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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.
The 70 series models vary by appearance.
The V70 is a sleek package that's been improved for 2005 with a new grille, new headlights and tail lamps. The V70 stretches long to form a wedge that's cocked high at its boxy tail but slammed low in front for a tapered nose, capped by Volvo's signature diagonal-slash grille. Hard creases in the bowed hood thrust the grille forward as the leading edge of the vehicle. Headlight clusters unified behind curving polycarbon lenses (bi-Xenon lamps are optional) notch into recesses flanking the grille, while body-colored bumpers trimmed with black molding wrap around the V70's face to meet the front wheel wells.
Roof pillars and side glass curve inward to meet the roof panel, softening hard corners and diminishing the visual massiveness of the wagon's rear bay. The rear liftgate also bows slightly in a curvy profile, but maintains an essentially vertical plane to maximize interior cargo space. Composed of steel-reinforced polyresin fiberglass, the back door tucks between two thin vertical taillights that boldly extend from bumper to roof.
On the XC70 Cross Country, protective cladding rings the base of the body, matching deep front and rear bumpers, wheelwell flares and door sills. The molded cladding contrasts with the painted metal upper surfaces to create the illusion of an even higher stance. The plastic compound is tinted a dark shade so off-road scrapes and scratches will not be obvious. On the roof, a pair of rails linked by two sliding cross braces form a flexible car-top carrier for extra cargo or sports equipment such as bicycles and kayaks.
The nose of the V70R is smoother, with a smaller, lower grille crosshatched in anthracite gray. There's an integrated spoiler with a large air inlet for the twin intercoolers. Strategic aerodynamic shaping of the spoiler reduces lift and increases stability at high speeds. There's an optional spoiler over the rear glass that, along with the Pirelli P Zero P235/45ZR17 tires, make this a conspicuously mean-looking wagon, especially in black.
Modest improvements to the interior for '05 models include better front seats with more adjustments, a new center tunnel console and center stack as well as a more comfortable armrest in the rear. As before, the stylish interior of the Volvo 70 series models features rich appointments with an understated air of elegance. Muted tone-on-tone colors are enhanced by sparing touches of faux redwood trim (optional on 2.4, standard on the others). It's a clean design, with buttons and switches in logical positions and analog gauges housed in an uncluttered instrument panel. Chrome bezel rings surround the instruments. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard in all V70 models, along with a single-disc in-dash CD player.
The V70 2.4 we drove featured a nice interior, fully trimmed in optional leather. It was well appointed and nicely trimmed, though not at the levels of the T5 model. Like the other models, the V70 2.4 has great heating, ventilation, and air conditioning controls on Volvo's nicely textured, flat-charcoal panels. Controls for front and rear defrost and seat heaters were easy to find. Volvo's cupholder for the driver is cleverly designed and takes up little room when not being used.
The XC70 Cross Country we drove came with the Premium Package, which includes leather upholstery, eight-way power for both front seats, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof and a trip computer. The seats were plush and luxurious, and the dark brown color was appealing. They are intelligent seats, loaded with technology designed to enhance safety. The front seatbacks incorporate mechanisms to guard against whiplash from a rear-end impact. During such a crash, the seatback moves rearward to reduce acceleration forces on the rider's back and neck, as the headrest pushes forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head as they are thrust backward. We did not test this aspect of the seats, but Volvo is a leader in this technology.
The broad rear bench seat fits three adults comfortably, and features three-point safety belts for all three positions. It splits 60/40, and each individual section can be flipped forward to form an extension of the flat cargo floor to the rear. The rear seat also provides anchors for securing two different types of rear-facing child safety seats. One style fits infants weighing up to 20 pounds and another suits a toddler up to 40 pounds.
The cargo area is perfectly flat, unlike that of many SUVs. The back cargo bay can be fitted with available convenience items from Volvo, like a container for shopping bags or a table that pops up from beneath the second-row seat, for use with an optional third seat sized for children. A Versatility Package ($1300) includes the third seat with integrated booster seat, the folding table, and a 12-volt outlet.
Appointments in the Cross Country we drove included power operation for virtually everything, as well as automatic climate control. It had the premium 200-watt stereo with Dolby Pro-Logic Surround Sound and a four-CD changer ($1,200). Volvo has its own approach for channel presets, understandable once learned, but most of us don't need to save 20 stations. Audio controls on the left side of the steering wheel work well, with cruise control buttons on the right.
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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