Pros: Excellent crash test scores; strong optional turbocharged engine; serious cargo space
Cons: Mediocre base engine; subpar fuel economy with the turbo; ponderous handling for a car
For those of us who are old enough to remember the Eighties and Nineties-that's most of us, right?-the 2012 Volvo XC70 is a time machine, a throwback to the days when Volvo wagons were perhaps the quintessential premium family vehicle. Doctors drove them on weekend trips, tenured professors nursed them along for decades, and car-crazed kids always looked for the "Turbo" badge on the back. These days, of course, there are countless premium family vehicles, almost all of which are SUVs of some sort. But there was something special about Volvo wagons back in the day. Our roads aren't quite the same without them.
For at least one more year, though, you can still buy a direct descendant of those lovable family haulers: the XC70. Notice that it's jacked up a bit, Subaru Outback style, so it's not a wagon in the classic sense. But fundamentally, the XC70 is not a crossover SUV; rather, it's a V70 (Volvo's discontinued mid-size wagon) on stilts, a modified station wagon that evokes 850s and 740s with its distinctive bread box of a back end. We like that it's got some of that old Volvo magic, even though we know that most people these days would rather have something else.
So should you buy an XC70, for old times' sake? We'd think twice about that, as both the fuel economy and handling dynamics are lackluster, and those are perhaps the two biggest reasons to buy a wagon instead of an SUV. Nonetheless, we'll forgive the XC70 for its imperfections. Under the circumstances, we're just glad it's here.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Volvo XC70 is offered in a complex array of models and trim levels. There are two models-3.2 and T6-and they come in base, Premier (3.2 only), Premier Plus and Platinum trims. Standard equipment varies between the 3.2 and the T6; for example, the 3.2 comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, while the T6 gets 18-inch alloys, which are optional on the 3.2.
The XC70 3.2 includes standard features like front and rear skidplates for off-road protection, roof rails, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver's seat with lumbar adjustment and three-position memory, a seven-inch information and entertainment display screen and an eight-speaker audio system with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The 3.2 Premier adds niceties like a sunroof, interior wood inlays, leather upholstery and a power passenger's seat-all standard on the base T6. The Premier Plus tacks on a power liftgate, front and rear parking sensors and keyless entry/ignition for both 3.2 and T6. The Platinum includes a 650-watt Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound audio system and a navigation system with a rear-view camera.
The XC70's front seats, like most Volvo thrones, are exceptionally comfortable and supportive. One road trip in an XC70, and you'll be a believer, too. We generally like the XC70's dashboard, as well, from its high-quality materials to its sleek "floating" center panel and familiar Volvo font. In order to accommodate the newly standard seven-inch information and entertainment screen, however, Volvo elected to install a central hump on the dashboard like the one BMW used to house its previous-generation iDrive systems. In both cases, we think the hump looks like an afterthought rather than a well-integrated design, but the new Volvo display does increase XC70's technological appeal, so there's an upside.
The XC70's back seat is a solid mid-size compartment, providing adult-friendly room in all dimensions. The rear bench is lower than a typical crossover SUV's bench, however, so lanky rear passengers may find less thigh support in the wagon-based XC70. Like the XC60 crossover, the XC70 offers optional two-stage child booster seats in the rear outboard positions, although they can't be ordered with the heated rear seats. Behind XC70's handy 40/20/40 split rear seatback is 33.3 cubic feet of cargo space, while folding that seatback down opens up 72.1 cubic feet-slightly more on both counts than the XC60 offers.
Standard gadgetry in the XC70 is impressive, from the iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity to the dual-zone automatic climate control. We're not quite as impressed by the newly standard seven-inch information and entertainment display, which isn't a touchscreen and lacks the visual impact of most newer displays. It gets the job done, though, and it's enormously better than the previous display interface. The optional navigation system is, again, nothing fancy, but it works well enough.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The XC70 3.2 is motivated by a 3.2-liter inline-6 rated at 240 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive can be substituted for a fee. We're not high on this engine, which doesn't sound particularly refined and feels sluggish during acceleration. A better option is provided by the XC70 T6, which comes standard with all-wheel drive and a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 rated at 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. So equipped, the XC70 moves out like a muscle wagon, effortlessly piling on speed when needed. All XC70s employ a satisfactory six-speed automatic transmission.
In terms of fuel economy, the XC70 3.2 is EPA rated at 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway (18/24 mpg with AWD), while the turbocharged T6 drops to 17/23 mpg. Those are SUV-grade numbers; indeed, they're identical to the numbers achieved by the 2012 XC60.
The 2012 XC70 features standard stability control, six airbags and an optional suite of accident-avoidance technology, including a collision alert system that can stop the car on its own if an impact is deemed imminent.
Neither the government nor the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash tested the XC70 in recent years.
The XC70 rides high for a car-that's the Outback-style lifted suspension at work-but it still feels more planted and maneuverable than a typical crossover SUV. The operative word is "feels," because the XC70 is in fact deceptively non-athletic. We haven't driven them back to back, but we suspect the XC60 would win a handling competition. There's certainly something to be said for feel and also for quietness and smoothness, both of which the substantial XC70 has in spades. Also, the standard skidplates and that extra ground clearance make the XC70 a genuinely useful vehicle in very light-duty off-road applications-think rutted dirt roads and the like.
Other Cars to Consider
Acura TSX Sport Wagon - It only comes with the soft 2.4-liter inline-4, but the TSX SportWagon is perhaps the most affordable luxury wagon and a viable XC70 alternative if you know you won't be venturing off the pavement.
Subaru Outback - The Outback has become so large with its latest redesign that it feels more like a crossover than a tall wagon like the XC70. It can save you a lot of money, though.
Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen - Also worthy of consideration if you don't need off-road capability, the SportWagen is based on the premium last-generation, pre-cost-cutting Jetta, and the turbo-diesel engine gets astounding fuel economy while performing roughly as well as the XC70's base 3.2.
We'd definitely spring for the turbocharged T6 model. Given the XC70's impressive roster of standard equipment, we'd stick with the base T6 for the best value.