The Volvo XC70 is an impressive and versatile wagon. Striving to combine the benefits of a luxury car with SUV ruggedness, it’s smooth, stable, secure, fast and very comfortable on the open highway.
Most models have all-wheel drive, which makes the XC70 a good choice for foul weather, be it torrential rain, deep snow, or glare ice. But it’s on primitive roads where the Volvo XC70 shines. It handles gravel and dirt roads quickly and ably, with stable, predictable handling and excellent traction. We think it’s the most compelling car in the Volvo lineup.
The Volvo XC70 3.2 uses a 3.2-liter inline-6 engine making 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, while the XC70 T6 AWD holds a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 to make 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet.
The XC70 3.2 has standard front-wheel drive. That should appeal to flatlanders in warm weather: for example, Texans and Floridians. All-wheel drive is optional, and standard on the T6. Equipped with that full-time AWD, an XC70 is prepared for serious travel through unpaved wilderness areas. Furthermore, its suspension is raised to increase both movement range and ground clearance. Dent-resistant lower body cladding and protective skid plates underneath protect it from damage. Hill Descent Control makes ascending steep, slippery trails easier and safer.
Like other Volvo models for 2014, the XC70 gets a substantial freshening. The grille has been revised, front and rear bumpers are new, and the lower front intake redesigned. New LED daytime running lights are installed, along with reworked taillights. Standard Valder alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires. Inside is a new standard analog instrument cluster. An enhanced tire pressure monitoring system now alerts the driver as to which axle has a tire that’s lost pressure.
Premier trim adds an auto-dimming mirror and adaptive digital instrument cluster with three selectable themes for 2014. Premier Plus gains a quick-fold front passenger seat and rear park assist camera. The Technology Package adds cyclist detection to the passenger detection system. The Climate Package gains a heated windshield and heated steering wheel.
Advanced Quick Shift in the T6 AWD includes revised shift-management software for the automatic transmission, for quicker gear changes. The T6’s Technology Package includes adaptive cruise control with queue assist, collision warning with full auto brake, distance alert, driver alert, lane departure warning, road sign information, and active high beam.
Either XC70 model is engineered for serious gear-hauling rather than posing at the mall. Cargo capacity of 72.1 cubic feet is on par with mid-size SUVs, slightly better than a Subaru Outback. The seating arrangement is flexible and the cargo compartment has tie-downs and other useful accessories. With the rear seats folded, the XC70’s flat floor and low lift-over height make loading bulky cargo easier than with many SUVs. It’s rated to tow up to 3,300 pounds, enough for a small boat or camper.
We found the handling of the Volvo XC70 T6 AWD on primitive logging roads to be excellent. This would be a good car to drive to the top of Alaska in the middle of winter. We know, we’ve done it. We’ve also driven it off-highway in Baja, and on unpaved logging roads. All-wheel drive made driving around corners easy and predictable on gravel, dirt, mud, and snow. The suspension had just the right amount of compliance to keep the tires on the trail, yet give the driver lots of control. Bumps in the middle of turns never upset handling.
On paved roads, the XC70 is stable and comfortable. It’s a good car for long trips and great daily transportation. It rides smoothly, doesn’t float or lean excessively through curves, and should deliver better real-world gas mileage than most mid- and full-size truck-based SUVs. Also, it’s equipped with all the safety features that form Volvo’s well-deserved reputation for safety engineering.
The Volvo XC70 is built on Volvo’s large-car platform, which it shares with the flagship S80 sedan; so it has more in common with Volvo’s biggest sedan than with any smaller models. The XC70 wheelbase of almost 111 inches puts it at the small end of the big-car spectrum, but it certainly has plenty of room inside. In overall length and width, the XC70 closely matches a BMW 5 Series wagon, albeit on a wheelbase that’s 3 inches shorter. In weight, the Volvo and the BMW are just about dead even.
The Volvo XC70 structure was developed with Volvo’s attention to impact-dissipating crumple zones, both of which have fully laminated glass. The only unique XC70 structural feature is an extra lower front crossbeam, added to account for its higher ride height in an impact.
In styling, the XC70 follows the current trend at Volvo, with a look that’s instantly recognizable, yet smoother, less gangly and visually tighter than the Volvos of just a few years ago. In profile, the character line at the bottom of the windows rises dramatically (for a Volvo), suggesting a forward-leaning, dynamic stance. The window pillars are blacked out, which makes all the windows look like a single element. The rear glass angles slightly forward toward the front of the car, rather than dropping cliff-like from the back edge of the roof, yet there’s still plenty of cargo volume inside.
