You can't beat a big Volvo estate...
Yes, Volvo’s current line-up may run from funky sports hatchback to chunky off-roader, but its core model is the still the V70 big family estate. Since it introduced the PV445 in 1953, Volvo has utterly dominated the premium estate market in the UK, seeing off Audi, BMW and Mercedes with a car brought by drivers more concerned with safety, versatility and comfort than outright image and premium badging. The best-selling V70 may dominate Volvo’s sales charts, but it’s the soft-road XC70 model that’s always been the more interesting car.
This is the third generation XC70 and it borrows the front end from the new S80, the V70’s rear and mixes in jacked-up suspension, permanent all-wheel drive and a handy degree of off-road ability. Equipment levels are high, safety and versatility levels are peerless and there’s a choice of Volvos’ D5 2.4-litre five-cylinder diesel with particulate trap or the company’s new 3.2-litre straight-six petrol power, hooked up to six-cog manual or Geartronic automatic transmissions. The line-up runs the familiar SE, SE Sport and SE Lux models, with prices ranging from £31,035 for the entry-level D5 SE manual to £36,200 for the 3.2 SE Lux automatic flagship.
It's certainly a striking looking thing...
Both XC70 and its V70 donor were designed by Brit designer Steve Mattin – late of Mercedes-Benz – and while they follow a just-what-you’d-expect evolutionary line, there are some very neat new touches. The XC70’s revised tailgate design results in an even larger loading aperture than before, boosting boot space by 55litres to a useful 575litres. There’s the added versatility of a three-way split rear bench, integral flip-down rear divider and an optional powered tailgate – useful when approaching the car when loaded with children and shopping. And like the V70, the XC70 gets integrated two-stage child booster seats in the rear. Handy.
That cladding also has the effect of shrinking the Volvo’s dimensions, making it look far stubbier and chunkier than the V70 estate, and the matte chrome detail finish around the front foglamps and front and rear scuff plates give the XC70 a distinctive visual character of its own.
I like that cabin...
The XC70’s cabin is an ergonomic work of genius. Despite being loaded with features and gadgetry, it’s so intelligently configured that there’s no need to fall back on rotary iDrive controllers and vast display screens. All the controls are intuitively laid out and logically ordered, and there are some brilliant touches like the driver-shaped controls for the climate control – during the day it's a tactile silver, at night it changes to a translucent green. The stubby joystick control for the satnav is mounted at the back of the steering wheel, which means with high-mounted satnav screen you can programme your destination on-the-go without taking your eyes of the road or your hands off the wheel.
The electrically adjustable seats deserve special praise too – incredibly comfortable and supportive, they deliver you fresh and cramp free after any journey. And the dark brown leather fitted to our test car really complemented the cabin’s caramel and tan colour scheme. It’s cool and relaxed and distinctly Scandinavian – and a real antidote to its German rivals. There’s a pleasing air of solidity and quality about the cabin, too – the plastics, metals and woods used are all top notch and perceived quality is high.
Let's talk engines...
The XC70 comes with Volvo’s trusted 2.4-litre D5 (185bhp at4000rpm and 295lb ft at 2000rpm) or the company’s new 3.2litre straight six (238bhp at 6200rpm and 236lb ft at 3200rpm). We tested the D5 in SE Lux trim, running through Volvo’s Geartronic 6-speed autobox. Performance is leisurely off the mark, the big Volvo hitting 60mph in a relaxed 9.4 seconds and toping out at 127mph. Hardly exciting, but once spinning above 2000rpm, the XC70 accelerates with plenty of turbo-enhanced zest for surprisingly brisk overtaking and relaxed 85mph cruising.
While it can't compete with the smoothness of its six-cylinder Audi, Mercedes and BMW rivals, it’s a charismatic engine, responding quickly to throttle inputs and revving surprisingly keenly through to its 5000rpm redline with a vocal serrated five-cylinder wail. The long-legged gearbox reacts instinctively and you can nudge it across its gate for manual shifts.
Does it goes around corners?
We can't quite figure out why Volvo’s engineers decided to fit the XC70 with its Four-C electronically controlled damper adjustment setup. In Advanced, the most aggressive setting, the car feels more agile but the ride quality verges on the brittle. The default Comfort setting results in decent body control (for a vast 1868kg estate) and a compliant ride, while the Sport mode is a bit of halfway house. We reckon most drivers will fiddle with it once and then leave in Comfort. Don't expect the XC70 to put a wide grin on the enthusiasts face, but driven within its well-defined limits and taking full advantage of its all-paw grip and plentiful torque, the XC70 can cover ground pretty quickly and tidily.
It’s also effective enough off road to cater for most drivers needs. With a ride height 74mm higher than the new Volvo V70 estate, the XC70 has a wading depth of 300mm and an effective ground clearance of 210 mm. And with ramp angles of 19.2° approach, 19.8° breakover and 24° departure, the new XC70 betters the outgoing model (16°, 18° and 20° respectively) in all three areas. Throw in HDC hill descent control and the XC70 is more than capable of dealing with snow and mud-clogged tracks as well as towing horseboxes and trailers.
The XC70 may be a niche product, but it hits its intended target with an unerring bullseye. It’s arguably more distinctive then its V70 stablemate, boasts an exceptionally high level of versatility and has the feeling of being incredibly well thought out and engineered. First-class safety is a given, cabin comfort is impeccable and in diesel mode it treads a good line between performance and economy. It’s also relatively good value, coming with a long list of standard, safety, luxury and convenience kit – and an equally generous optional equipment list. It may not be everyone’s idea of a family car, but those that like it, will find it without equal in the current market place.