For better, and for worse
Volvo’s latest XC70 D5 is a practical and spacious 4×4 family wagon. With its sleek and modern lines, it’s a real head-turner. True to the Swedish marque’s roots, it’s also safe as houses. But it’s what happens under the up-market new skin that disappoints. Dynamically, it could – and should – have been much better
XC models – for Cross Country – have become an important part of Volvo’s mix. Along with this vehicle (the third XC70 introduced in just over a decade), there is also the XC90, with a baby XC on the way.
Wagons have always been central to the Swede’s success and an inordinately large percentage of Volvos boast four doors and a tailgate, no doubt contributing to the “slippers- and-pipe” image. But the XC70 proves that the days of wagons looking dull and drab are over and it is a seriously handsome machine. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but most beholders liked it – a lot.
While it is still fairly angular and has trademark Volvo “cues” (like a pronounced shoulder- line and the egg-crate grille with a diagonal chrome bar), off-road chic has been taken to a new level. The nose is bold yet quite rounded, with the edges of the headlights flowing into the front fenders and the bonnet.
What gives the XC70 an especially appealing and sporty look is circular front foglights set deep in the chin and framed by a metal-look trim.
The lower reaches of the body, the lips of the wheelarches and the bumpers all continue to be protected by a heavy-duty plastic cladding, but the overtly functional look has disappeared thanks to a brightwork strip which runs along the bottom of the doors and communicates visually with the trim across the bottom of the front valance. Metal-look frames around the rear foglights mimic those at the front.
Sizeable tail light clusters extend to roof height alongside the tailgate, which is now more angled for a less boxy profile.
It manages to look compact, despite having grown in length, height and wheelbase.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
The D5 badging indicates that this version is powered by a five-cylinder turbodiesel engine. This is the second-generation version, now rated at 136 kW and 400 Nm. Changes include upgraded electronics across the board, and the engine is said to be particularly clean-burning, thanks in part to the fitment of a particulate filter. Its companion is a six-speed auto, which has a Geartronic “manual” gate.
No discussion on a Volvo would be complete without mentioning safety, and changes for this XC70 include a curtain airbag that extends 60mm further down, specifically to improve protection for children.
Body rigidity has been enhanced, and torsional stiffness is up by 15%. This should improve crash performance, as well as handling and road-holding.
The upgraded engine management system has allowed for a more comprehensive array of driver aids including, importantly, hill descent control. There’s also more braking technology.
The XC70’s all-wheel-drive system uses an electronically controlled hydraulic clutch to control the front/rear torque distribution. The system is supplied by Haldex – Sweden’s drivetrain specialists – and the system is much the same as that fitted to the Land Rover Freelander.
Probably the most impressive feature of our car was the Adaptive Cruise Control (adding R20 000 to the cost) which maintains a safe following distance by continuously adapting the car’s speed to maintain a pre-set time gap.
As has unfortunately become the norm with test cars, many options were fitted, pushing the “as tested” price to R478 500 – just R500 less than a base model of big brother, the XC90 D5…
★ ★ ★ ★
The XC70 is built on the latest S80 platform, which accounts for the 55mm growth in the wheelbase and a stretch of 100mm overall. It also probably explains the sense of style and class which oozes from every corner of the cabin. It has a roomy, plush atmosphere and serenity that is something of a Volvo trademark.
As expected, the seating is excellent, with soft, plump cushions which nevertheless provide excellent support in all areas. The front pews are electrically adjusted and there’s a three-position memory for the driver. Lumbar support is set manually and as usual Volvo has the best headrests in the business, designed to minimise whiplash injuries. They’re just millimetres from occupants’ heads, yet are totally unobtrusive.
The airflow distribution of the dual-zone climate control is particularly intuitive thanks to mode changes executed by pressing buttons laid out in the shape of a seated human form, auxiliary buttons clustered around it. The hang-down panel is very classy, with its “floating” design (à la V50) providing some oddment space behind it, though it isn’t easy to reach.
