Final report - 6 May 2008.
Let’s get the (very few) bad bits out the way first. With an 28mpg average, fuel economy was mediocre and no more. And the digital compass in the rearview mirror was too bright at night. Apart from these two problems, my long term Volvo XC70 verged on the genius. There. I’ve said it.
I never thought I would ever find myself extolling the virtues of as a vast diesel estate, but young children have the strange effect of making me shift my stance. Normally a full one hundred and eighty degrees. You see, I never really got Volvo, nor the unwavering devotion Volvo owners lavished on their cars. But now, after living with the one for six months, the thought of living without it makes me realise why Volvo’s fans are so devout.
The XC70 met and exceeded our family transport needs with such a high degree of innate intelligence that it felt tailored specifically for the Whitworth family. It handled every trip – grocery shopping, weekend away, municipal tip run or motorway blast – with such utter competence that you know many Volvo engineers and designers spent many thousands of hours dealing with real-world situations so that the XC70 could tackle everything over the 5781 miles we covered in it.
Every passenger was impressed with the cabin – not just with its coherent palette of colours and tasteful combination of materials, but with its intuitive and appealing layout. I never found myself searching for a particular control – everything from climate control to the superb sat-nav worked and just the way you expected it to.
Although 185bhp and 295lb ft of torque are hardly weak-kneed figures, with 1890kg of Volvo to lug around the 2.4-litre common rail unit had to be worked hard a lot of the time. Which may go some way to explaining our modest economy. That said, the inline five-cylinder turbo diesel revved keenly and delivered decent in-gear grunt, accompanied by an infectious serrated soundtrack. Its all-paw traction and firmly damped ride meant that the Volvo could be punted pretty quickly cross-country – certainly far brisker than most of the surprised people I overtook thought possible.
This Volvo will be missed very much indeed. It moved me and my family and all the kit necessary to transport small people more than six foot in safety and in style. If I had the money I’d go and buy one. Today.
Since Last Report
Since Last report
£450 to repair scuffed bumper
Pretty much everything
So-so economy, not much else
Volvo flew me to Kiruna a few weeks ago to show off the slow-ploughing abilities of my XC70 long termer. I had never heard of Kiruna, a vast and untouched wilderness of Swedish Lapland well north of the Artic Circle, but by the time I left, I felt I’d covered pretty much every mile of it in the Volvo.
Volvo has been coming to this area since the 1960s, using Kiruna’s weather extremes – in the nightless summer temperatures reach 30°C, and in the dayless winters, they plummet to 40°C below – to test the climatic durability of its cars. During winter testing, Volvo’s current prototypes cover some 120,000miles in five months. That’s the same as driving around the equator – five times.
I arrived early afternoon in falling darkness with the temperature hovering at 15°C below zero. Unsurprisingly, the XC70 took the inhospitable weather conditions in its easy-going stride. It simply glided across icy roads that were too slippery to stand on without falling over, its all-paw Instant Traction drivetrain constantly shifting torque to the axle with the most grip. Comfortable and safe in its warm and intelligently configured cabin, I might just have well been trundling back home after a trip to my local supermarket back home in Chichester, rather than spearing north on Sweden’s E10 into the Artic Circle.
Day two of the trip was spent off-piste, of course. On a frozen lake the size of Surrey, I pushed the Volvo through a technically complex track that included off-camber corners, high-speed straights and tight hairpin bends. With its DSTC Dynamic Stability and Traction Control activated, the XC70 made safe and steady progress, the Orwellian electronic system cutting engine torque and applying the brakes on individual wheels to effectively kill off under and oversteer.
With the system switched off, the big estate could be coaxed into all sorts of extravagant four-wheel drifts for hours on end. Great fun on a frozen lake with just soft snow walls to collect you when you run out of opposite lock. But at 80mph on a treacherously slippery highway at 20°C below in the middle of blizzard, DSTC is the difference between arriving home safely and your family receiving a late night visit from the police.
I also tackled an off-road course, although with everything white, it was difficult to tell where the road ended and four foot of snow started. It may not have the dedicated go-anywhere hardware of a Land Rover, but the XC70’s raised ride height, four-wheel-drive, hill descent control and grunty turbo diesel engine allowed it to trundle effortlessly through some seemingly impassable chunks of snow and ice.
Given I live in the southeast of England, the lengths Volvo’s cold-weather and off-road engineers went to ensure my XC70 could tackle the odd muddy lane, a bit of patchy snow or a flooded roundabout was pretty damned impressive. If anything it’s deepened my respect for this hugely competent estate even more. If that’s possible.
