2009 Volvo XC70

Handsome body and zen-like interior make you forget this wagon’s shortcomings

2009 Volvo XC70
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“No, Meester Bond… I expect you to drive!”

Imagine this scene; “M” finally grows tired of covering for James Bond’s shenanigans and orders him into therapy for his violent nature. As a result, he’s forced to give up the keys to the Aston Martin and instead must tool around in a Barents Blue Metallic ($525 paint option, sparkles are expensive) Volvo XC70 T6. The zen-like quality of the interior, absence of road noise, and Bluetooth-equipped Dynaudio Premium sound system combine to allow him to finally achieve inner peace and simultaneously pick up Ms. Moneypenny for an off-road rendezvous at a rural country estate. Sound like the opening plot for the intrepid agent’s next adventure? Such was our assignment (sans Moneypenny) for a weekend test drive in Los Angeles recently. Turn in the key for one hot little sporty car and receive a Volvo in exchange. Was it ultimately “mission accomplished”?

FAST FACTS

1. Our tester featured the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six with 281hp. The standard engine is a 235hp 3.2-liter I6.

2. A very nicely-equipped XC70 T6 has an MSRP just under $47,000.

3. Front and rear skid plates, tough ABS plastic lower body cladding, and Volvo’s Hill Descent Control make it a capable off-roader. Don’t try the Rubicon Trail though.

4. Real legroom and headroom for full-size adults in the rear. Wider body offers good shoulder room too.

SHOCKINGLY GOOD INTERIOR

First, we find it a little shocking that we really like this Volvo! We generally like fast cars, beefy trucks, and other “manly machines,” but find that the XC70 T6 really soothes in an unanticipated manner.

We enjoyed the flowing interior shapes; the way the panels swoop together in arches, with useful little cubbies, like the one behind the center console where you can lay your phone and wallet or tuck a small purse when you drive. It’s out of the way yet accessible without having to look at it or stretch too far.

We liked the feel of the leather, and enjoyed the way Volvo used two different patterns on the same color leather to differentiate between the center portions of the seat and the smoother outer bolsters. We savored the wide range tilt and telescoping steering wheel and 8-way power driver’s seat. These truly might have a position for everyone, no matter how big or small they may be.

We loved the Dynaudio Premium audio system! Front and rear five-frequency equalizers? Hoo-rah, baby! Dolby three-channel front surround sound with imaging control (front seat sound-stage, driver’s seat, or rear seat) and adjustable level so you can set your own preferred “balance.” The sound quality was outstanding and was more like sitting in comfortable leather-covered chairs in an auditorium savoring a private concert than in the front seat of a station wagon.

“Active Bending Light” headlamps are offered, so when you turn you can see more in the dark, although we really didn‘t notice a difference at night because of the way the thick A-pillar blocks vision. An almost-as-high-as-a truck seating position makes you feel comfortable at speed next to semis and Hummers, yet not too much taller than a regular car, so you’re not uncomfortable climbing in and out.

DESIGNED FOR THOSE WHO SPEND TIME BEHIND THE WHEEL

The driver’s console is straightforward. There’s no attempt to be radically different, just a good, clear focus on making sure the person in control of the vehicle has exactly the right information displayed at any given time.

If you want the instant fuel economy, just twirl the knob built into the left-hand steering stalk. If you want the average fuel economy, or take a short jaunt into Canada to visit a relative and need the speed in kilometers per hour, or need the outside temperature, just twirl the knob.

It is almost as if, among auto manufacturers, Volvo alone has recognized that we Americans spend a significant amount of time in our cars commuting. Perhaps more than we spend in our own living rooms each day! With that realization comes the need to impart a calmer frame of mind than all-black boxy-shaped jet fighter cockpit designs tends to impart to a driver. Suffering from road rage? Buy an XC70 T6 immediately.

HANDSOMELY STYLED: IT’S NO 240 WAGON

We found the exterior to be attractive, and though the functional black plastic cladding around the lower body seemed a bit too “Chevrolet Avalanche,” we can see the benefit of avoiding rock chips.

Examining the overall shape I can’t help but think that somewhere there’s a box of Volvo-labeled engineering rulers and straightedges going to waste now. Where Volvo has been traditionally boxy, with the4 XC70 they’ve taken the look, sanded off the edges, and infused a modicum of style. It’s still a station wagon but it’s at least a beautiful one to behold. The shape is reminiscent of the Audi All-Road Quattro, only larger in most every dimension. It’s significantly longer and wider and more powerful than similarly-priced the Audi A4 Avant, but slightly smaller than the much higher-priced Audi A6 Avant. Proportionally it looks like a smaller vehicle, but in person you’ll find it’s surprisingly wide both inside and out.

TURBOCHARGED 3.0-LITER INLINE-SIX STRUGGLES

There is a small, nose-mounted intercooler behind the front bumper, which cools the boost generated when the little turbocharger spools up. We say “little” because with just 46 more ponies available than the standard 3.2-liter inline-six it doesn’t offer the large gains typically seen from a turbocharged engine. Granted, the T6 is working with only 3.0-liters of displacement, but a touch more boost and increased top-end horsepower from a slightly larger turbo would be appreciated at times. It doesn’t have the immediate response of the BMW twin-turbo 3.0 liter, nor that engine’s prodigious streaming power.

Those 281 ponies don’t come without a price. The smaller engine works hard to pull this much weight. Fuel economy drops off dramatically during straight city driving. We averaged 19.5 miles per gallon in combined driving; with the number spiraling downward the longer we spent on city streets. If you’re seeking an in-town suburbanite transportation device, look elsewhere unless you happen to enjoy talking to the girl running the register at your nearest gas station!

The Geartronic 6-speed transmission is programmed to go as low as 2nd gear for most situations, so plan rolling take-offs carefully or don‘t be afraid to push the accelerator all the way to the floor. You can make the XC70 use first gear occasionally, as long as you’ve come to a complete stop first, and when doing so, this mid-size SUV (which is really what it is) will comply briskly. Most times it’s happiest as a sedate cruising vehicle.

Truth be told, the rest of the experience is so pleasant you simply won’t care how fast you’re (not) going. There’s a “+” and a “-“ to the right of the shift handle, but most drivers should just forget the “tip shift” mode even exists. The standard mode is good enough that you won’t want to be bothered with shifting yourself.

Body roll is soft and well-dampened, but excessive. More engineers should study the dynamics of the Porsche Cayenne for an excellent example of how to deliver a comfortable-yet-flat and sporty ride in a city-dwelling SUV. One of the contributing factors is all that metal reinforcing the body. Open the rear hatch and you can see just how stout the back pillars are. Tipping the scales over 4,200 lbs with just a driver and an empty tank, there’s quite a bit of mass suspended above the attractive 17-inch XC-labeled wheels.

Volvos are remarkably safe vehicles due to this robust construction. Handling, fuel economy, and acceleration all suffer necessarily. You may not care; the end justifies the means and the XC70 is an extremely comfortable vehicle to drive. We felt like we didn’t mind much of anything else while driving around Los Angeles. It will easily handle long trips carrying you and your brood as well as all of the attendant luggage a family requires.

THE VERDICT

If you’re family-minded and active outdoors, but can’t see yourself in a minivan or bigger SUV quite yet, the Volvo XC70 T6 might be just the ticket! It’s an attractive mix of luxury features and handsome utility with a bit of quirky Swedish design and obsessive safety tossed in for good measure.

PLUS

Interior design is stellar
Great utility from the rear hatch area
Outstanding audio system

MINUS

More power needed
Option package pricing
Very soft anti-roll bars… or were they left off at the factory?

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