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Where the Wild Volvos Roam

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author photo by Autotrader June 2011

The folks at Volvo, fresh off of their successful debut of the all-new S60, were looking for someplace to play, and decided that the 900-plus miles between Los Angeles and the west side of Colorado might just be perfect for a four day XC-based adventure. Invitations went out to thirty-two journalists, 16 Volvos were corralled, and a little red dirt was ordered for what was hoped would be an involving ninety-six hours.

The on-road journey began at a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport. There, an assortment of Volvo XC60, XC70 and XC90 crossovers were divided among sixteen two-person teams. We headed to Vegas aboard Volvo's venerable XC70.

Despite its long-standing rep as a consummate maker of the wagon, Volvo's wagon lineup in the US has been reduced to just one – the compact V50. In the midsize segment, Volvo has dropped the V70, keeping only the XC70, which is classified as a crossover due to its higher ride height and ground clearance. And given America's penchant for all things crossover, that's probably not a bad call. Despite a higher stance and a modest affectation of cladding, Volvo hasn't excessively diminished the appeal of its conventional wagon to attract the crossover crowd. With the optional 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine under the hood, and all-wheel drive underfoot, the XC70 is responsive, confident and comfortable. The ride to Vegas – via lunch at Bob's Big Boy in Barstow – was a romp, with the 300+ miles little more than an asterisk to the overall trip.

Upon arriving at Vegas, the folks at Volvo had a handful of Survivor-like challenges for us. Of the three activities available, we chose rock climbing at a wall approximately 20 minutes from the Strip. Given Volvo's Chinese ownership, we dubbed it the "Great Wall," but only after scaling it. With a successful climb, we were off to the Mandalay Bay hotel, a comfortable combo of upscale retreat with down-home sensibility. After a very long hike from self-parking to the lobby, we toured the hotel's Shark Reef aquarium.

Driving some 600 miles on the second day reinforced our love of the XC70's seating, suspension and powerplant, but left us wondering why Volvo can't plug in some real road feel into the steering. We remember the steering of the newest S60 as top notch, and can only hope the next variant of the XC70 gets to share.

Some ninety minutes north of Vegas is St. George, Utah. And beyond its spectacular vistas and small-town friendliness is an animal shelter in need of food. Donating a bag of dog food was worth fifty points in this Survivor-style contest, and who among us doesn't like a well-fed dog? We were in and out in quick order, and feeling better about ourselves – if not our chances.

From St. George we headed east through the spectacular Zion National Park, and north on Utah's Highway 89 for lunch in Panguitch. Now, for anyone planning to motor west this summer, pencil in a detour to Panguitch – and the Cowboy's Smokehouse on Main. We tried their take on the Philly Beefsteak, and it was much closer – and arguably better – than the Penn State original. The service was good; the conversation better. From Panguitch it's a relatively short hop to I-70 and, taking the remainder of the afternoon, the Utah/Colorado state line.

As you might guess, going east on I-70 didn't represent any challenges, but the XC70's trip computer – not exactly intuitive to begin with – dumped us out some forty miles short of our actual destination, the Gateway Canyons Resort. Thankfully, we had spotted some signage shortly after landing on Colorado's 141, and a check on a map (how old school) confirmed Gateway's actual location. With darkness falling and energy flagging, we rolled into the Gateway Canyons Resort some twelve hours after leaving Las Vegas. The Volvo had continued to maintain its pace with grace, while delivering an average of almost 25 miles per gallon.

Ignoring the wide array of activities available at Gateway Canyons Resort, we took time to explore the XC60 and XC90. While boasting now-typical Volvo virtues of composure and capability, the XC60 is Swedish Modern. Its proportions are impeccable, while its comfort on the highway is almost matched by some genuine cred off-road. No, you won't go boulder hopping, but in the greasy stuff the XC60 grips as if its life depend upon it. We came away thinking this might be the ticket for not only Western Colorado, but the western half of just about any geographical destination.

With the XC70 targeting Boomers and the XC60 aiming at their offspring, its left to the XC90 to hook the middle ground, those with school age children and no need to be leading edge. The XC90, which introduced American audiences to a Swedish take on sport utility (and won a Texas Truck of the Year award in the process) is now the grande dame in the lineup. And while various details – including the instrument panel and center stack – look dated, the sheetmetal remains timely, while the ride-and-drive – if not fully contemporary – is certainly satisfactory. A fully equipped XC90, however, has an MSRP rivaling that of Mercedes and BMW, and this isn't German luxury. But if you need three rows and an appropriate level of safety for each, the XC90 is a good choice.

After four days and 1,000 miles, it was time to leave the majesty of the red rock canyons – and its Dolores River Valley – behind. We grabbed a ride to Grand Junction in an XC70, and over a rain-slickened hour the time couldn't have been spent any better. Volvo retains a compelling lineup, and its XC variants provide – and make accessible – an equally compelling destination.

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Where the Wild Volvos Roam - Autotrader