Freshening for 2014 focused on the front and rear ends, including a new grille with a bolder, wider appearance and a bigger iron mark at its center. Large, sharply defined headlights, reshaped for 2014, sweep back into the front fenders. New bumpers are intended to emphasize the XC70’s horizontal stance. So is the widened lower intake. LED daytime running lights have been installed, along with revised taillights. Front/rear matte silver décor trim has been updated, as has rear skid place decor.
From the rear, the XC70’s hexagonal shape reminds us of the little C30 coupe. The tail lights are large enough and bright enough to do Las Vegas proud, and the rear glass window extends down lower than the side windows to improve rearward visibility. The hydraulically operated power tailgate is handy if you approach the back of this car with arms loaded, and it keeps hands cleaner if the tailgate is coated with grime.
The Volvo XC70 cabin is understated, but elegant and nicely polished. Materials and overall finish are high grade, adopting design themes and components from the S80 luxury sedan.
Leather upholstery is smooth and stretched tautly over the front seats, and the seats themselves are excellent. It’s hard to find a better mix of comfort and support for typical driving. Visibility outward is good, forward and aft. The rear-most side windows incorporate their own electrical grid for defrosting.
The XC70 driver sits before a fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, looking at big, crisp gauges with bright-white backlighting and number gradients that are easy for the brain to absorb.
The center stack is a thin panel, no more than two inches thick, with open space behind it. Most controls are placed here, with audio above climate and a display at the top, arranged in a neat, symmetrical pattern. The primary knobs are big and raised substantially from the surface, and the airflow controls are fashioned in an icon shaped like a seated person. So, there’s absolutely no confusion about directing air toward the face, feet or windshield. It’s all clean and pleasing. Most significantly, measured by function and simplicity of operation, the XC70’s controls beat most other luxury brands, particularly German makes.
The navigation-system screen pops up vertically from the center of the dash, though it’s canted forward at a strange angle. The driver surfs through menus and makes choices with buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes. We think it’s better than many other systems. The menus are no more difficult to learn, and they’re managed without taking hands from the steering wheel and fishing for the controls. Passengers can control the system with a remote.
Cubby storage is lacking in other Volvo models, but a bit better in the XC70. The center console and glovebox hold quite a bit of stuff. Pockets behind the front seatbacks are handy, and the cupholders work well.
The rear seat is not the roomiest, given the vehicle’s size. We wouldn’t recommend it to six-footers for a cross-country trip, but someone 5-feet, 9 inches tall won’t get claustrophobic or cramped riding in the back of the XC70 across town. We think it would be fine for families until the kids are well into their teens.
The cargo area is one of the XC70’s strengths. The back seat folds easily, 40/20/40, so the center section can work like a pass-through for skis or hockey sticks. With a maximum cargo capacity of 72.1 cubic feet, the XC70 compares favorably with the larger, heavier Mercedes M-Class and BMW X5.
The cargo floor is perfectly flat with all the seats folded down, providing a smooth, friendly area for cargo as well as dogs or even people: One or two people could sleep comfortably back there. It’s a useful feature for camping or for stopping for a nap on long road trips.
A fold-flat front-passenger seat is a valuable feature that should not be underestimated. The XC70 has such a seat and the fold-flat design does not seem to diminish seating comfort. The seatback can be folded forward to the same level as the folded rear seat and cargo floor. This allows the XC70 to carry long narrow items such as ladders, two-by-fours, or rigged fly rods. Under the load floor is a lockable, shallow storage area, no more than six inches deep.
The cargo floor itself features aluminum rails with movable anchorage points for securing loads. The anchors can be tucked down into the rails when not used, to keep the floor perfectly smooth.
One disadvantage of the XC70 compared to the typical SUV is a lower ceiling; an SUV will accommodate taller items, or items in an upright position. The XC70 has a lower liftover height than most SUVs, which makes it easier to load cargo and also provides a lower height for dogs jumping in and out.
Seats are designed to help reduce whiplash injuries. During a rear-end impact, the WHIPS seatbacks move rearward to reduce acceleration forces on the occupant’s back and neck, while the headrest pushes forward and upward slightly to meet the neck and head as they’re thrust backward.
The Volvo XC70 is a superb vehicle for gravel roads. Yet it’s also smooth, quiet and comfortable on the highway. Whether on pavement or gravel, it’s more maneuverable than an SUV. Though big inside, its exterior dimensions seem relatively compact, and it’s easy to park. An XC70 drives like a car, because that’s what it is.
The XC70 comes with a 3.2-liter inline-6 that generates 240 horsepower at 6400 rpm, with 236 pound-feet of torque at 3200 rpm. It’s matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The engine is mounted transversely (sideways), which is very unusual for a straight six, but contributes to the XC70’s interior space.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 19/25 mpg City/Highway. In states that follow California’s tough emissions laws, a PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) version of the base model is sold, which trades 10 horsepower for lower emissions and better fuel economy.
