's easy to control and exudes the flavor of a plush luxury sedan. The 300-hp V70R is a wagon to die for if you're a car enthusiast who wants a sports car but needs a people/cargo hauler.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed this report from Mexico's Baja Peninsula; with Sam Moses in the Pacific Northwest and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.
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