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Volvo XC70 DRIVe (2009) review

Published:27 August 2009

Volvo XC70
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

On looks alone, this Volvo XC70 may seem like old news, yet it puts a whole new twist on the urban off-roader theme. Why? Because, despite the jacked-up stance, it’s actually front-wheel drive.

What’s happened to the 4x4 version?

Don’t panic, it’s still on sale. The front-wheel drive XC70 has been introduced along with a front-drive XC60, both cars being cheaper and less polluting than the 4x4 variants that sired them.

So, the cheapest XC70 now weighs in at £27,995 (front-drive 2.4D Drive SE), where the cheapest four-wheel drive version starts at £31,535. The front-drive cars come only with the 173bhp version of Volvo’s 2.4-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel, where the nearest equivalent all-paws get 202bhp, so comparing the mpg and C02 benefits is difficult. However, we can see that, like-for-like, the front-driver is 79kg lighter.

Let me guess: mpg and C02 are down, but so is performance…

Only partly true. With the manual gearbox we tried, the 0-62mph dash is down by 1.2sec to 9.6sec compared with the four-by-four, plus mpg rises by a worthwhile 7mpg to 47.1mpg and C02 drops from 186g/km to a highly respectable 159g/km.

The auto figures are less appealing: there’s only 2mpg and 11g/km between the two, despite the four-driver’s extra weight and power. In fact, Volvo’s own figures reveal the XC70 torque converter auto to be spectacularly inefficient in front-wheel drive configuration – it covers 7.3 fewer miles than the manual car for every gallon of diesel. Yet when you compare the same figures for automatic and manual four-wheel drive XC70s, the gap suddenly shrinks to 2.7mpg between the two.

How does it drive?

Not well, sadly. The ride quality is still excellent (far better than the XC60), and it’s still refined in here, but that only makes the rampant torque steer seem more out of place. Strangely, neither the similarly powerful front-drive XC60 nor the S80 were similarly afflicted, but the XC70 torque steers in first, second, third and sometimes even fourth gear. Even if you’re a pootler, you will notice the wheel tugging, especially the unholy mess that unravels when you need to getaway from a junction fairly quickly. First there’s wheelspin, then the traction control cuts power, then power comes back in again and, finally, you torque steer down the road. And we drove it in the dry!

Verdict

Clearly, this isn’t a positive review, but it’s important to remember this is a variant-specific – not model – failing. The four-wheel drive XC70 is a smooth-riding, luxurious-feeling, highly practical estate car that holds much appeal. Removing the front driveshafts has spoiled it and, somehow, ruined the mpg and emissions when combined with the automatic gearbox too – surely the most fitting transmission.

No, the only way to go with an XC70 is four-wheel drive combined with, ideally, an auto ’box. It’s worth spending the extra for what is a far superior car.

Specs

Price when new: £27,995
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 2400cc 20v 5-cylinder turbodiesel, 173bhp @ 4000rpm, 309lb ft @ 1500-2750rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 9.6sec 0-62mph, 130mph, 47.1mpg, 159mpg
Weight / material: 1784kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4838/1861/1604mm

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By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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