Pros: Volvo safety; strong optional turbocharged engine; serious cargo space; aggressively priced base model
Cons: Mediocre base engine; subpar fuel economy with the turbo; ponderous handling for a car
What's New: Enhanced technology features
For nearly as long as Volvo has been selling cars in America, its solid wagons have been considered the quintessential premium family vehicle. These days, most premium family vehicles have taken the form of an SUV; while Volvo also sells proper SUVs in the form of its XC60 and XC90 crossovers, the 2013 Volvo XC70 shows that the company still knows how to do a real wagon.
Well, it's sort of a real wagon, anyway. Notice that the XC70 is jacked up a bit, Subaru Outback style. But fundamentally, the XC70 is not a crossover SUV; rather, it's a V70 (Volvo's discontinued midsize wagon) on stilts, a modified station wagon that evokes old 850 and 740 models with its distinctive and roomy breadbox of a back end.
If we have complaints about the XC70, it is that 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. It is a comfortable, rare and capable family car with the kind of prestige that only decades of heritage can afford a product.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Volvo XC70 is offered in a complex array of models and trim levels. There are two model lines -- 3.2 and T6 AWD -- and they come in base, Premier (3.2 only), Premier Plus and Platinum trims. Note that the base 3.2 and T6 AWD models are not created equally; the base 3.2 is a cost-cutter, while the base T6 AWD is equipped just like the 3.2 Premier model, only with 18-inch wheels instead of the 3.2 model's 16-in wheels.
Base XC70 3.2 models ($33,600) include standard features like front and rear skid plates, roof rails, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver's seat, a 7-in information and entertainment display screen and an 8-speaker audio system with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The 3.2 Premier ($36,850) and the base T6 AWD ($40,300) add niceties like a sunroof, interior wood inlays, leather upholstery and a power passenger's seat. The Premier Plus tacks on a power liftgate, front and rear parking sensors and keyless entry/ignition for both 3.2 ($38,750) and T6 AWD ($42,300). The 3.2 Platinum ($41,450) and T6 AWD Platinum ($45,000) include a 650-watt Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound audio system and a navigation system with a rearview camera.
The XC70 model'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 model's dashboard as well, from its high-quality materials to its sleek floating center panel and familiar Volvo font. A high-mounted 7-in screen is used for the infotainment and navigation functions, and while it is not a touchscreen like most others, it looks good and increases the XC70 model's technological appeal. Also, like a good friend, the voice activation system is a good listener.
The backseat of the XC70 is a solid midsize 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 than they might like, but most will find it comfortable. Like the XC60 crossover, the XC70 offers optional 2-stage child booster seats in the rear outboard positions, although they can't be ordered with the heated rear seats. Behind the XC70 model's handy 40/20/40 split rear seat back are 33.3 cu ft of cargo space, while folding that seat back down opens up 72.1 cu ft -- slightly more on both counts than the XC60 offers.
The S80 comes standard with iPod/USB and Bluetooth, so those boxes are checked. The new 7-in information and entertainment display has impressive graphical quality, and we don't mind that it's not a touchscreen, as the straightforward buttons under the screen guarantee that you won't have to deal with fingerprint smudges.
Optional on the S80 3.2 for $2,100 is a Technology package that includes adaptive cruise control, collision warning, pedestrian detection, distance alert, driver alertness monitor, lane departure warning and -- new for 2013 -- rain-sensing windshield wipers, headlamp washers, road sign information and active high beams.
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 big 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 6-speed automatic transmission.
In terms of fuel economy, the XC70 3.2 is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at 19 miles per gallon city/25 mpg highway (18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive), while the turbocharged T6 drops to 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy. Those are SUV-grade numbers; indeed, they're identical to the numbers achieved by the 2013 XC60.
The 2013 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 (IIHS) has crash tested the XC70 in recent years.
The XC70 rides high for a car, 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 nonathletic. 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 skid plates and that extra ground clearance make the XC70 a genuinely useful vehicle in 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 Sport Wagon is perhaps the most affordable luxury wagon on the market 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, and it does just as well off-road, though doesn't have the rich Volvo wagon heritage.
Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen - Worthy of consideration if you don't need off-road capability, Volkswagen's Jetta TDI SportWagen is based on the premium last-generation, pre-cost-cutting Jetta. It is by no means a luxury car, but the turbo-diesel engine gets astounding fuel economy while performing roughly as well as the XC70's base 3.2.
Unless budget is the overriding factor, we'd definitely spring for the turbocharged T6 model. Given the XC70 model's impressive roster of standard equipment, we'd stick with the base T6 for the best value.
What do you think of the 2013 Volvo XC70? Let us know in the comments below.