By Ben Whitworth
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The night before the Geneva motor show I had dinner with Jonathan Disley, the British designer who styled the XC70’s cabin. 'The ‘rainy night at the airport’ was one of the key design themes behind the Volvo’s cabin layout,' explained Disley. 'In other words, if you’d never driven the Volvo and got into it in a badly lit carpark after a long flight, in a foul mood in the middle of a downpour, you’d intuitively find things where you’d expect to find them. Simple principle but one that’s very difficult to achieve.'
I know you’re probably getting weary of my constant adulation of the XC70’s ergonomics, but having sat in over a hundred different cars at the motor show the next day and put myself in the place of Disley’s hapless traveller, only one came close matching the Volvo’s intelligently configured cabin – and that was the new XC60’s stunning interior, another bit of Disley’s handiwork.
Having covered just short of 5600miles in the XC70, there are a few minor things I would change, though. The digital readout in the centre of the main dials looks a little Casio calculator circa 1980, I’d kill the utterly useless illuminated compass readout in the rearview mirror and make more of the gap behind the floating centre console – it’s a useful stowaway spot, but it’s never quite as big as you’d wish it to be.
By Ben Whitworth
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A trip to Ikea - 24 February 2008
Last week I found myself at Ikea, eating a plate of meatballs before loading my Volvo with two dozens boxes of flat-packed furniture. With the rear seats folded down – a simply click-and-push process - the loadbay is both cavernous and regularly shaped with a perfectly flat loadbay. Which means stacking endless boxes of Kräppi bookcases, Wöbli consoles and Alrëdibrohken lampshades was an absolute doddle, taking the edge off what was a long and tiring day.
Oh, and one other little nugget of information that completely confirms my advanced Volvo anorak status – the XC70’s communication pack has been calibrated for minimal driver distraction. Which means it uses throttle and steering sensors to work out if you’re negotiating a roundabout or trying to park, and holds any incoming calls until you can fully concentrate on speaking to someone. Looks like the Swedish indoctrination has really kicked in. But I draw the line at Abba.
By Ben Whitworth
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I didn’t know this, but Bluetooth technology was named after King Harald Bluetooth, the tenth century king of Norway and Denmark. He united the ferocious tribes of both countries – hence the name for the wireless protocol that links electronic hardware like mobile phones and computers. A killer bit of pub ammunition, true, but to be honest, I’ve only just clicked on to the brilliance of Bluetooth after driving my XC70.
It’s communications pack means it automatically scans the cabin interior for Bluetooth-activated mobile phones. So the moment I climb aboard, it synchronises my phone with its own software, allowing me to access my phone directory through the on-board computer, and routing calls through the car’s stereo. Which means I don't have to fanny about with handsfree kits or look like an utter moron with one of those earpieces. It even fades the volume of the stereo when I have an incoming call, to save the caller being deafened by Paul Oakenfold.
The satnav is also a lesson in user-friendliness. For a start, the screen is perfectly position – popping out of the dash top means it takes just a downward flicker of the eye to take in the map and current instructions. Then there are the steering wheel controls. With just two buttons and a stubby joystick, you can operate the entire the system, from selecting a location (via postcode, handily) to finding a myriad of facilities en route or around the destination. It’s easy and takes two minutes to learn – and means both hands stay on the wheel.
And, arguably the most important point, there’s a simple one-step process to shut down the satnav – a joy after some rival systems which seem to take great delight in burying the shut-the-hell-up-you-bossy-bitch button in the depths of their system’s menu.
Even the XC70’s Personal Car Communicator keyless system is faultless. I normally hate these set-ups – what’s wrong with a fob with a key that you twist to start the car? If it’s worked for most of the last century, why change it? But after five months of use, Volvo’s Keyless Drive system makes perfect practical sense. For a start, you don't need to press a button to unlock the car – just walk up to the locked car with fob in your pocket, touch the door handle and everything instantly unlocks. Useful when laden with children and shopping. Pop the fob into its dash-mounted slot, watch it whirr into place, and I’m ready to go with a simple push of the starter button.
But the fob’s ace trick is its ability to let me know remotely if you’ve locked the car or not. Ideal if you’re as absent minded as I am. Simply press the I for information button on the fob, and from up to 100 metres away, it will quiz the car’s locking and alarm system and let me know the result by illuminating a green light by the locked symbol or orange by the unlocked logo. Similarly, the courtesy lights can also be activated from up to 100metres away – perfect for unlit carparks.
These are perfect examples of the many features that make living with the Volvo such a smooth and painless experience. Everything works with an intuitive and intelligent functionality – a sure sign that a lot of people have worked very hard to get things just right, so I don't have to give it a second thought.
