The "crossover" is one of the fastest-growing vehicle segments in America. As fuel prices continue to rise, sales of large truck-based, gas-guzzling sport utes are heading south. In this climate, small car-based crossovers have become the SUV of choice.
The idea of a wagon-based crossover is nothing new. Back in 1996, Subaru broke new ground with the Outback, which was a station wagon with raised ground clearance and SUV styling cues. It wasn't long until Volvo joined in with the Cross Country, which used the same recipe as the Outback but started with the larger, more premium V70 wagon.
The XC70, as it's now called, has had great success in America and Volvo hopes to continue that success - as well as ride the crossover wave - with an all-new XC70.
The 2008 XC70 has been restyled, but in typical Volvo fashion that equates to subtle changes. In fact, most non-Volvo owners probably won't even realize it's been revamped. Up front, the grille and headlights are larger, and the integrated fog lights are emphasized with a satin surround. The most noticeable change is at the rear. The new tailgate features integrated taillights, and the brand in large letters. Overall, the new XC70 is a larger vehicle than its predecessor, with slightly higher ground clearance.
Inside, much of the styling introduced in the flagship S80 is carried over to the XC70, including the trademark IKEA-like slim center stack and flowing dashboard. The front seats are quite comfortable and supportive, while the roomy cargo area is equipped with aluminum rails to which a number of slick anchoring accessories can be hooked to aid in securing various loads.
Under the Skin
For the first time the XC70 is based on the S80 sedan rather than the S60. The result is a more spacious interior and considerably improved ride quality. It also provides the XC70 with a new powertrain. Standard on all XC70s is a 3.2-liter DOHC 6-cylinder engine producing 235 horsepower - an increase of almost 30 horses over the 2007 model. Teamed with the more powerful engine is a new 6-speed automatic transmission.
Though more powerful, fuel economy is about the same as the outgoing model - the lower ratings of 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway are due to the EPA's new fuel economy rating methods for 2008. On my 500-plus mile drive to Seattle from Montana, I managed 21 mpg while averaging 65 mph.
Who Needs an SUV?
Volvo calls the XC70 a crossover SUV, but ultimately it is a station wagon - a term that seems to be taboo in America. With 8.3 inches of ground clearance and a savvy all-wheel-drive system, however, it can easily handle the "off-road" conditions the average consumer is likely to encounter.
Assuring traction is a computer-controlled Haldex all-wheel-drive setup with Instant Traction, which can shift up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels as needed. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) as well as Hill Descent Control (HDC) are standard on the XC70, the latter feature is more commonly found on true off-road-ready SUVs.
My trek included over 35 miles of unimproved forest service roads, providing an excellent opportunity to sample the real-life benefits of the XC70. At points a narrow track with low overhead clearance due to a number of downed trees, the road proved to be no problem for the XC70 (which I was quite pleased about, given that it was in grizzly bear habitat).
In the 2008 XC70, an updated version of Volvo's Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) is standard, as is the active-headrest Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS). Another safety innovation: the world's first height-adjustable integrated booster seat. This ensures that children of varying heights remain in the best position in relation to the safety belt.
Most impressive is the Collision Warning with Brake Assist. The system warns the driver with an audible alert and flashing red light in the windshield if the XC70 is approaching another vehicle and the driver has not reacted. If a collision is imminent and driver reaction cannot prevent an accident, the brakes get applied to lessen the force of the collision.
Asked why the brakes could not be applied earlier to avoid the accident, Volvo engineers said they did not want the system intruding when the driver is still in control of the car. It's a difficult situation to interpret - knowing if an accident is pending or if the car is simply being driven aggressively.
The XC70 will be sold in a single trim level at a base price of $37,520, including destination charge. Major options include a rear-seat entertainment system, a Dynaudio 650-watt sound system, Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning, and Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS).
In the increasingly competitive SUV/crossover/wagon segment of the market, Volvo's revamped XC70 remains a luxurious and capable option -- no matter what you call it.