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Here's What It's Like to Drive an Original Volvo V70 XC Time Capsule

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author photo by Aaron Gold May 2017

I just attended a press launch for the Volvo V90 Cross Country. As a set piece, Volvo brought along a bright red 1998 V70 XC (back when they used to abbreviate the name), the first version of the Cross Country sold in the US.

I asked them if I could drive it.

Much to my amazement ... they said yes.

Volvo's new toy is a magnificent example of the V70 XC breed: It's an 18,400 mile original, a California car apparently owned by the proverbial old lady who only drove it to buy pickled herring on Sundays. It's red with a tan interior, very clean and incredibly well preserved. It's as close to reliving 1998 as you can get without subjecting yourself to a Wyclef Jean concert.

The first thing that strikes me about the V70 XC was not how boxy it is, but how boxy we didn't consider it to be back in the 1990s. Back then, we thought the V70 was as curvy as a Volvo would get. (We turned out ot be way, way wrong, but after years of staring at the 240, who can blame us?) Now, as I give the V70 XC a quick walkaround, all I can do is ask myself "What were we thinking?" The doors are nearly vertical, for cryin' out loud.

But that boxy style sure does have its advantages. I'm surprised by how small the V70 XC's cargo bay is; I remember it being so much larger. But you can sure stuff a lot of stuff in there, because it's literally a box on wheels. This, I say to myself, is when wagons were wagons.

The back seat isn't so great, though -- in fact, it's pretty darn tight. I sit there and suffer for a few minutes, enduring a moment of silence for all the poor twenty-somethings who had to suffer through long road trips when they were children -- and this, in the days before tablet computers and seat-back DVD players. No wonder they say millennials don't want to buy cars; anyone who had to endure a family road trip in the back of a V70 XC surely can't have very positive associations with the motorcar.

Okay, enough of that: It's time to drive.

Settling in behind the wheel, I'm instantly transported back to the days when MP3s and Google were still new inventions. The trip computer is controlled by a dial on the dashboard. The steering-wheel airbag is the size of a dictionary. The stereo has a cassette deck, a CD player and a three-band graphic equalizer. And there isn't a video screen to be found -- though there are plenty of liquid-crystal displays, that's for sure.

I turn the key (an action that I realize will soon be extinct) and the 2.4 liter five-cylinder turbo engine -- 190 horsepower, which was pretty darn impressive back in those days -- rolls over and fires. I find myself in a moral dilemma: I want to see what the ol' girl will do, but I'm also aware that I'm driving a museum piece -- and one that, at the moment, has no license plates on it.

I decide to drive judiciously out to the main road, then floor it. Just once, mind you. And very, very gently.

Ah, turbo lag. Nowadays we have forgotten what the phrase really means; We feel a little hesitation and we call it lag. Not so in the V70. For the first brief instant, I am essentially accelerating with all of the might a 2.4 liter naturally-aspirated five-cylinder engine can muster, which isn't much. But then, maybe a second or so later, the turbocharger finally shows up to the party, and the Volvo lifts up her skirts and runs. We're not talking Hellcat-like acceleration, but even by today's standards, the V70 XC is respectably quick -- all the more impressive when you consider the transmission only has four speeds with which to work. I listen for the familiar five-cylinder wail, which was my favorite aspect of the old 70-series cars. It's there, albeit somewhat muted by the grumbles and buzzes of a two-decade-old mill.

And what of the handling? The roads are straight, the car is irreplaceable and the houses ritzy, so I keep my hooning to a minimum, but I do find myself feeling sorry for those who will never experience good hydraulically-assisted steering. Off-center response feels a little soft, but that may well be the results of bushings dried out after twenty years of California heat. The steering has a nice heft to it, though -- good and heavy. There's a roundabout on the road I'm driving, but no one seems to know how to use it properly, so I don't get much opportunity to check for body roll.

I need to jockey the Volvo around for photos, and I realize I've forgotten just how maneuverable these cars are. The turning radius is hella sharp for a vehicle this size -- or even for a vehicle of a smaller size -- which is all the more remarkable with all-wheel-drive and a transverse engine. I pull a couple of extra U-turns just for the sake of it.

Finally, it's time to take the Volvo back from whence it came. I can now say I am responsible for three-one-hundredths of a percent of the V70 XC's total mileage. It's been a very cool trip back to 1998. Maybe it's time to start searching the Autotrader listings ...

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Here's What It's Like to Drive an Original Volvo V70 XC Time Capsule - Autotrader