By Ben Whitworth
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It’s rare that a long-term car seems purpose-built for its keeper, but my Volvo XC70 is doing a damn good job of ticking every box. It’s safe of course, chunkily stylish in jacked-up off-road XC trim, surprisingly brisk with a decent surge of turbo-enhanced diesel power, supremely comfortable and so versatile that you just know a prerequisite for the members of its design team must have included siring at least two small children.
The Volvo’s arrival on my driveway marks quite a personal turn around. Until I had children, the Swedish marque never really registered on my motoring radar. Sure, I’d driven all its new models and enjoyed watching its newfound design language develop and mature. But I always found them a touch too smug and worthy. Then my daughters Amelia and Jemima arrived and suddenly I’m considering remortgaging and buying an XC70.
I’ll need to be most pleasant to the men with the money. My Volvo XC70 D5 Se Lux weighs in at £33,635. To this I’ve added a hefty £6460 worth of extras including six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission (£1350), RTI satellite navigation (£1850), sunroof (a swallow-hard £850) metallic paint (an equally dear £575), active bi-Xenon headlamps (an unusually cheap £250) and a very handy Bluetooth system (£250) for running mobile telephones through the excellent stereo system. Which adds up to £40,095.
I’m really taken by the XC70’s looks. It’s off-road addenda – cladding, front and rear scuff plates and raised ride height - imbues the estate’s silhouette with a muscular presence not found in the slightly anonymous V70 estate. It’s not threatening like a kitted-up X5 but it certainly gets dawdlers out the fast lane when it looms in their mirrors. And that black low-level plastic protection shrinks the Volvo’s lines, making it look far more compact than it is. Because at just under five metres long and 1884kg, the XC70 is a big and heavy family estate.
And it feels like it from behind its latte-coloured leather steering wheel. There’s plenty of low-speed roll, dip and dive when cornering, accelerating and braking. But push harder over an undulating and winding road and the XC70 surprises with tidy body control and plentiful grip from its all-paw layout, which means it can cover ground far quicker and easier than its Waitrose car park image suggests.
Knowing that whenever my most prized possessions venture onto the roads they are protected by one of the safest and most protective cars on the market lets me breathe a little easier. The XC70 comes fitted with an endless list of three-lettered safety acronyms as standard – as well the knowledge that that Volvo’s safety team use info gathered from real-life road traffic accidents rather then computer simulations.
As the miles have accumulated – the odometer currently reads 4632miles – so the 2.4-litre turbo diesel has freed up. Between 2000rpm and up to its 4000rpm power peak, where 185bhp arrives accompanied by an enjoyably serrated engine note, there’s now a stronger and longer slug of acceleration. It’s also noticeably more responsive, the five-pot engine reacting to the smallest throttle input, helped by the six-cog Geartronic autobox that’s always keen to drop at least two gears. But I can't help thinking that a bigger capacity engine would mean the engine wouldn’t have to be worked so hard so often, benefiting both economy and refinement.
A few long trips to Oxford and Dorchester have highlighted just how accomplished a fast and relaxed cruiser the Volvo is. With plenty of torque – 295lb ft at 2000rpm – there’s plenty of muscle to cruise at an easy 85mph with enough to flatten inclines and pass slower traffic. Economy has steadily improved, climbing from 28.5 mpg to 29.8 mpg – some way short of the 34mpg official combined figure, but palatable for a briskly driven big estate.
Every time I get into the Volvo’s beautifully crafted cabin I appreciate its premium feel more and more. It’s soothing combination of chocolate, tan and coffee leather, wood and plastics work beautifully together, creating a wonderfully laidback and plush ambience. It’s also incredibly well laid out – the design and location of every controls reeks of ergonomic excellence. Without fail every passenger has commented on how cool and calm the cabin looks and feels – and how incredibly comfortable the seats are.
Those active bi-Xenon headlamps are a top-class safety feature during the long winter days, turning in syncopation with the steering to illuminate dark corners. Full marks for the stunning sound system, the satnav that can be fully operated without taking my hands off the wheel and the heated seats that soon have you toasty on even the frostiest of mornings.
Dislikes to date are, as you’d expect, few and far between, but the counter-intuitive electric handbrake tops the list (you pull the dash-mounted lever to release the brake, and push to engage it) followed by the very annoying bright and completely unnecessary compass display in the rear-view mirror.
Like I said, the XC70 marks a major change in my attitude to Volvo. I now fully understand why its cars inspire such devotion among its drivers because I find myself extolling the XC70’s virtues to anyone who will listen with an almost evangelic fervour. Oh dear...
By Ben Whitworth
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