Our test car was fitted with a high-end sound system that provided very punchy audio.
The driver faces a particularly impressive dash display, with essential information displayed via digital readouts in the middle of the conventional speedo and tacho, thanks to needles that don’t run all the way to the centre of the dial in normal fashion.
There is ample legroom in the rear, but large individuals may still feel short-changed compared to the front passenger. Volvo says rear legroom is up by 48mm and knee clearance by 21mm, yet our subjective impression is that improvements are not especially significant – perhaps because of the bulky seats. Headroom is unexceptional, too. However, width at shoulder height has been increased by about 30mm, both front and rear.
Volvo says luggage volume is up by 55 litres, and the XC70 can carry large and varied loads. The rear seat is split 40/20/40 and with the middle portion laid flat, a 1,9m-long object can be swallowed. A retractable cover with a cleverly designed two-part net separates luggage and people. There’s also a boot board that hinges upwards on a gas strut to reveal a storage tray, and digging a little deeper exposes the spacesaver spare.
Myriad luggage hooks and eyelets, moveable anchorage points mounted on aluminium rails and a flip-up luggage compartment divider make the Volvo pretty much unbeatable as a load-lugger. As an encore, a power-operated tailgate is standard – not a bad call considering the size, height and weight of the fifth door.
★ ★ ★
While the XC70 is a strong performer on the open road, the combination of turbo lag and a tardy gearbox make it somewhat restless in traffic or stop/go/turn/stop suburban encounters. Downshifts are executed slowly and there’s often a palpable wait – followed by an uncomfortable surge of power – after exiting corners.
The Geartronic gate provides the option of playing a more active role in cog-swopping, though it shifts up automatically during full-throttle acceleration anyway. Interestingly, our sprint times were quickest executed in good old “Drive”, which shifts at lower revs.
The delayed responses are less noticeable in overtaking manouevres, with the kickdown increments dispatched quickly once a head of steam had built up.
When cruising at 120 km/h (and it has an unerringly accurate speedometer) the XC70 was reasonably economical and used 8,3 litres per 100km. But work the 2,4-litre twincam engine hard and the consumption climbs quite rapidly. We were surprised that it was well into the elevens per 100km bracket – which did include our Gerotek session and some fast inter-provincial cruising – when we handed it back.
Stopping ability is excellent for a 1910kg machine and its extensive armoury – extending to FBS (for Fading Brake Support) – stands it in good stead.
Ride and handling
Find a freeway and the XC70 will waft along it all day, with nary a care in the world. It’ll eat up the kilometres, occupants undisturbed in a mostly silent and unruffled cocoon. Unfortunately, few people live on the freeway and the Volvo reveals its handling limitations when the roads close in and the tarmac takes on the texture of a teenager’s face.
The body rolls in corners and there’s too much vertical movement over bumps and humps. There’s also a lateral jiggling over rippled surfaces which was likewise uncomfortable for passengers. Press on and the suspension can be felt fighting the wheels’ movements, some noise and jarring finding its way into the cabin. Then there’s the steering: it has no feel to speak of, making it harder to steer the XC70 into a corner accurately at anything above a moderate pace.
But if you’re planning on sticking to the ‘N’ routes and then finding some rougher stuff not far from the off-ramp, you can’t help but be impressed. For a vehicle without low range and without much air under it – we measured static ground clearance at 195mm, not the claimed 210 – it certainly clambers over the rocky stuff with determination and it’s good on slippery surfaces, too, thanks to the fast-acting Haldex coupling.
★ ★ ★
The XC70 hasn’t blown us away, as you may have gathered. While the looks are a big improvement and the car is more refined and of better quality than before, we think it misses the target, certainly on-road.
A number of passengers found its lack of body control unsettling, and the relationship between the engine and gearbox is not an especially symbiotic one.
Maybe it is just as well that it doesn’t have an obvious rival…