Inline (straight) six-cylinder engines seem to power-up faster than the more common V6s, spinning more freely and smoothly. In a vehicle of the XC70’s heft (4,147 pounds), Volvo’s 3.2-liter engine doesn’t qualify as a screamer, but it delivers acceleration-producing torque in a smooth, linear fashion. Breathing well at high rpm, it doesn’t gasp or get rough if you run it near the redline. It accelerates eagerly from a stop, or for passing at higher speeds.
Volvo’s 6-speed automatic transmission shifts in all the right places; and whether it’s up a gear or down, those shifts are smooth, tight and relatively quick. Put it in Drive and go. Should the driver choose to get more involved, the Geartronic manual feature can be enjoyable. There are no paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, as many cars now feature, but there’s a manual slot for the shift lever left of the normal gear-selection path. The up-down gear change action has a smooth, quality feel, and the transmission won’t shift on its own if the revs get too high.
The XC70 T6 comes with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6. The smaller displacement is more than compensated by the additional air pushed through by the turbocharger. Twin-scroll technology means it takes in exhaust gases in two stages, from three cylinders each. This in turn permits the use of a compact turbo rotor, for swift throttle response with the lowest possible fuel consumption. Maximum torque is on tap from just 1500 rpm and remains available all the way up the rev range. Compared to the normally aspirated XC70 3.2-liter, the T6 generates 60 more horsepower and 89 more pound-feet of torque. The EPA estimates T6 fuel economy at 17/23 mpg City/Highway.
The 2011 T6 engine was named one of Ward’s Ten Best engines. Ward’s noted that the Volvo T6 engine offered a delicious mid-range power band and paucity of turbo lag.
The XC70 rides comfortably and smoothly, and despite some fairly substantial suspension travel, it’s not mushy. There’s none of the stiffness or racket found in truck-based SUVs, either. The XC70 leans a bit in corners when driven aggressively, and pitches some between hard acceleration and hard braking. Yet not so much that it’s not enjoyable. That same lean and compliance gives it excellent grip when cornering on gravel roads.
Brakes are superior to most. They stop the vehicle right now, with Electronic Brake-force Distribution to instantaneously balance stopping power front-to-rear, to the tires with the best grip. Braking distances are very long on unpaved surfaces, however.
All-wheel drive gives the Volvo XC70 handling stability in slippery conditions. The AWD normally delivers 95 percent of the engine’s power to the front wheels, so the XC70 behaves like a front-drive vehicle. But if traction starts to degrade, as it might in snow, on dirt or on a rain-slick road, the all-wheel drive will send up to 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels. That would balance torque among the tires with the most friction underneath. The AWD system works well, and seamlessly. Few drivers will ever notice when it shifts power between the front and rear wheels.
Dynamic Stability and Traction Control uses sensors to monitor forward or lateral movement. If it detects a potentially dangerous sliding movement under any of the four tires, it automatically tries to correct the instability by braking one or more wheels or throttling back the engine.
Hurtling down unpaved logging roads showed off the stability, handling and ride of the Volvo XC70. The all-wheel drive made driving around corners easy and predictable on gravel, dirt, and mud as snow began to fall. The suspension had just the right amount of compliance to keep the tires to the trail, yet gave the driver lots of control.
The Volvo XC70 has good, long suspension travel, plus 8.3 inches of ground clearance, which is taller than most crossovers and many truck-based SUVs. That means a bumper is less likely snag on something when traversing a deep rut or nosing up a steep rise. The standard skid plates offer an element of protection for underbody components if an XC70 encounters fallen tree limbs or large rocks. Unlike Volvo’s larger XC90 SUV, the XC70 was developed for serious outdoor enthusiasts.
Hill-Descent Control works great, managing the throttle and braking and minimizing slides on the way down fairly steep dirt surfaces. With HDC, the car is slowly lowered down a steep descent. All the driver has to do is steer, feet off the pedals. With all-wheel drive and Hill-Descent Control, the XC70 can traverse some truly primitive roads, limited only by ground clearance.
We drove a previous-generation XC70 down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula over some of the same rocky roads used in the Baja 1000 off-road race, and up the icy haul road that runs along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. That XC70 was a great partner, but we can say the current-generation model is superior.
The Volvo XC70 is an excellent choice for outdoor adventurers. It offers genuine off-pavement capability and it’s very good on unpaved roads. It has lots of room for gear and the cargo compartment is perfectly flat. An XC70 wagon offers many advantages over truck-based SUVs, including better fuel economy, better handling, and a smoother ride. Yet it’s quiet, maneuverable and pleasant for the sort of driving most of us do, most of the time.
J.P. Vettraino reported from Germany, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Montana, and Sam Moses reporting from Arizona.